PUNXSUTAWNEY â That Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, some of them were in school, some of them were at home. Mostly, they didnât understand why their parents were fixated on their televisions, which were showing images of crashing airplanes, smoke, fire and crumbling towers.
When they asked about what was happening, some of their parents delicately tried to explain how some bad people were trying to hurt their country. Other parents encouraged them to keep doing what they were doing, playing outdoors or elsewhere. Some parents didnât say anything.
When asked today what they recall about Sept. 11, 2001, some have vague ideas or none at all. Some remember being scared. Some remember other things going on at home.
Ten years ago, they had been born in 1993 or 1994, and were around six or seven years old, preparing to enter first or second grade, the day terrorists attacked the United States with commercial airliners.
Today, they are 16- and 17-year-old juniors and seniors at Punxsutawney Area High School.
Back then, they were perhaps too young to remember. But not anymore.
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Friday, juniors and seniors in Don Gillâs criminal law class at PAHS were asked what they were doing when they learned about the attacks of 9/11. Punxsy students were not yet in class due to a delay in the start of school, but classes at SS.C.D. School and the Punxsutawney Christian School were underway.
Afton McAfee, 16, of Punxsy, recalled not knowing anything was happening until a friend told her two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, and her mother talked to her about it more when she got home.
Pat Defelice, then a first-grader at SS.C.D., recalled choosing books in the library when another teacher whispered something in his teacherâs ear. She then turned on the TV in time to see United Airlines Flight 175 crash into Two World Trade Center.
âShe was just in awe,â he said. âShe didnât believe what was going on.
âI didnât understand what happened,â Defelice continued. âI thought it was just an accident. I didnât think people would do that.â
Shannon Rosetti, 15, of Stump Creek, was actually attending school in Rome, N.Y., and sharing cupcakes with her classmates on the occasion of her birthday. While the kids enjoyed the cupcakes, the teachers stood stunned, watching the TV.
âI went home, and my mom was on the floor crying,â she said. âI knew something happened about the planes, but I couldnât comprehend.â
Both Nathan McGregor, of Punxsy, and Luke Janocha, of Rossiter, both 17, said they saw that their families were watching TV, but couldnât understand why.
âI knew something bad had happened, but I could not really understand what was going on,â said Janocha, whose family was vacationing at the time.
âMy parents wouldnât explain why, but I knew a lot of people had died,â said Heidi Rodgers, 17, of Punxsy. âI saw people dying, and I pretty much knew it was really bad. I didnât realize how it would affect things today.â
Shannon Monoskey, 17, of Rossiter, said her parents didnât explain much, but their silence and uneasiness made her nervous.
âI saw what was on TV, but didnât understand,â she said.
Students at SS.C.D. and PCS continued school, but for Punxsy students, when they did return to school, the events of 9/11 were not a topic of conversation.
âMy friends and I talked about it a little bit, but we didnât understand it,â Rodgers said. âThe teachers didnât talk about it because it was a touchy subject.â
For Shane Johns, 17, of Glen Campbell, it did sink in, almost immediately.
âI was watching âBetween the Lines,â and I heard my grandma scream,â he said. âI came out to the kitchen, where she had a TV, and she was crying. She explained it to me, and then I started crying.
âI remember seeing people jump from the towers,â Johns said. âIt was hard to watch. I still see that sometimes. They had no hope or any other way. It was rough.
âMy grandma said she didnât know who was attacking us, but it was someone killing thousands of people, like our neighbors were dying at the hands of someone else,â he said. âAnd it was a reason to mourn.â
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Since they were six and seven years old, 9/11 had been in the lives of these students for 10 years. But they said it took a few years to sink in.
That happened only recently for two students in Gillâs sixth-period class, Kelsey Young and Shainah Rugh, both 17, both of Punxsy.
Young said she, along with a friendâs family, visited the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, where the gravity of what occurred there 10 years ago finally sunk in.
âIt was kind of scary,â she said. âThen it kind of sunk in. These people tried to stop the hijackers, and everyone died. It made me think of what if I was on that plane, and what would I have done?â
A similar experience happened for Rugh, who, along with a group of select students from around the country, toured Washington, D.C., with United Electric.
One of the sites was the Pentagon Memorial, in honor of those killed inside the building and aboard American Airlines Flight 77.
âWe pulled up in the bus, and thatâs when it sunk in how bad it was,â she said âWe could see the benchesâ for each of the victims.
There, the students saw a youngster about their age, visiting the memorial which includes the names of both his parents.
âThat couldâve been any one of us,â Rugh said.
Both McGregor and Rosetti said they have visited ground zero, which they described as a âbig, empty place,â marked by a solemn sense of calm.
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Gillâs seventh-period class also said 10 years ago, they didnât understand what al-Qaida was, but they knew its leader, Osama Bin Laden, was âa bad man.â
They said his face â with a long graying beard â and appearance â disheveled, dirty, ânasty,â one girl said â put them ill at ease. They didnât know about bin Ladenâs previous links to terror, or why he was placed at the top of the list of 9/11 suspects. They just knew he was a bad man.
When Navy SEALS killed bin Laden this past March, Rosetti said it didnât seem like a sense of joy, but a sense of relief.
âThatâs as close as you can get to being happy about someone dying,â Johns said. âI felt like he got what he deserved. I think some families and police officers and firefighters who were killed got some justice.â
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Today, these students are quite a bit further toward completing school and taking a few more steps closer to adulthood than a decade ago. Eddie Serafin, 17, Punxsy, said 9/11 will be something that is a part of their lives â and everyone elseâs lives â forever.
Even after changes and improvements in technology, security, military intelligence and other areas, some acknowledge some nervousness.
Most of the students didnât have a true grasp of the changes made in the airline industry in terms of security. It wasnât something that bothered Angela Davis, 17, Punxsy â until recently.
âI fly a lot, and in seventh grade, my mother was (concerned) when I flew to Florida by myself,â she said. âBut nothing hit me. I didnât think about Sept. 11. But now Iâm familiar, and I realize anything can happen at any point in time,â she said.
âItâs scary because you never know if something is going to happen sooner or later in life,â McAfee said.
âIâm aware that things can happen, but Iâm not worried to the extent of letting it stop my life,â said Liz Keller, 16, Punxsy.
âIâm nervous it might happen again, but like this recession, it will go away,â Johns said. âWe always come back. We always rise to the challenge. Thereâs no doubt in my mind weâll get through this.â
âIâm from Rossiter,â Janocha said. âNothing bothers me.â