Taylor Strauss lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and she remembers that day because her mother picked her up early from preschool and took her to Toys R Us to get a new Barbie.
“I just basically remember her getting a call from my dad saying, ‘Have you seen the news, have you heard?’ just kind of frantic and in a panic,” the Ursuline Academy freshman recalled last week.
From her home, Strauss could see the Twin Towers “burning and falling. It’s kind of traumatic. You know what’s going on and you know people are being hurt, but death didn’t make sense at the time because you’re so young.”
While adults in the diocese remember most details of that day, students like Strauss retain just bits and pieces, more generalities than specifics. High school freshmen and eighth-graders were in preschool or not in school at all, while high school seniors were in second grade when the attacks occurred. They have a much different memory of 9-11 than their parents, teachers and other adults in their lives.
Most recall teachers running through hallways talking to each other and crying. Their parents or other relatives came and picked them up, but they weren’t really sure why.
Strauss’ classmate, Renee Plaza, says all she remembers is being rushed out of school early, then going home. She said although she doesn’t recall the horror of that day, she appreciates its significance.
For 13-year-old Kyle Johnson, an eighth-grade student at Holy Angels School, it was his first day of preschool, and his mother promised she would take him to Charcoal Pit for lunch. She kept her promise, but something was strange, he said.
“She made sure we sat so we couldn’t be facing the TVs and we wouldn’t see what happened. But I could tell something happened. Everybody was just hesitant and not really the same, not really usual. I never really found out what happened until later, but I knew something bad happened,” he said.
The parents of some students, like St. Elizabeth High School senior David Majewski Jr., tried to explain what had happened. Majewski was 7 at the time.
“When my mom picked me up (from school), she told me my dad wasn’t going to be home for a while. He’s a volunteer fireman. He didn’t go to New York, but he was at the firehouse. I remember when he came home that night he told me that we were attacked by bad people today and that a lot of firemen died and to make sure you say a prayer before you go to bed,” he said.
Adam Mason, an eighth-grader at Holy Angels, said when he was younger he thought everyone was Catholic and believed in God. Growing to understand the reasons behind the attacks was troubling. “I was surprised that God would let this happen,” he said.
Johnson said despite the tragedy of 9-11, he believes God was present that day. The carnage, he said, could have been worse.
“They could have attacked more buildings. They could have done more wreckage, but they didn’t. I feel like a lot of people lost their faith that day, but just stay true and God will come through,” he said.
Padua Academy senior Jess Peel said she has seen some positives emerge from the tragedy. “As bad as things can get, it’s almost like an inspirational sort of thing. Even when we get to the lowest we possibly can, we can pick each other up. The war is terrible, but it’s good to know that people can overcome when the worst is happening.”
Several students said that 9-11 is not merely a lesson in a history book.
“Now that I’m older, it means a lot because I understand it. During some of the videos (at school prayer service) I was kind of choked up. It was terrible, people jumping out of windows, all these kids without their dads or their moms,” said Marissa Lelii, a St. Elizabeth senior.
Lelii’s classmates David Walker and Kate Rankin both expressed anger at what happened that day.
“They were all innocent. It makes me angry that they had to leave the world the way they did. It’s not their fault at all, and I don’t like it at all,” Walker said.
“They just got up for a normal day at work, and they’re gone,” Rankin added.
Marykate McGurk, a Padua senior, said perhaps people her age matured a bit quicker because of Sept. 11. “We saw our parents scared. Maybe there was a little bit of a sense of maturity that we received from that day.”