A decade later, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 still send painful ripples across the country, leaving many San Luis Obispo locals, students and groups left considering how the event impacted not only their own lives but lives across the nation as well. To many, Sept. 11, and its aftermath, is still fresh in their minds.
Renee Hamilton, a history junior, said she was in elementary school in 2001. She awoke on Sept. 11 just like a normal school day, until her father saw the news on his computer.
“My parents ran down to the TV to turn it on and watch the coverage on the Trade Center,” Hamilton said. “I remember them being really upset, but I didn’t understand because I was in fifth grade at the time. Then I went to school, and my teachers explained what had happened.”
What happened was enough to cause Americans, young and old, to stop what they were doing and watch as 19 Al Qaeda members hijacked four commercial U.S. airplanes.
At 8:46 a.m. EST, the nation watched as Flight 11 deliberately crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Sixteen minutes later, as fire engines and emergency respondents rushed to the scene and thousands attempted to evacuate the buildings, Flight 175 hit the South Tower. Everyone on both flights and hundreds in the World Trade Center were killed immediately.
The third plane dealt the same blow to the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. EST, killing the 59 passengers on board, as well as 125 military and civilian persons within the building. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Western Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. EST, when passengers and crew members attempted to take control of the plane after hearing the fate of the other flights, killing 40 on board.
Minutes before the fourth plane crashed, at 9:59 a.m. EST, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in just 10 seconds. Six minutes later, the outer ring of the Pentagon collapsed, followed by the North Tower collapsing at 10:20 a.m. EST.
The three buildings hit were places of national and international business, as well as sight-seeing destinations filled with both working people and tourists at the time of the events. As a result, many other buildings of national interest, such as the White House and Capitol building, were also evacuated throughout the morning.
In approximately two hours, Americans watched as 2,975 civilians, military personnel, emergency respondents and businesspeople died, according to a 2009 CBS article.
The aftermath is still being felt today, 10 years later. To many, Sept. 11 still feels like a freshly dealt blow.
Kristina Spears, a student at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco, said she “cannot believe 9/11 was so long ago.”
“When it happened, all we did at school was stare at the TV coverage,” Spears said. “I remember people, one-by-one, jumping out of the buildings. That stays with you.”
For many current college students, Sept. 11 happened while they were still learning their states and times tables as elementary students.
Biomedical engineering senior Allison Peck said she had never even heard of the Twin Towers or the Pentagon and did not realize the severity of the event at first. She said she did oftentimes listen to the radio in the morning, but thought she was dreaming when she heard the news. However, after witnessing several neighbors congregating outside, she realized the reality of the situation.
Years later, Peck visited Ground Zero and said she was struck by “how such a thing could have happened in the middle of such a crowded city.”
The reality of the situation hit close to home for many, including emergency respondents nationwide who watched as current, former and fellow workers responded to the events.
San Luis Obispo Fire Department firefighter Nathan Williams said he and his fellow firefighters are constantly reminded of the emergency services men and women killed on Sept. 11. The department recently acquired a more tangible reminder of the tragedy: a 10-foot, 1,100-pound steel beam from a World Trade Center tower. The beam, which took three years to obtain, was put on display at Fire Station One just in time for the 10-year anniversary.
“To have a piece of steel that we can honor and share with not only our department but for all to see is a very special and meaningful thing for us,” Williams said. “Now that it is here I think we’ve all realized the magnitude of what it means, the lives that were lost that day — those that served as well as those that didn’t get rescued — and, of course, it’s a very powerful thing to be in the presence of.”
The beam was moved from the rear of Fire Station One to the front of the building on Sept. 11 so the public is now able to readily view it.
The San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association and Central Coast Clergy and Laity for Justice also held a 10-year remembrance event for the public through an interfaith remembrance ceremony: “9/11 at 10: A Service of Remembrance and Hope.”
Jane Voigts, the chair of the community commemorative service for the ceremony and a pastor at the San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church, said the event served as an important reminder for younger generations to understand how the events have impacted the nation and world.
“The world that (young people are) coming into as adults is a world that is very shaped by this event, for better or for worse,” Voigts said. “I think the reality of it, and the mythology that has kind of surrounded it, is something all people … should be mindful of. That event is such a lynch pin of whatever we do, whether to use this event for healing or to say this event, in the scheme of things, isn’t nearly as important as other things.”
The “mythology” and controversy surrounding Sept. 11 was present in San Luis Obispo.
In August 2010, a billboard reading, “1,200 Architects and Engineers say: ‘Examine the Evidence’ and ‘promoting the 9/11 Truth group, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth” was erected on Higuera Street, pushing for individuals to ask questions about the facts of Sept. 11.
Mark Phillips, one of the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth supporters who helped initiate the billboard and a Cal Poly alumnus, said he initially became suspicious of the events of Sept.11 due to the lack of military involvement with the hijacked planes. Then, after reading “Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?” by former Brigham Young University professor Steven Jones, which theorizes that the World Trade Center was brought down by controlled demolition rather than by the planes, Phillips became more involved.
The main reason for the controlled demolition theory lies in the discovery of molten metal at Ground Zero.
“Steven Jones points out that hydrocarbon fires — and hydrocarbon fires means any kind of fire from any kind of office materials or jet fuel is a hydrocarbon — are physically limited in the temperature they can attain to about 1,700 degrees fahrenheit and molten iron doesn’t happen until 1,000 degrees beyond that,” Phillips said. “So, here was hard scientific evidence that proved the official story could not be correct, it was physically impossible.”
Phillips said more evidence can be acquired by comparing the mysterious collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, which also fell on Sept. 11 but was not struck by any planes, with that of the twin towers. These similarities, Phillips said, provide evidence that the destruction of the towers might have been controlled demolition, rather than some kind of kamikaze mission.
Yet, Phillips said the billboard was not put up just to inform San Luis Obispo residents; rather, it was also put up as a “gift” to late Cal Poly architecture professor emeritus and Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth supporter, Don Koberg, who died of cancer in May 2010. Though Koberg died before the billboard was erected, he knew that it was successfully approved to be put up.
“A lot of people do not want to hear this truth,” Phillips said. “Anybody who has been involved in this movement, like myself, has essentially lost friends and family over it. It’s great to pay tribute to somebody who worked on this so hard.”
With the 10-year anniversary looming, Phillips said he hopes an investigation on Sept. 11 is done.
Other people, such as Voigts, said commemorative events that focus on bringing different people and faiths together is enough to help people remember Sept. 11 and work toward preventing such events in the future.
“It’s part of a faith tradition to (enrich) their hearts, see how God or however they might experience God is moving all of us toward a place of reconciliation, of peace and hope, so that we are not continuing to be suspicious of one another or live in an attitude or environment of fear that this event has caused us all to wrestle with,” Voigts said. “In 10 years, there have been some great things that have happened in the community, where people have kind of woken up and said, ‘We need to learn to get along better so this doesn’t happen again.’”
To see a timeline of the events of 9/11, click here.
Karlee Prazak contributed to this article.