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It will never be stricken from our minds’

Mel Flanagan | Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Eleven years ago Tuesday, senior Kerriann Zier’s father pulled her out of her fifth-grade classroom in Franklin Lake, N.J., and told her he was all right.

“I just remember being so confused,” Zier said. “I was just like, ‘Okay then, thanks for stopping by.’ I had no idea what he meant.”

Zier discovered only later that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, where her father worked. He was packing for a business trip and missed his usual train. If he had made it in time, he would have been on the 78th floor of the South Tower, the beginning of the impact zone.

Zier and countless other Notre Dame students were personally impacted by the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

In Rockville Centre, N.Y., junior Matt Hayes’ elementary school was on lockdown, but none of the students knew why.

“It was one of those situations where we were old enough to know something was wrong, but not old enough to comprehend the extent of what may have happened,” he said.

Hayes, whose hometown lost 48 residents in the terrorist attack, said he remembers students whose parents worked in New York City being pulled out of class one by one.

The following day, his fourth-grade teacher explained the basics of the attacks to the class, but Hayes said he still did not understand the extent of the day’s events.

“I didn’t really comprehend it until I found out my cousin’s neighbors lost their dad, who I had known and who was always around,” he said. “It didn’t hit home for me until there was a personal name associated with the towers. He was a firefighter.”

Now that he is old enough to grasp the enormity of the tragedy, Hayes said the memory of Sept. 11 and its aftermath will remain with him forever.

“It’s such a defining moment as a New Yorker,” he said. “I feel like people not from New York will never fully comprehend what those days after felt like or what it means to us. It will never be stricken from our minds and thoughts and feelings.”

Senior Lauren Antonelle, who used to be able to see the Twin Towers at night from her bedroom in White Plains, N.Y., said the events of Sept. 11 hold acute significance for her and other Empire State residents.

“Before moving outside New York, you don’t really realize that not everyone understands it the way you do,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how personal it can be. Most people have a detachment to it, but you’ll always be attached to it.”

For the 11th anniversary, Antonelle visited the Grotto and reached out to her family, especially her aunt, whose brother perished in the attacks.

Back in 2001, Antonelle and her fifth-grade classmates could sense something was wrong on Sept. 11, but only those whose parents worked in the towers were told what had occurred.

Her mother broke the news once she returned home, and they watched the news together, Antonelle said.

“I didn’t really know what the World Trade Center was, but they just kept showing the planes crashing and towers falling,” she said. “Once you saw the images of it, you kind of understand at least the magnitude, even if you don’t really understand everything.”

Antonelle said the aftermath of the tragedy was nearly as difficult for her town as the actual attack.

“A lot of it was waiting for people to call, to find out who survived and who didn’t,” she said. “It was just a lot of waiting. My school was religious, so there was a lot of prayer and service while we waited.”

Zier was fortunate; she didn’t have to wait. Her father was switching trains in Hoboken, N.J., when he saw the plane hit the building he should have been inside, and his first thought was to drive to his daughters’ elementary school and reassure them he was safe.

Other residents on her town were not so lucky, Zier said.

“The next day, I got on the bus and everyone was crying,” she said. “Lots of kids in the area had relatives who were missing. A boy in my direct class, his dad never came home. Someone had a connection one way or another in the whole area.”

Eleven years later, Zier still has a hard time discussing that day. It’s especially difficult being at Notre Dame on the anniversaries, she said.

“At home there’s a sense of community because most people are somehow affected,” she said. “It’s harder being away from that on the anniversary.”