Com­mis­sion­ers re­flect on tragedy

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

For many, Sept. 11, 2001, was a turn­ing point in their lives. Many peo­ple lost loved ones, many peo­ple lost their sense of safety and New York City lost a piece of its sky­line.

The un­prece­dented at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­tagon changed the coun­try and how govern­ments man­age ter­ror threats on a daily ba­sis. Things have changed dras­ti­cally since, and se­cu­rity is more in­tense than it was be­fore the at­tack.

Charles County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) said he can re­mem­ber a time where peo­ple could walk into the U.S. Capi­tol build­ing with­out hav­ing to be screened.

“Not long af­ter the at­tack I was with a friend and we were walk­ing on Capi­tol Hill. And the num­ber of law en­force­ment

peo­ple out with dogs, with ri­fles, was re­ally very strik­ing to me,” Mur­phy said. “I hadn’t seen that in Wash­ing­ton in a long, long time. It just brought it closer to home with the threat we were liv­ing un­der at the time.”

Mur­phy, the direc­tor of me­di­a­tion ser­vices at the cir­cuit court in Prince Ge­orge’s County at the time, said he was in a staff meet­ing when word came in that the Twin Tow­ers were hit.

“When the word got to us, it was just dead si­lence ini­tially. And then, lots of ques­tions like ‘Well, what do you mean?’ try­ing to un­der­stand what hap­pened,” Mur­phy said. “Ev­ery­body was just kind of stunned into si­lence.”

The meet­ing broke up shortly af­ter that and every­one went to check on their loved ones, Mur­phy said, to make sure things were all right. He stayed at the of­fice for the day, but af­ter the at­tack “it was not busi­ness as usual any­more.”

Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) said she was in her law of­fice in Largo when she re­ceived news of the at­tacks. She heard about a plane crash on the ra­dio, and, shortly af­ter, she re­al­ized it was not an ac­ci­dent.

Davis turned the tele­vi­sion on in her of­fice to watch the news and see what hap­pened. But what

she and her para­le­gal staff saw was “dev­as­tat­ing.”

“We watched the sec­ond plane hit the tow­ers,” Davis said.

Af­ter that, panic en­sued. Peo­ple were call­ing her of­fice to check on Davis and check on her staff. There were ru­mors “swirling around,” she said, about the Capi­tol be­ing the next tar­get and the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment be­ing an­other tar­get and the Pen­tagon be­ing hit.

Af­ter that, Davis said, she shut down the of­fice.

“We were in a to­tal state of dis­be­lief,” she said.

“I re­ally wanted to cir­cle the wag­ons. My kids were at school. We were re­ally in a state of emer­gency in this part of town. My friends from Flor­ida, they don’t re­mem­ber it like we do in this re­gion,” Davis said.

On her way home, she said, things were still in a panic. She drove past An­drews Air Force Base (now called Joint Base An­drews) on her way home and was stuck in traf­fic be­cause the base was on high alert. “Why’d I do that?” Davis said. “I just wasn’t think­ing. I was just on alert.”

Deal­ing with the tragedy pro­fes­sion­ally was one thing, Davis said, but deal­ing with it as a par­ent was an­other chal­lenge. The prin­ci­pal of the school Davis’ daugh­ters went to man­dated the tele­vi­sions in the class­rooms were turned on.

“My kids had so many ques­tions,” Davis said. “And they were ques­tions that I had. And I didn’t have any an­swers.”

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D), who lived in the District of Columbia at the time where he hosted his ra­dio show “The Travel Minute,” said the at­tacks struck him es­pe­cially close as a na­tive New Yorker.

“I called a friend of mine, a very good, close friend of mine who lived in Hobo­ken, New Jersey, right across from the tow­ers and asked him if he saw what was go­ing on. He said, ‘Am I see­ing it? I’m watch­ing it right out­side my win­dow,’” Robin­son said. “While I was on the phone with him, the sec­ond plane hit. He lit­er­ally gave me a play by play and screamed, ‘It just hit the other tower.’”

Just a few min­utes af­ter that mo­ment, Robin­son said, he felt some­thing that felt like an ex­plo­sion. And then he re­al­ized that was an­other plane hit­ting the Pen­tagon.

His wife was sched­uled to teach that day at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, but he would not al­low her to go de­spite her ob­jec­tions. “We were un­der at­tack. Things were dif­fer­ent,” Robin­son said.

But what will al­ways res­onate with Robin­son, he said, is the fact that the Twin Tow­ers are no longer present in the New York sky­line.

“When I went back to New York for Thanks­giv­ing that year, not see­ing the [World] Trade Cen­ter was al­most like a catch-your­breath mo­ment,” Robin­son said. “Be­ing so fa­mil­iar with the sky­line and see­ing how it changed in per­son re­ally, re­ally af­fected me.”

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