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9/11 turns 18, as do kids born then

Lake Placid High School student Alyssa Hoffman, 17, was born two days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — When the second plane hit the World Trade Center 18 years ago today, Alyssa Hoffman’s mother was in the early stages of labor.

Hoffman, who is now a 17-year-old Lake Placid High School student, was due to be born on Sept. 10, 2001.

She was late.

Those born in 2001, like Alyssa, are mostly now seniors in high school or freshmen in college. They were too young at the time to have personal memories of that day, but they see the impact of the attacks on the world they grew up in.

That impact, like many of these young people, has now reached 18 years old, the age of adulthood.

A second hijacked airliner approaches to strike the World Trade Center’s twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, in Manhattan. (AP photo)

Dad saw birth rather than death

Alyssa’s mother, Jessica, was cracking jokes with her husband’s family on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11. Alyssa’s father, Torry, was away in Albany training to become a trooper with the New York State Police. Apart from the impending arrival of the couple’s first daughter, everything seemed normal.

When news started circulating that something big had happened in New York City — a possible terror attack — a different sequence of events for this family kicked into motion.

New York City firefighters pick through the ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, in Manhattan. (AP photo)

Torry and his fellow recruits were shuttled into an auditorium for a briefing, Alyssa said. But then he got a call: His wife was in labor.

“He got lucky and was able to be sent home,” Alyssa said. “He didn’t have to go to New York City to help out. We got very lucky during that time.

“My dad almost missed my birth, but thank God he didn’t.”

As Torry made the journey home, Jessica was driven to the hospital in Plattsburgh.

Alyssa was born two days later, on Sept. 13, 2001.

Every time the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks come around, her family has mixed feelings, she said.

“We got very lucky during that time,” Alyssa said. “When my birthday comes around, it’s a happy time for us, even though it’s also a very sad time.”

Altogether, nearly 3,000 people were killed in the series of four coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by members of the extremist Islamic terrorist organization al-Qaeda. That figure doesn’t include those who later died from cancer and respiratory diseases related to the attacks, according to the Associated Press. More than 6,000 people were injured. It was seen as the worst attack on the country since 1941, when more than 2,400 people were killed in a Japanese strike against the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii during World War II.

“Fear and astonishment”

Charlotte Ward, a 17-year-old senior from Keene Central School, said she remembers hearing whispered conversations between adults about the 9/11 attacks when she was young, but the enormity of what had happened didn’t come together for her until she was in middle school.

“I remember feeling fear and astonishment,” she said. “You only really learn about wars and violence in history, and it’s usually a very long time ago relative to when you were born. This was more recent.”

Those who are older than her — old enough to have a story of where they were, and what they were doing, when they heard the news of the first hijacked plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center — still share their experiences when the anniversary comes around, she said.

Being young, “you’re in this gap where you can’t add anything to it,” Ward said. “We were babies when it was happening. We didn’t know what was going on. We just know now that it happened.”

The response of locals following the 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda founder credited with helping plan the attacks, drove home for her how monumental an event the attacks had been.

“I remember watching the news that Osama bin Laden had been assassinated. That was a pretty big event in the news cycle,” she said. “I think it was almost like a celebration after what had haunted us for 10 years.

“It was also really telling that people were that intense — that they really, really wanted him dead. I could understand how this made everybody else feel.”

Ward said the effects of 9/11 are still visible 18 years later. She noted recent news coverage after comedian and former late night talk show host Jon Stewart appeared at the Capitol alongside 9/11 first responders to urge lawmakers to extend funding for the Sept. 11 victims’ compensation fund.

Congress later passed and President Donald Trump signed a bill to extend the fund through 2092.

“People are still facing the consequences of 9/11 and trying to get some compensation,” Ward said. “If you’re a first responder or somebody that was living in that area, it’s not your fault that you were attacked. I think that’s something the government should take care of to help heal the country. I don’t think you should have to take on (paying for medical services) as a citizen.”

Moment of silence

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation establishing today as Sept. 11 Remembrance Day in New York.

The law allows public schools to hold a brief moment of silence at the beginning of the school day to “encourage dialogue and education in the classroom, and to ensure future generations have an understanding” of the terrorist attacks “and their place in history,” according to the governor’s office.

“By establishing this annual day of remembrance and a brief moment of silence in public schools, we will help ensure we never forget — not just the pain of that moment but of the courage, sacrifice and outpouring of love that defined our response,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Ward and Hoffman both believe remembering what happened is important.

“It was an attack on American democracy,” Ward said. “We came together as a country after that happened, even though it was a horrible loss. I think it’s good historical context for children to learn.”

“I think it’s one of the biggest, scariest events that’s ever happened to America,” Alyssa said. “It’s the most shocking. Even though we weren’t alive for 9/11, it’s definitely something we should remember.”

“Create a dialogue”

Ward and Hoffman both, independently, spoke about gun violence as being something that shapes the world view of younger people perhaps more so than 9/11.

“I think if you asked a child now, they probably wouldn’t be surprised (about 9/11) because of all of the gun violence,” Ward said.

She said she hopes that as people reflect on 9/11, they think of the attacks as something carried out by a terrorist organization, not by an entire population of people.

Ward said she has family from the Middle East who still struggle to travel.

“Since slavery was abolished, we still struggle with racial tension in our country,” she said. “Since 9/11, I think we’ve had a little more Islamophobia. If someone is a different color, I think they tend to be targeted more.”

That’s something she believes there needs to be a dialogue about.

“I think it’s something we can learn from,” Ward said.

(Editor’s note: The Enterprise news staff plans to interview Saranac Lake High School seniors about 9/11 on Wednesday for Thursday’s paper.)