Students from NY reflect on Sept. 11

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Ashley Robsinson (right), a sophomore pre-pharmacy student, and Alana Austin, a senior journalism major, sit in the quad. Robinson is from Inwood, New York, and was in fourth grade, and Austin was living in Queens and was in sixth grade during the 9/11 attacks.

Senior Alana Austin measures her childhood in two parts — before Sept. 11 and after.

Before 2001, the Queens, N.Y., native said Sept. 11 was simply her father’s birthday, a day of celebration and cherishing time with her family.

But Austin said those memories were rapidly replaced by looping images of planes striking the towers and smoke rising on the distant skyline.

“It shattered my innocence and my view of the world. At the time, I knew of certain crimes but I didn’t know what it was like to experience something on this scale,” she said.

Throughout New York City, children like Austin attempted to meld concepts of new words like “terrorism” and “al-Qaida” with the images of destruction.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, students at UNC try to sift through their memories of that day.

Sophomore Ashley Robinson said despite the decade that’s passed, she remembers Sept. 11 with startling clarity.

Today, she recalls minute details: the walk from her Long Island home to her elementary school — from the warmth of the September sun, to munching on sugary Italian doughnuts from the local bakery.

“It’s crazy to think that it’s 10 years later and I can remember that so vividly in my mind,” she said.

But hours into the start of a routine school day, Robinson said students could feel a palpable shift in the mood from the teachers.

“You could tell the feeling from the teachers had changed — they didn’t want to tell us at school what was going on,” she said.

“But the thing is, from every school you can see across the bay to the New York skyline.”

And it was from a classroom window in Long Island that Robinson watched as the second plane hit the tower.

Though she could barely distinguish the glittering skyscraper from the plumes of smoke that obscured the Manhattan skyline, Robinson said she couldn’t tear herself away.

Across the island, 10-year-old Moe Dabbagh, now a junior, was crammed into the auditorium of P.S. 163 in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his entire elementary school.

One by one, parents appeared frantically in the doorway and students were ushered out.

About an hour earlier Dabbagh said a fifth grade teacher stumbled into his classroom, close to hysterics. Her daughter worked in one of the towers and she hadn’t been able to contact her.

“All you could see was smoke and no one knew what was happening,” Dabbagh said. “My mom was actually at JFK Airport picking up family members when the attack occurred. She said she immediately drove to school to pick us up out of panic.”

As they waited, students crammed around the window and watched as smoke from the towers billowed into the morning sky.

Today, Austin said she realizes what happened that Tuesday morning forced her to mature in ways she cannot fully appreciate.

She remembers her grandmother struggling to define a terrorist attack.

Both Austin’s mother and father worked mere blocks away from the twin towers. As the buildings crumbled, 10-year-old Austin sat in a nearly deserted classroom in Queens trying to process how a day of celebration could turn so horribly wrong.

Austin and her grandmother sat in front of the television for hours waiting for word that her parents were all right.

Hours later, her parents arrived home. Her mother had walked from her Manhattan office to Queens in high heels.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see my parents in my life,” Austin said, her voice cracking at the memory.

As the nation reflects on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Robinson said it’s important to remember not only the lives lost that Tuesday, but the sense of community that arose afterwards.

“9/11 didn’t only bring New Yorkers together but people all over the U.S. We realized how short life can be and you never know when things are going to happen,” she said.

“My hope is that it never becomes a day that is just brushed over and forgotten. If I ever have kids, I’ll make sure they know the importance of the day. I’ll tell them my story just like I’m telling you.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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