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San Marcos Remembers 9/11: Two Teachers Share Their Experiences

2nd period San Marcos students climb stadium stairs in remembrance

On September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack destroyed the World Trade Center Twin Towers, killing 2,996 people. While the attack took place over 20 years ago, the memories formed on this tragic day remain vivid in the minds of millions. People everywhere remember where they were when they found out about the attack, how they felt, and what they did that day. San Marcos English teacher Ian Fiedorek remembers this day all too well, as he was in high school, just five blocks away from the towers.

In New York: Mr. Fiedorek’s Experience

The day started off like any other for Mr. Fiedorek, who was a senior at Stuyvesant High School in downtown Manhattan at the time. 

“It was a random morning and I remember it was a beautiful day because it was early September in New York,” he said. 

Soon after reaching his class, he heard the first plane hit the North World Trade Tower.

“I heard this super loud sound, like an implosion, even though it was an explosion. For whatever reason, in my mind it sounded like something sucking in air,” he said. 

After he and his classmates heard the sound, they turned on a television to see what information they could gain from the news. Unsure of why the tower had been hit, Mr. Fiedorek and others in the class theorized that it had been an accident. Decades previously, in 1945, a plane had hit the Empire State Building. They believed that it was a similar incident. That was, until they watched the second plane hit. 

“The second it happened, our power went out and then shuttered back on a few minutes later,” he said. 

To make matters worse, there was no phone service, as the nearest cell tower was in the World Trade Center. With little information on what had happened and minimal communication with the outside world, misinformation ran rampant. 

“I remember there was a lot of conjectured misinformation, people just throwing out crazy rumors because at that point you’d believe anything. I remember people walking around being like ‘The empire state building got destroyed,’ and we were just like, ‘oh, okay,” said Mr. Fiedorek. 

The school decided to send students home, and Mr. Fiedorek and his classmates were released into the aftermath of the attack.

“We all walked up what is called the Westside Highway, and I remember walking forward and behind us was this massive cloud of smoke that smelled really bad. It smelled like that for like a month.”

The cloud of smoke surrounding downtown Manhattan following the 9/11 attack. (Creative Commons)

As the students made their way up, away from the rubble of the World Trade Centers, the reality of the attack settled in.

“We were all thinking, did anyone we know die? And I remember some kids whose parents worked at the trade center being super freaked out and just breaking down crying on the way up the Westside Highway.”

On his walk up, he stopped at a payphone to call his mother. 

“We walked all the way up to 14th street, which was a good mile or two walk, to find a payphone,” he said. “The payphones all had super long lines, because no one’s cell was working. I remember calling my mom and she was crying so hard it sounded like she was laughing, because there had been some kind of bomb threat at my school unrelated to the attack. It was one of those days where misinformation just cascaded.”

In California: Mr. Ohrn’s Experience

On the other side of the country, U.S. history teacher Luke Ohrn was getting ready to teach at Santa Barbara Jr. High. He and his wife were housesitting in Montecito at the time. 

“I was drinking my coffee, watching the news, and getting ready to go to school,” said Mr. Ohrn. “I saw that one of the towers was on fire, and there was smoke coming out of it, so I called my wife in and I said ‘you have to come look at this, something big is happening.’ We watched the plane hit the tower and then the towers started on fire and eventually they collapsed. It was very dramatic.”

Initial shock soon turned into concern for the owners of the house, who were scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles that very morning. As it turned out, the plane that hit the first World Trade Center had taken off from Boston, and was headed towards Los Angeles before it was hijacked. 

“We didn’t know if these people were on that plane, or on some other plane,” said Mr. Ohrn. “Of course, they weren’t on those planes, but they did get delayed and so they didn’t come back for a few days because all of the airports were closed down.”

Once he arrived at Santa Barbara Jr. High for work, he turned on the television and spent the majority of the day watching the news with his class. 

“It was very traumatic and very scary,” he said. “We wondered who did it, why they did it, and what is going to happen next.”

After more information became available, Mr. Ohrn found that he had more connections to the attack than he had realized. His parents, who lived in Florida at the time, owned a house nearby the airport where the terrorists who carried out the attack had learned to fly.

“I have driven by that airport many times, not knowing that anything special was about it, not knowing that those were the same planes that the terrorists learned to fly,” he said. 

At San Marcos: Students Commemorate 9/11

P.E. teacher Ms. Mandarino waves American flag during 9/11 commemoration (Aaron White)

On that day, here at San Marcos, a tradition to honor the firefighters who served on 9/11 began. 

“We [Mr. Solis, ASB, and our PE Department] began and led the tradition of walking our stadium stairs in memory and to simulate the experience of the first responders, climbing to rescue victims,” said P.E. teacher Desa Mandarino. “The stairs represent the 110 floors, or 2071 steps, which First Responders climbed to help those trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.”

Every year on September 11, second period classes are invited to join the P.E. classes in walking the steps. This tradition continued this year, with over 100 students joining in to honor those who died and those who served. 

“My cousin is a firefighter and I tried on his gear once and I could never imagine going up the stairs with all that gear with a fire going on,” said sophomore Sophia Peralta, who participated in the memorial this year.

In continuing these traditions of remembrance, we honor all of the innocent civilians who died and the first responders who sacrificed their lives. September 11, 2001 affected Americans from coast to coast, and though experiences on that day varied, we come together each year in commemoration. 

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About the Contributor
Noelle Cabrera, Editor in Chief
Noelle is an 12th grader at San Marcos High School. This is her fourth year on The King’s Page and she is now the Editor in Chief. Journalism is currently her favorite class and she is also a member of the San Marcos Ethnic Studies Club. Outside of school she volunteers with animals, is a member of the Youth Making Change Board and is in the Santa Barbara Chapter of GenUp.
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