Remembering 9-11, 20 years later

Roxanne Ouellette
Remembering 9-11, 20 years later
Photo of ground zero in New York City after 9-11. Photo credit Roxanne Ouellette.

Many of us remember all too well where we were on September 11, 2001, when we first heard about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City.

I was at work, deep in the trenches of a marijuana grow op, gleefully ripping hundreds of plants out of the ground with an eclectic group of 40 police experts. As the photo-journalist for the RCMP magazine, I was tasked to cover the good news operations story.

Little in the RCMP remained unaffected by the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Many members were re-assigned to protect various areas of the country, especially in Ottawa.

A few weeks later, I was invited by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to visit Ground Zero to write a story about the clean-up of the World Trade Center (WTC) site.

On November 10, 2001, after landing and checking in to my hotel I grabbed my notepad and camera bag and started walking the eight blocks to the site. I could smell the stench of jet fuel just a couple blocks in. Ahead of me, I could see wisps of dark smoke billowing towards the sky behind several beautiful, untouched buildings.

I arrived at a Ground Zero checkpoint and introduced myself to the NYPD officer at the gate. Officer Frank was my escort, leading me to the “viewing platform”. What I saw spread out before me was quite unreal and almost indescribable: crushed remnants of charred steel, glass and cement for blocks.

One twisted gothic-looking structure was being hosed down. Almost eight weeks after the event, fires still raged several floors in the underground parking garage. There was enough jet fuel there to keep the fires going for a few more weeks.

Officer Frank happily explained to me how shocked he was when a stranger shook his hand, said thanks and insisted on buying him a coffee. “I was so excited, I called my wife right away,” said the then-15-year veteran of the NYPD. “It’s been that way since September 11. People applaud and cheer us. We’ve never been treated like this.”

It’s stories like these that touched me the most during my visit to NYC on November 10 and 11, 2001 – just two months after the largest terrorist attack in the United States.

Seeing the ruins of the WTC up close was unforgettable, but seeing how New Yorkers had rallied together was simply remarkable.

People like NYPD Sgt. John in the command post who gave me a meticulous re-telling of the terrorist acts. A large chart on the wall had the names of his deceased colleagues written in blue, ones who survived in green.

People like the cab driver, who delivered point-on jokes despite being two-months behind on his rent.

Or the cast of a Broadway play that pleaded “tell your friends not to abandon New York”.

I didn’t sense fear in New York, only steadfast determination and the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

-Roxanne Ouellette was born and raised in Cornwall. She worked for the RCMP from 2000 to 2010, and was a journalist for the Standard-Freeholder from 1991-94.

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