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On Deadline: Community, family come together to face terrorism

Jeff Clemetson, Sierra Sun

On Sept. 11, I woke to the most ominous message blaring from my answering machine downstairs.

“Dude, we’re all gonna die!”

It was my friend John, with an obvious penchant for the dramatic, calling from the Bay Area, expressing his fears about what he witnessed. I crawled out of bed to replay the strange message, only to find many more that I had slept through. My mom called, my editor called, but nobody specifically said what happened.

I turned on the news and the first thing I saw was the World Trade Center flaming from both towers, just before they tumbled down into the Manhattan streets below.

I called my mom back first. We talked for awhile and the first thing I asked her was if anyone had checked to see if my cousin Amy was OK. I knew Amy worked in New York in international business and I was worried that she might have been in the WTC. Nobody had called back East yet or had heard from her.

My editor wanted me to stop by Tahoe-Truckee High School before coming to the office to see how the schools were going to react to the crisis so I threw on some clothes and headed to town.

I made calls, took notes and hacked my stories as best I could while watching the television coverage on a set with static-filled antenna reception that someone set up in the Sierra Sun editorial room.

Concentrating on work was difficult. I thought of my cousin frequently and was mesmerized, as most of us were, by the scenes unfolding on the TV.

I knew my family would try desperately to get a hold of Amy and as the day wore on without hearing that she was alive and well, my worry deepened.

My sister Denise finally called with good news. She received an e-mail from Amy stating that she was all right and describing what she witnessed.

Amy wrote: “I’m still in disbelief and sad shock, but I’m lucky to have my health and friends accounted for. Everyone in this city is really pulling together, but it’s just awful to think of what’s going on. Keep your loved ones close!”

The relief I felt was short-lived. All Tuesday and into Wednesday, I couldn’t get away from the television, newspapers and Web sites bringing the images and information about the attack. As a news journalist, keeping emotional distance from stories is a beneficial trait – passion can sometimes ruin objectivity. But there is one image that I know I’ll never be able to get out of my mind – seeing the people jumping from the burning towers to certain death.

I felt shocked, angry, vengeful, depressed and even scared watching our nation being terrorized. But most of all, I felt a longing to be with my family and friends. I couldn’t wait until Friday to go back to my hometown and see them.

Being a Tahoe-Truckee resident now for just six weeks, I don’t know very many people here. And for three days I felt like the stranger or the third wheel as people who knew each other were coming together all around me in grocery stores, bars, at ATM machines – I missed friendship and family.

On Friday, however, I was assigned to cover a gathering at Regional Park and was swept up in the overwhelming sense of community in this mountain ski town. I was concentrating on my work and still eager to get it done so I could see my family, but hearing the speeches of Mayor Don McCormack, the local pastors and especially those who took advantage of the open mic made me realize that Truckee is like a family. And I felt a sense of pride that I am now, in a small way, a part of it.

And in this wave of community awareness and patriotism, I see our victory. Punishment to those responsible for attacking our country will protect our future and ensure our safety, but it is our coming together that will win the larger war.

Jeff Clemetson is the Sun’s education and features reporter.


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