Anger, vulnerability and shock were common reactions many Delaware County community members experienced during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Even 10 years later, some of those feelings still linger. Yet unity, awareness, and a broader world view also prevail. Reflecting on 9/11, people representing various perspectives of this community shared how that day has continued to influence their lives.
Sep. 11 was a day that Delaware City Schools Superintendent Paul Craft, like so many other Americans, will never forget.
Craft said watching the planes crash surely changed the world view of older high school students. Watching history live on television showed that America is much more interconnected, and much more vulnerable than those students might have perceived from simply reading textbooks.
“It opened them up to challenges we face around the world,” Craft said.
Craft, who served as an Ohio National Guardsman, also recognized the heightened sense of patriotism. Even teenagers, with a fading memory of what happened in 2001, are enlisting out of a sense of duty.
And while the nation may have become “less open,” Craft said 9/11 didn’t change what America is as a country.
“I think we still have a basic respect for freedom. We still have a vision of ourselves as a positive force in the world,” he said. “We are still a great melting pot.”
The Muslim Student
Iftekhar Showpnil, an international student at Ohio Wesleyan University, said that 9/11 had a significant impact on the entire Muslim population as well as the United States.
“It changed the perception of the Muslim world,” said Showpnil. “It has forced us to get more involved and spread our word — to deteriorate the misconceptions of 9/11.”
Those misconceptions included the notion that the Muslim religion was particularly violent, Showpnil said. Now, he said, most people have learned that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that the terrorists are groups of extremists.
Additionally, more misconceptions linking certain skin tones to certain religions have been resolved, he said.
“I heard that people would be randomly taken in or questioned about things,” said Showpnil, adding that some of his relatives encountered similar profiling.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking, but then also, we have to take into account what happened and when it happened. People weren’t as knowledgeable about those things.”
Showpnil said that the violent acts of 9/11 catalyzed a movement to teach people about the Muslim community. In Showpnil’s words, to address “what they think the religion is and what the religion actually is — not how the extremists interpret it.”
“Hate comes through ignorance,” said OWU Chaplain Jon Powers. “The more we can do to face our ignorance, the less hate there will be.”
That was, and continues to be, the mentality at the university, said Powers, who leads the interfaith community service programs there.
Ten years ago, student leaders of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions united at the university’s chapel moments after the news of 9/11 struck campus.
“The event happened at 9 in the morning. By noon, we had 600 people and those three leaders standing arm and arm in the Gray Chapel. That marked the kind of intensity of our campus,” Powers said.
Even within the city, Powers said that there were no reported hate crimes against the Muslim community.
“We were prepared for pushback but didn’t get it,” said Powers. “That says a lot about Delaware.”
Yet that was not always the case. Powers said that during the first Gulf War, people would throw bottles at Muslim students walking down Sandusky Street, yelling racial slurs and ordering them to “go home.”
“The ignorance is still present, but I think the level of conversation within Delaware has matured,” Powers said.
“When you hit one of us, you hit us all,” said Liberty Township firefighter and paramedic Sean Worley. “You feel that sickness in your stomach, the feeling of losing your brother or sister.”
Learning of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives that day, Worley said 9/11 gave him a greater appreciation of life.
“As a firefighter, we know that every day we wake up, it may be the last day we go to work,” Worley said. “(9/11) made it come to life quick and easy.”
Ten years later, that thought is still in the back of his head. Worley said he lives each moment as if it could be his last and spends more time with is daughters.
Nevertheless, he said he continues to feel as safe in Delaware County as he did before the attacks. If anything, Worley said he feels safer.
“They (the department) opened their eyes to getting everyone on the same page,” he said.
Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis said he was in a meeting with top law enforcement authorities when someone’s pager rang. Then, about 30 seconds later, another pager rang. Then another.
“People were leaving the room one at a time,” Davis said. “It was really strange.”
The moment the group collectively realized what had happened marked a change in law enforcement.
“The world as we know it was going through a tremendous transition,” Davis said.
“There had been a heightened awareness and a realization that terrorism is a true threat — that an attack can happen anywhere at any time.”
Since 9/11, the federal government has invested in state and local training courses specifically related to terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Additionally, more focus has been put on communication within as well as between agencies, Davis said.
Reflecting on the attacks, Davis said it has “made us better people” and “made us more conscious about our surroundings.”
“Not to the point where we are paranoid, but observant,” Davis added. “That’s going to protect us all.”
Delaware City Mayor Gary Milner said he and other city staff took a two- to three-hour course in emergency training after the terrorist attacks. Such preparedness had never been discussed before, he said.
“I feel as safe as I can be in Delaware, Ohio. … But, you know, every once in awhile, there’s something that goes through your mind,” Milner said. “Especially when you fly or visit one of the major cities.”
The City Manager
Delaware City Manager Tom Homan said that the security measures were a “necessary and proper response to what happened.”
The post-9/11 world showed that America was more vulnerable than most Americans probably thought.
“There are so many benefits of living in a free country. There are so many advantages of living in a world that is so interconnected. But this event showed that there’s risks as well,” Homan said.
The Former New Yorker
For Homan’s wife, Mary, the experience hit especially close to home.
Mary Homan grew up on Stanton Island, N.Y. She saw the towers rise in the 70s, and personally knew firefighters who were on site when they fell.
“For me, it was a jolt that it happened here in the United States,” she said. “It brought the idea of terrorism home.”
While her husband commented on how 9/11 changed people’s world views, Mary said it also changed people’s views within the country.
“It did change people’s view of New York. It made New York more real to people,” she said. “It is not just a fashion capital or finance people … it was a real place with real people.”