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Local leaders recall 9/11

JONESBORO — City Council member Ann Williams doesn’t talk much about it, but for more than a decade, she had an office in the World Trade Center, brought down by terrorists 20 years ago.

“I worked in Tower 1. I had an office on the 56th floor,” Williams, a retired attorney, said Friday.

She left her job in the 1990s and returned to Jonesboro.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Williams said she was working at The Edge Coffeehouse near the Arkansas State University campus.

“I remember just being really shocked,” Williams said after learning of the attack. “I immediately thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I could’ve been there.’”

It was actually the second time she felt relief that she had departed from New York City.

She was already back home when, on Feb. 26, 1993, terrorists exploded a bomb in the basement parking garage below the north tower. The massive explosion killed six people and wounded more than 1,000, with some 50,000 people forced to evacuate the twin towers as smoke and flames spread upward into the buildings, according to History.com.

By 1990, Williams said she had become uncomfortable about working in the massive building. A power outage in August 1990 forced evacuations from the building, and it took a couple of hours to complete.

“They only had one elevator that was working on a generator to get elderly and disabled out,” Williams recalled. The rest had to take the stairs.

“And so I started thinking about the fact, what if we had to get out really fast, considering how long it took and how crowded it was when it was not an extreme emergency, like if the building was on fire,” she said.

Williams said that experience stayed in her mind. “And I thought, ‘You know what? I don’t think I want to be here anymore,” Williams said, adding that she left the firm in February 1991.

Security in the building was already a concern for her and other workers in the building.

“Guys in the mailroom had indicated that people were unaware how much risk we were at,” Williams recalled, hearing one say, “You know, it would probably be easy to mail something in here.”

Still, no one dreamed that someone would fly commercial aircraft into the twin towers.

Mayor Harold Copenhaver said he believed Americans at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks had grown complacent about safety.

“It woke us up in a lot of areas. We all grew up that we trusted people,” Copenhaver said, referring to the Baby Boom generation. “And now, it’s the other way. You wake up this morning, all you see is they’re going to steal your identity by Facebook. They’re going to steal this from you. They’re going to take this from you. And I think that’s the reality of what 9/11 brought to the United States was that we’re not invincible. That we can be penetrated. That we have to be cautious, which is unfortunate.”

Copenhaver recalled driving to Little Rock to begin a new insurance job when he heard about the attacks on his car radio.

“I went by the Little Rock airport and I saw planes landing,” Copenhaver said. “And then come to find out multiple planes landed there that were made to land there. And people didn’t know why they were being made to land there. So confusion everywhere, all over the country.”

Copenhaver said he did what every husband and father was supposed to do.

“You call your wife. Check on your kids at school, because they were concerned about schools, they were shutting down schools,” Copenhaver recalled. “It was a day that the United States just stopped. I mean, grounding all the airplanes in the air.”

While Copenhaver was calling his wife, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day’s wife was contacting him following the attacks. Day was working as a civil engineer at the time.

“I was supervising a job widening Nettleton Avenue right out in front of the chamber of commerce at the time,” Day said. “And I lived nearby. And I remember getting a phone call from my wife, that I should come home and look at the television and see that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

“And truthfully, in my mind, I thought, oh, my goodness this is an accident. Somebody made a mistake. But after watching the second plane hit the building, it was just an awful sinking feeling that this was not an accident.”

Day said he has been thinking about what happened 20 years ago all this week as the anniversary approached.

“For me, it’s one of those moments in history, it just seems like you remember every little detail because it was such a horrifying event,” Day said.

Despite the horror, Copenhaver said he also witnessed a unification of the country, regardless of political views, and the many men and women who felt the calling to enter the military or other public service.

He said the attacks forced the country to develop a new security infrastructure for the safety of its citizens.

“Even to this day, it can be penetrated,” Copenhaver worried.

Remembering 9/11, honoring the fallen

JONESBORO — Twenty years have passed since terrorists attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.

The attack that day forever changed the New York skyline as the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed after being hit by hijacked jetliners. A third airplane that day hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

Ricarda Snellback, who lives in Paragould, lived in New York at the time of the attack.

“Although I wasn’t on ground zero, I was 20 blocks away from where the attack occurred,” she said. “I had been to the hospital with my husband that night.”

Snellback said when she arrived home with her husband, she kept getting knocks on the door.

“It was people wanting help,” she said.

It wasn’t until she turned on the television and heard the news she realized that the Twin Towers had been destroyed.

“Our neighbors came to us for comfort and support,” Snellback said, noting everyone was so scared.

“We lived in Peter Cooper Village, which was located on 20th and First Avenue,” she said. “It was frightening to look outside and see the people running down the street and see everything blowing up the street. It was just unreal.”

Snellback said although she didn’t see the damage to the towers due to being 20 blocks from ground zero, there were images she will never forget.

“There were people running shoeless and shirtless, running away from those buildings, and then I could see the policeman on horseback running toward the buildings,” she said. “New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani became a saint that day.”

Adam Staples, a State Farm Insurance agent in Walnut Ridge, said he was in the World Trade Center when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers.

“I was in New York training to be a stockbroker with Morgan Stanley. The first class was Sept. 10, 2001,” he said. “I had just graduated with my degree in finance from Arkansas State University. It was really exciting to be there, because it was one of the few places in the world that centers around finance.”

Staples said the first day was pretty normal as he went to different floors between the two towers listening to different speakers.

“On Sept. 11, it was just a normal day. We had just heard our first speaker on the 61st floor. I decided to take a break and go to the 43rd floor to take a break before I had to get back to the 61st floor,” he said.

Staples said by the time he made his way back to the 61st floor, security personnel had already started evacuating the building.

“They said the north tower was struck by an airplane, and then the second tower was hit before too long,” he said.

Staples said he walked to the elevator and found an exterior wall to look out a window to see what was going on. “That’s when I saw the second plane hit the south tower,” he said. “It hit the 71-78th floor, and I was on the 61st floor.”

Staples said the explosion was so violent, it was clear that everyone in the building needed to get out.

“I saw a bunch of people all trying to get out,” he said.

Staples said as he reached the 10th floor there was dust everywhere and damage to the plaster on the walls.

“I finally got down to the lobby levels and there was Port Authority there waiting to tell us where to go to get out the exterior door of the building,” he said.

Staples said his priority was to just get out of the building and then get to the hotel.

“I had to get ahold of my family and let them know I was OK,” he said.

Staples said there will always be one particular memory that sticks with him.

“I can remember meeting a fireman on his way up the stairs to help people. I thought, ‘There is no greater love than a person willing to lay down his life for another,’” he said.

The Westside School District spent the early part of Friday morning honoring those who lost their lives that day during the attack and those who lost their lives trying to save others.

Westside Air Force JROTC instructor Maj. Scott Norman said a ceremony was planned around 9 a.m.

“One hundred years from now, this might be in the history books, but if you ask students about it now, they just don’t know much about it,” Norman said.

“They didn’t know you couldn’t take a full tube of toothpaste into the airport, or take your shoes off,” he said. “We want our cadets to understand what happened that day, and I think it is important for them to remember those people.”

Norman said this week has been spent showing cadets videos and documentaries discussing the events.

“We have talked to them about what led up to that, the signs we missed with the al-Qaeda and with Osama bin Laden,” he said. “We even showed them the videos of the phone calls made from the planes to family members of people who knew within the next few minutes they were going to be dead. It’s really sad, and some of the cadets were really impacted by it.”

Norman said Friday all the cadets, students and teachers were invited to meet at the flagpole, where the names of three Arkansas residents who lost their lives that day were read.

“There was a flight attendant from Batesville who died, a lady from Bald Knob, and there was a person in the Navy who was at the Pentagon when it was hit, and he was killed,” Norman said. “Three cadets will read each name, and the pictures will be posted on the flagpole, and we will have a wreath that will be put there on the flagpole.”

“Also there was the singing of ‘God Bless America’ and the flags were lowered at half staff. Taps was also played.”

Norman said COVID-19 limited what the school could do last year in honor of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We have honored it in some way every year and this is my sixth year,” he said.

COVID deaths reported in 4 NEA counties

JONESBORO — Arkansas recorded 2,159 new coronavirus infections Friday and 30 deaths, including one each in Craighead, Clay, Greene and Mississippi counties, according to information from the Arkansas Department of Health.

Statewide, hospitalizations were down by 45 to 1,149. Of those 316 were on ventilators, one more than on Thursday. Active cases statewide were 19,742, an increase of 28.

The number of new infections in Craighead County was 82 Friday, down from 104 on Thursday. Craighead’s active cases dropped from 1,066 to 1,030.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county on Friday:

Craighead – 82 new cases; 1,066 active cases, reduction of 36.

Greene – 65 new cases; 560 active, reduction of 9.

Lawrence – 35 new cases; 218 active, increase of 14.

Poinsett – 24 new cases; 259 active, increase of 3.

Mississippi – 51 new cases; 439 active, increase of 14.

Jackson – 5 new cases; 123 active, reduction of 12.

Randolph – 17 new cases; 171 active, reduction of 14.

Cross – 19 new cases; 128 active, increase of 7.

Clay – 17 new cases; 162 active, increase of 1.

Dana Henry, Raylee Parker and Landry Nunnally helped deliver cards to the St. Bernards Healthcare staff early Wednesday afternoon to show appreciation for health care workers. Marcie Cheatham, communications and marketing director for Jonesboro Public Schools, said the cards were made by the Jonesboro Kindergarten Center and JPS elementary schools as a way to say thanks.

Thank you

Most point to unity after 9/11

JONESBORO — The anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks sparked remembrances of the day from law enforcement and fire officials and a business owner at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport and how it changed Jonesboro.

Fire Chief Kevin Miller remembers what he was doing on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Of course, like everyone else, I was glued to the TV,” he said. “It was difficult watching as it was for all Americans.”

He said as he watched the World Trade Center towers come crashing down he thought about all of the civilians and firefighters and police officers who were still in the buildings.

One of the effects from the attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., was the unity in the country.

“One thing I remember at the time, seeing the attacks, it brought this country together,” Miller said. “I see how divided we are today and how united we were then.

“Here in Jonesboro, we came together as a community. We had drives here to send supplies. We wanted to show help and support. It had an immediate outpouring of support from around the country.”

Miller said the attacks gave birth to a wave of patriotism in the United States.

“We shouldn’t have to have a tragedy come along to bring us together,” he said.

The attacks changed the country and the world, Miller said. It spawned wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, adding more U.S. victims as a result of the war on terrorism.

Police Chief Rick Elliott

Elliott said he was drinking coffee before he went to work in the Criminal Investigation Division that morning.

“I was watching the news and saw the events unfolding,” he said. “I thought things in this country would change greatly, and it did.

“It was one of those days you’ll never forget where you were. It goes on the list of events like the Kennedy assassination.”

He said the attacks added more layers of security for the country.

“From the law enforcement point of view, you didn’t know where the next attack was going to come from,” Elliott said.

He said the community showed its support for the local police. Elliott said his department continues to get letters and cards in support of the police, which he said officers appreciate.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes something like that to bring the community together,” he said.

Sheriff Marty Boyd

Boyd was at the Craighead County Sheriff’s Office when the second airliner hit the World Trade Center. He said the single television at the office attracted a lot of viewers.

“Looking back, the biggest takeaway was how the country banded together,” Boyd said. “From today to then seems like a world away.”

He said the sheriff’s office was willing to send whatever was needed to help the people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Boyd said one of the results of the attacks was a better relationship with federal agencies such as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He said federal agencies began including local law enforcement agencies in briefings, and there was training for the local agencies on domestic terrorism.

Because of communications problems during the attacks, the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN) was set up in the state.

Boyd said AWIN, which was begun in 2004, allows all of Arkansas’ emergency workers to talk with each other at will.

Craighead, Miller and Lonoke counties were selected to pilot AWIN, which is overseen by the Arkansas State Police.

Phillip Gillespie

Gillespie, owner of Arkansas Air Center at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport, said that after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, all air travel ceased by order of the federal government.

“There was nothing, no corporate flights or anything,” he said. “People who were flying were told to land at the nearest airport.”

Gillespie said Air-Evacs might have been able to run, but that was it.

“We were out of business for seven days,” he said. “I can’t ever remember not seeing airplanes in the sky.”

When news of the attacks arrived, Gillespie said he was talking on the phone to a friend who was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. He said his friend paused and said, “#@#, I’ve got to go.”

The airport manager at the time, Philip Steed, died in October 2020.