Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 in the newsroom

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — It was one of those dates you never forget, like the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor for my parents’ generation and the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy for Baby Boomers.
As usual, I was the first one in the newsroom, very early the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the calls began. At first, the wire, radio and TV reports suggested a freak accident, but when the second plane hit the Twin Towers, we knew something big was up. Within a couple of hours, the Pentagon was hit and the fourth hijacked plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.
Within minutes of the first attack, I was on the phone to then-editor Harold Cousland and our publisher, Michael Bush, who told me to call every staff member I could reach and get them into the newsroom.
“If they have to, tell them can bring their kids and we’ll have someone here to take care of them,” Michael said.
Within an hour, most of us were gathered and we’d awoken the photographers and pressmen. The editors started planning a special edition and reporters were sent out to get stories that ranged from security measures at regional military bases to comments from the public.
I headed out to the New Mexico State University campus and Walmart, where many heard the news for the first time from me.
Gathering comments for that special edition, written and on the streets in just a few hours, and for other stories in the next 12 hours, I was impressed with the cosmopolitan response I found here in Las Cruces.
I met students from other countries who had been through terrorist attacks.
Elaine Szalay referred me to some knowledgeable retired and active military personnel, one of whom told me he thought Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, information that scooped the major news networks.
Other memories tend to blend together in a haze, but it was the deeply personal things that come to mind a decade later.
There were serious and sometimes frightening conversations with little kids, including grandson Alex the Great, then 5 years old, who looked up in the sky and wondered if airplanes would crash into their houses or apartment buildings.
I remember a poignant comment from my nephew, Adam, who was born on Sept. 11 and wondered if his birthday would forever be associated with a national disaster. As fate would have it, his life would be affected in other profound ways by that day. As an M.D. and U.S. Air Force officer, he would go on to serve in Afghanistan.
I also remember, in the crush of those first days, the interview that impelled me to retreat to my car for tissues.
Frank Parrish was the first person from Las Cruces I’d met who had lost a relative in the Twin Towers: a young mother just returned to work, who was still nursing her baby.
There were more tears, shed by many in the audience at an NMSU Choral Department concert, when conductor Jerry Ann Alt interrupted the program to ask us to join in singing anthems from each branch of the U.S. military, and invited any veterans in the audience to stand as we sang “their” songs. World War II Army and Navy veterans, young Marines and visiting Air Force pilots all stood proudly. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house after that medley.
It was a sad, surreal time. Commercial and private airplanes were grounded. Survivors were sought. Terrorist suspects and plots were investigated. Attempts were made to make sense out of the senseless. Artist Kelley Hestir, at a time when revenge slogans filled the air, created a peaceful image she called “Earth Angel”: a portrait of our planet under a hovering halo. Flags were waved.
Benefits for survivors were planned, and so were two wars — the nation’s longest — that continue to impact our lives every day, in many ways.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, or get on the Las Cruces Style e-mail list, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

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