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Legacy of 9/11: How the Sept. 11 attacks shaped a generation

SALT LAKE CITY — They were just children and adolescents on that September morning — at school, riding in a car, being awoken by their parents — trying to understand what they were seeing and hearing. Trying to understand a moment that would change history.

They were an entire generation who would grow up in a post-9/11 world, marked by the events of that day and the world that shifted in its wake, like those who reeled after Pearl Harbor almost 60 years before them. But 20 years on, they remember it as the children that they were.

In Oregon, where Erica Marley grew up, it was still dark outside on Sept. 11, 2001, when her parents woke her up, the old box TV in their bedroom blaring the news.

Erica Marley remembers being woken by her parents on Sept. 11, 2001 while it was still dark outside. She says the old box TV in her parent’s bedroom was blaring the news.

“I just remember seeing replays of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center,” Marley recalled. “And it was, it just kept replaying, and replaying. And I just remember, I was just so confused as to what was happening.”

She doesn’t remember her parents showing any emotion, but she does remember feeling scared because they kept her home from school. And the part that really struck her, the part that made the confusing news hit home, was hearing that Disneyland was closed.

“I remember thinking in my 10, 11-year-old mind: ‘Oh, my gosh… Disneyland is closed. This must be really bad,’” she said. “And it just kind of sunk in that this was something serious, even though I didn’t really understand what it was.”

Omar Rauf was in 7th grade and already at school at Riverview Junior High in Murray, when he remembered a teacher turning on the TV. At first, they thought it was some sort of terrible accident.

Omar Rauf (middle) was in 7th grade when the Twin Towers were hit on Sept. 11, 2001.

Then, the second plane hit the second tower and reality set in.

“That’s when the teacher was like, ‘Ok, this is, like, organized. This is planned, this is not an accident. And we’re under attack,’” Rauf said. “And I just remember sinking in my chair, you know, that first period… and just feeling scared and afraid.”

Julianne Horsley was 10, riding in a carpool to her elementary school in North Salt Lake, when they heard the news over the radio.

Words were jumping out of the news reports: planes, crashes, buildings.

“I think we were young enough to not quite understand. But we were old enough, I think, to figure out, ‘Okay, something isn’t right,’” Horsley said. “As a kid, we didn’t quite understand. We thought: ‘Oh, that’s bizarre. That’s weird.’ And then, when we got to school, it was the only thing that teachers were talking about, and everyone was confused. And if you weren’t confused, you were scared.”

Julianne Horsley was on her way to school in North Salt Lake when she heard the news about the plane crashes.

With the initial fear and confusion came the questions about what this all meant and what might come next.

“We’re like, is this close?” Horsley remembered thinking. “New York is so far away from Utah, but, at the same time, when, you know, they’re talking about these different states, it’s hitting all these different states. We’re now wondering, are they going to come and attack us?”

Like so many other students in schools across the country, they took in the events in real time, with their peers and teachers.

Rauf remembers the emotions of that day running the gamut.

“Some teachers are crying, you know, they couldn’t even carry on class,” he said. “Other teachers just kind of made it a free-for-all day, you know, just to do whatever … I don’t think they knew how to respond. For some teachers, I think they tried to compartmentalize and, you know, business as usual.”

He said, for his part, he could not take his mind off what had happened.

“I was 13 years old,” Rauf said. “It’s a very formative age. It was kind of an awakening moment of like, what’s going on in the world? I think that was the time that sort of was a catalyst of the realizing that, hey, there’s people on the other side of the world that don’t like Americans, or there’s extremism in the world, there’s fundamentalism within my own faith.”

That night, Rauf said he went home full of questions: “Who could have done this? Why would they do something like this?”

Rauf said his parents listened and talked to him, tried to comfort their children, the only Muslims in their school. Still, Rauf said his mother questioned whether she should continue wearing her headscarf.

When Omar Rauf returned home from school, his parents comforted him and listened to his questions.

At first, he said, his peers mostly had a lot of questions and wanted to learn and understand more, but he said that there were also assumptions made that, though his family was Pakistani, that they were “one of them.”

There was some teasing. The neighborhood he had lived in from the time he was six years old, shifted.

“People would shout things,” he said. “We would be walking down the street and people would shout things outside the window.”

The day after the attacks, Horsley said they went outside their school and sang songs.

Julianne Horsley remembers singing songs at school the day after the Sept. 11 attacks.

She said the teachers, having had a day to process, tried to help them understand what had happened.

Horsley said realizing that the attack was planned and intentional shifted her worldview.

As a child, she said she thought bad guys were in the movies and the world was a fairly simple place. The events of Sept. 11th changed that.

“There’s people who hate us? There’s, you know, this world isn’t as safe as we think? There’s people who, you know, don’t mean well,” Horsley said. “For lack of a better term, it seemed like your innocence was lost. And it’s, you know, we can’t go back to thinking that… everything is great, everything is safe, unfortunately.”

One year later, Marley made a patriotic entry in her journal — drawings of flags and eagles — but she also noted that she was scared and sad. She said she felt her heart sink on Sept. 11, 2001, and a fear crept in.

“It wasn’t necessarily like fearing another terrorist attack or fearing for my life or fearing, or anything like that, like, consciously, but I think there was just a little bit of a looming sense of like, something bad could happen on my home turf, just like anywhere else,” she said.

It has been twenty years now and the children are adults.

Horsley has visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and finds it to be a favorite place to visit in a city she loves.

Julianne Horsley says the 9/11 memorial in New York City is one of her favorite places to visit.

There is a unique spirit there, she said, and it’s always more devastating than she could fathom as a child.

“Each time I go back, and I’ve been there a few times, I realize (that) this is a lot worse than I remember,” she said. “It was bad then, but it’s even worse.…. No matter how many times you see pictures, no matter how many times you see videos, it’s more haunting than you remember.”

Rauf grew up to become an active member of the Utah Muslim community and serves on the board for the Utah Muslim Civic League.

Omar Rauf grew up to become an active member of the Utah Muslim community and serves on the board for the Utah Muslim Civic League.

Despite the horror and tragedy of the attacks and the jokes and harassment that sometimes followed, there was also increased discussions and engagement.

“I think there was some silver linings,” he said. “I think people wanted to learn about, you know, the Muslim community more. They wanted to learn about… what’s going on in other parts of the world. I think interfaith dialogue greatly increased during that time, especially in Utah, which is a relatively younger community. I think there was more kind of sharing of ideas.”

Marley said Sept. 11, 2001 was a day that changed her life, and the lives of countless others. But she said, in many ways, she thinks that change was for the better.

“I’m really impressed with millennials and even Gen Z, even though… a lot of them weren’t even born, for being compassionate people and trying to better their communities and being very open to people who are different from them,” she said. “I think it says a lot, because I think you could easily see that day as something that could harden a person or make someone incredibly angry, but I’m just really impressed with how so many people have just taken the road to compassion. And I think that’s been really, really beautiful.”

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