— September 11, 2001 —
TEN YEARS AGO FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2011 • SPECIAL 9/11 PULL OUT SECTION
Coverage costly for Grants grad By Bob Tenequer Beacon Staff Writer
n Sept.11, 2011, Eric O’Connell watched NBC’s Today show with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. Suddenly a news flash. A man being interviewed said a Cessna crashed into one of the twin towers of E. O’CONNELL the World Trade Center. O’Connell said, “I saw the television images and thought no way. A Cessna airplane would have bounced off.” Upon seeing the news coverage of the unfolding event, O’Connell pondered the thought, “Hey, I’m a photojournalist and I got to go there. Instinctively, I felt this was something big, it needs to be recorded.” He made the decision to go, a decision that could have cost him his life. O’Connell is a 1986 graduate of Grants High School and received a college degree in photojournalism from New Mexico State University. He is a professional fashion and design photographer based in New York City. O’Connell lived in lower Manhattan, about five blocks away from the World Trade Center. “I was really, really nervous,” explained O’Connell about covering the event. “I grabbed my camera; it was full of black and white film.” O’Connell said he had recently attended a black and white photo workshop taught by Antonin Kratochvil, a CzechAmerican born photojour-
BEACON / COURTESY OF ERIC O!CONNELL
O!Connell!s photograph of part of the fuselage of one of the jets that crashed into the Twin Towers.
nalist. The workshop inspired him and reinvigorated his interest in the flare of black and white photography. As he ran out of his apartment past the door of a Chinese take-out kitchen the whole building shook and the restaurant’s metal doors rattled. “I didn’t know it at the time but, it was the second plane hitting the tower,” said O’Connell. He rushed down Broad Street heading
toward Wall Street. As he rushed toward the towers the skyline, full of pieces of paper, reminded him of “ticker tape parades in the forties for guys coming home from war.” All the buildings were covered with debris. “It was like people’s lives were coming down,” explained O’Connell. “You didn’t know what it was; it was totally surreal for everyone.” O’Connell said he couldn’t see the towers because of all the buildings in the way. He finally maneuvered and finagled his way through to the south side of the burning twin towers. He said it became more
dangerous the closer he got and it became worse and worse. “There were chunks of concrete and steel on the streets. “Everywhere you could hear the ticking sound of glass, just like the dropping of pinons,” O’Connell recalled. He looked down and started taking pictures. “I took a photo of fingers severed from a hand.” He added, “As I looked around I thought, “What the (explicative) is this.” Everywhere there were body parts, it was inexplicable.” O’Connell said the human carnage, “looked like going into a butcher
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shop and the butcher throwing pieces of meat here and there.” He then realized how dangerous it was, “I had to look both up and down. “I went around the Deutsche Bank, located adjacent to the World Trade Center and looked up at the towers and realized that this is not good,” O’Connell said. He said he was about a football field length away and wanted to go closer but
was afraid to do so. O’Connell remembered thinking that if the buildings fall “they are going to fall on me. If the buildings fall a domino effect will occur with buildings crashing in around them. Nobody thought that the towers would fall straight down,” he said. “All of a sudden you hear a shift, shift, shift sound. Bodies started to rain down and then large steel beams, the size of semi-trailers came crashing down,” O’Connell said. “It was disgusting, bodies broken all over the buildings.” He stood under building scaffolds extending over the side walk, because he was afraid of being hit by debris. “Here I would be safe,” he said. He continued to shoot photos. It was from here he snapped the picture of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church with the burning twin towers as a backdrop.” “The church was pulverized, when the buildings fell, with not one brick left intact,” said O’Connell. The photo ran in the New York Times. He also took a picture of the fuselage of the plane lying on the ground. Later, according to O’Connell, “people looking at the image asked if it was a picture of a little car.” O’Connell emulated a crashing sound in a low deep grumble in his voice, “All of a sudden I heard a continuous rumble.” “I knew exactly what it was,” O’Connell said. He turned around and started running. “I ran and literally dove, like superman into a building hallway door.” As the 1,000 feet building See COSTLY, next page
SPECIAL 9/11 PULL OUT SECTION
COSTLY From PAGE 1 crashed down “the air displacement was incredible,” explained O’Connell. “What is weird, it took less than ten seconds for the building to fall. “There was a huge gush of air that went through the hallway. I curled up like a baby in a corner,” he said. “I remembered growing up in eastern New Mexico BEACON / COURTESY OF ERIC O!CONNELL where there were tornados,” remarked O’Connell. O!Connell!s 9/11 photo of New York City residents listening to a battery powered “My mom would tell us to radio broadcasting information about the terrorist attacks. get in a corner and that was “I then heard the voice of said. After that tragic day, all I could think about. the police officer who He said on his way back O’Connell said “It took me “My whole life went yelled, ‘The door is here to his apartment he took a a good two years to deal before my eyes,” O’Connell and I think we can make it photo of people wearing with it.” said with a stark expres- out.’ I yelled back ‘keep surgical masks listening to “It kind of ruined my sion. talking, we can’t see you.’ a small battery powered career, I couldn’t function “I said good-bye to my So we moved toward her radio on a car hood. anymore,” he said. “I was parents,” O’Connell said. voice and made it outside.” “My thought was are we diagnosed with PTSD “I was thinking I hope He said the decision to under attack? Will the (Post traumatic Stress this is the way I would die - take refuge in that lobby planes drop bombs now, is Disorder).” quickly. I remember think- saved his life and lives of a this the first hit? Everyone O’Connell said he is paring that I didn’t want to die few people. “It took me was fearful and confused.” ticipating in a multi-media with a big steel beam cut- weeks and months to When he made it back to art exhibition opening on ting off my legs or dying of remember the sounds,” his apartment it had no Sept. 10 called “Loft in the suffocation.” O’Donnell said. water and electricity. So, he Red Zone,” created to O’Connell remarked, When he got outside he walked over to a friend’s honor the 10th anniversary “When that was over I did- had to make a choice either place. He had water and of the attacks on the World n’t know whether I was to go toward the towers, electricity. While there he Trade Center. inside or outside. All of a like a combat photographer saw a girl that was terrified “I think there is somesudden you couldn’t going to where the action and crying. He told her he thing therapeutic about breathe because of all the was, or move away, would walk with her over having this show,” said thick talcum-like dust.” O’Connell said. “I choose the Brooklyn Bridge. O’Connell. To this day, O’Connell not to go toward what had As he walked across the The exhibition’s literacannot describe the smell just happened.” bridge, he took the picture ture states: “While pouring of that day. All he rememAs he walked aimlessly of the bellowing smoke pain, loss and sorrow into bers is that it was a heavy through the streets, he said, coming from the twin tow- their work, many of the pungent smell and said if “It was like walking in a ers. artists felt relief. They saw he was to smell it again he ‘ghost story’ where images He stayed with a friend in that by creating art they would recognize it immedi- and apparitions would Brooklyn. It was a terrible were telling their story and ately. appear and disappear and night, he said, “because giving a voice to their many I thought to myself, “I everything was silent, an they continued to show tel- emotions . . . they were am alive, but now I am eerie, eerie silence. evision footage of people beginning the healing going to die of smoke “Ghosts just passing you jumping out of the build- process” inhalation.” Someone cried by and you were a ghost to ings. Finally, he said he had out “I can’t breath and them . . . no connection in “I was exhausted.” the opportunity to go back someone called back and anyway.” O’Connell said, “Every ten years to see the images said put your face close to As he approached time I went to sleep I had he took on that day. “It the ground. Battery Park on the south- this reoccurring dream that was a really weird thing ernmost part of Manhattan I was falling,” because I don’t think I have the second tower fell. He said he was glued to done anything like that He remembered a food the TV, “I couldn’t take my since then,” O’Connell cart which sold hotdogs, eyes off of it. The next day said. chips and drinks. When I went back to Manhattan. O’Connell said it was the Tower fell, he said, the I thought I would never get interesting how New owner must have just took back home. It was my Yorkers behavior changed off running and abandoned home.” after 9/11. the cart. Immediately after the “Two weeks after the O’Connell said he wit- event, O’Connell said, “I tragedy New Yorkers were nessed people taking bot- was still on adrenaline high on there best behavior. tles of water from the cart. and I was taking pictures of This is what people should “I grabbed a bottle, and survivors for People be like, just like New suddenly someone grabbed Magazine. It was a weird Mexico,” he said with a me on my shoulder, it was time, but it took a long time chuckle. a cop. Unbelievable, I for me to realize that some“I am thrilled that I only thought to myself, I just thing was wrong about shot black and white on survived the collapse of this.” that day and not color,” this tower now I get arrestWhen thinking back because black and white ed. I felt stupid,” he said about the reasons he went brought out the bleakness with a laugh. to the cover the event he and starkness of that day. The woman officer said, “I took the pictures Ten years after survivdragged him and placed his because it is how I deal ing the event, O’Connell head into a water fountain. with the world, looking at said he abhors any type of “I must have just looked it through a lens.” violence because he seen terrible.” She was just tryHe said he has never tried first hand what violence ing to help me, O’Connell to market those images. can do.
Saluting the Victims and Heroes of September 11th, 2001 Monday-Friday 7 am to 9 pm • Sat. 7 am to 8 pm
SPECIAL 9/11 PULL OUT SECTION
Tributes to honor victims Sept. 11 events Grants: • Assemble at fire station No. 2, Truman Avenue and Nimitz Drive, 8 a.m. • Lowering of the flag at station No. 2 at 8:46 a.m. • Memorial procession from station No. 2, traveling along Nimitz Drive to High Street and arriving at station No.1 on High Street at 9 a.m. • Participants include fire and rescue personnel, emergency units and other area public safety agencies. • The ceremony at station No. 1 will include a flagraising, wreath presentation, helmet presentation, lowering of the flag, followed by public safety officials! speeches and ending with a prayer. Grants Fire Chief Robert Hays said that residents are invited to take part in the event at station No. 2 and to walk with the procession to the High Street ceremony. Milan: • Fire department members will join in the Grants! procession from station No. 2 to station No. 1 and ceremony at High Street, according to Chief Keith Austin. Lobo Canyon: • Procession gathers at Grants! City Hall Park at 6:30 a.m. to travel to exit 85, I-40. Vigil on overpass from 7 – 10 a.m. All military veterans are welcome to join the motorcade, according to Fire Chief Blue Siebert. Cubero: • Two fire department trucks will be on the exit 100 overpass, I-40, from 5 – 7:30 a.m. “In past years the Acoma fire department has joined us,” noted Betty DeSoto, Cubero department member, “but I!m not certain if they will be there on Sunday.” Acoma: • The department will send two units and four firefighters to participate in the Grants! procession from station No. 2 to No. 1, explained Fire Chief Orlando Garcia. Laguna: • The department has been invited to the Grants! fire department!s events, according to Chief Art Delao. He noted that several members will be taking equipment to Albuquerque where they will participate in the state fair parade. Grants Police Department: • Personnel will wear black ribbons above their badges, according to Tony Boyd, county emergency manager.
Public safety officials host ceremonies
By Rosanne Boyett Beacon Staff Writer
CIBOLA COUNTY – The lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, will be remembered at events across Cibola County on Sunday, according to public safety officials. “I'm a member of Lobo Canyon Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. And our chief, Blue Siebert, has organized a 9-11 vigil every year since 2002 at the I-40 overpass near Wal-Mart,” explained Tom Bombaci via email. “Chief Siebert would like to raise the vigil to the next level by challenging other emergency departments around the county, state and nation to make a chain of vigils across the country.” “On the first anniversary I got law enforcement to help,” said Siebert, “and we had a vigil at every overpass except for one. I sat on the I-40 overpass at Grants that first year. There were countywide events from Highway 6 to Bluewater.” He recalled, “We (the department) have been there every year, whether it’s stormy or not. You’d be surprised at the responses we get when people see us up there. They wave and honk their horns, especially the truckers.” The San Rafael firefighters used to host a vigil at
since 2002, according to Robert Hays, fire chief. “We are having a special tenth anniversary ceremony on Sunday and have encouraged other agencies to participate,” he said. Keith Austin, Milan fire chief, said, “Some of our members will be taking part in the Grant’s procession between station No. 2 and station No. 1.” Many towns across the BEACON / COURTESY ROBERT HAYS Captain Joseph DeSoto, Cubero Fire Department, rings the country do not have interbell during the Sept. 11 ceremony in 2009 at the Grants Fire state overpasses so they Station No. 1 on High Street. Grants Fire Chief Robert Hays pointed out that the depart- have designated a spot for ment has held a memorial service each year since 2002. their annual memorial ceremonies, according to the Lobo Canyon firefighter. exit 81 but Siebert wasn’t neat feeling.” sure if that department She pointed out that the “I challenge every public would take part in this two trucks do not stay safety agency to do someyear’s events. longer because drivers on thing to recognize this Last month the Lobo the interstate slow down date,” said the chief, Canyon chief sent an thinking there is an acci- “because these were our email encouraging public dent. Betty and her hus- comrades who gave their awareness that included, band Joseph have been lives trying to save others.” Siebert has served as the “On Sunday, Sept. 11, volunteer firefighters since 2011, an American flag the department was organ- department’s chief for the past seven years. He has should be displayed out- ized in 1995. side every home, apartGrants Fire and Rescue been a volunteer fireman ment, office and store in Department has held an for almost a quarter of a the United States.” annual memorial service century. He acknowledged that his department has ordered commemorative placards for Sunday’s events. They plan to display banners on department equipment during the parade from the city’s downtown area to the exit 85 overpass. “We’ve gone every year to I-40, exit 100, and parked our trucks on the bridge,” recalled Betty DeSoto, Cubero fire department member. “We th usually are there from 5:30 – 7 a.m. and people honk We’re here to help when you need cash FAST! Phone applications always welcome and wave at us. It’s a really
Proudly Honoring the victims and heroes of September 11
SPECIAL 9/11 PULL OUT SECTION
‘Gunny’ remembers past while preparing future generations By Aubrey Ashbaugh Beacon Staff Writer
GRANTS - Gunnery Sergeant and Grants High School MCJROTC instructor George Garcia began his first day of teaching the day the Twin Towers were hit on Sept 11, 2001. “My first thought was, this is Pearl Harbor all over again,” said Sgt. Garcia. “It really surprised me. It was my first day of teaching, the towers had just been hit and I had no idea what to tell them.”
Sgt. Garcia immediately tried to re-enlist, but was denied. Over the next few years, he would say farewell to many young boys who would enlist to defend our country. “I was scared for them. I had gotten lucky in my military years. I just told them to protect themselves, be alert, and come home safely. I just tried my best to make them aware of what they were getting into and just to be prepared.” Sgt. Garcia’s office is now littered with precious students photos, many of
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them of young men in uniform, decorated with military medals. Garcia enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 17. He had participated in the ROTC program at Grants High when he attended. “I knew after that first day of class that I was going to enlist. Soon after that, I decided after serving, that teaching ROTC is what I wanted to do. It just became a permanent part of my life.” Sgt. Garcia went to military boot camp then to his job which pertained to the aviation department in the military. “I was pretty fortunate. I signed on after Vietnam and it was pretty calm. We were on alert at BEACON / SARRACINO times, but I didn’t really Grants High School Gunnery Sergeant George Garcia directs have to do any combat his cadets this week. Garcia started his MCJROTC career on time.” Sgt. Garcia retired Sept. 11, 2001. when he was 38. He moved back to Grants and building a team dedicated years worth of hard work worked with Cibola to the program. The drill and dedication in the form Internet Services for a team is now widely known of trophies from state and competitions. time before he began within our community for national its success at state and “We don’t just try to teach teaching at Grants High. competitions. how to be a good drill Sgt. Garcia’s reputation national is preceded by his many The once-empty class- team. We teach students to students and the success of room is now filled with ten have patriotism and to be leaders in our community. A lot of our class lessons revolve around US history such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Even if they don’t sign up, they have an understanding and respect for those who have served and are serving now.” It is no secret to the community and parents of ROTC students the permanent relationship Sgt. Garcia has built with his students. Many previous ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR 1 AND 2 BEDROOM APARTMENTS students spoke on his Professionally Managed By: Showe Management, Corp. behalf, non-military and
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those still serving. Matt Christmann enlisted right after high school. “I think the best thing Gunny ever taught us was just how to be guides and the general form of leadership. He teaches you that you have to follow before you can lead. A lot of what he had taught me made my experience in the military a lot easier,” explained Christman, “He really just left the responsibility up to us cadets. He didn’t try to micromanage or tell us what to do, which was his highest and best contribution, because it really was up to us to learn how to do it for ourselves.” Christmann still visits Sgt. Garcia each time he comes home. Previous ROTC student Kyle Ashbaugh didn’t enlist in the military, but still considers Gunny to be one of the best mentors. “He just taught us about our capabilities and we all gained confidence and leadership from the freedom he gave us to do it.” Ashbaugh was part of the first drill team to attend Nationals. Sgt. Garcia, a veteran and teacher to younger generations, remembers Sept 11 by taking an active part in reminding students of the effects such events have on our country and the men and women who step up to fight and protect it. Honored and remembered by many, Garcia is happy and proud of all students and their success beyond the ROTC program, military or not.
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