Mary Slater was at work at the Mississippi University for Women Police Department when she heard the news over the radio.
One word came to mind: “fear.”
“So many people lost their lives,” Slater recalled Friday, with a distant look in her eyes. “I immediately went into prayer.”
Eight years later, the impact of Sept. 11, 2001, is even more personal for Slater.
Her son, Richard Griffin, 32, serves in the Army. He returned from Iraq last Thursday.
Her younger son, Randell Griffin, 26, is in the Air Force. He left, bound for Iraq, the following Sunday.
“We were at work at the office. I actually had just walked into the office. I was shocked,” remembered Sharee Karg, an emergency medical technician-paramedic with Baptist Ambulance Services.
Karg watched the TV as the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center.
“We had the TV on mute.”
After the volume was turned on, Karg realized what was happening. It was “scary,” she said; she was “shocked” and “sad.”
“Mostly now, (I”m) very sad that all of those people died,” she said. “And I guess on my end, more the rescuers … They died trying to save people.”
Bobby Webber, a Columbus police officer, also watched the attacks unfold on the small screen.
He was “shocked, disturbed, upset.”
Today, the unanswered questions are what plagues him the most – like not knowing who”s to blame.
“We can point the finger, but we don”t know what happened,” he said.
Television reports also delivered the news to workers at Bacco Materials in Columbus.
“I was at the office watching TV, and I knew when the first plane hit, it was a terrorist attack,” recalled Mike Grant, a firefighter with Lowndes County”s District 2 Volunteer Fire Department. (He worked at Bacco at the time.) “Life as we knew it changed at that moment. … And it would never be the same.”
Four hijacked jetliners crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people — 40 in Pennsylvania, 184 at the Pentagon and 2,752 in New York.
Grant considers it “the saddest day in American history.”
Columbus Air Force Base went into full lockdown on Sept. 11, 2001.
And Rick Songer, assistant fire chief at the CAFB Fire Department, watched the news in amazement and disbelief.
“The last thing I thought was there was an attack,” he said.
But the lockdown, he said, “made it real that something was going on.”
Saluting emergency personnel
Dozens of emergency responders gathered at the Columbus Municipal Complex Friday for the eighth annual Salute to Lowndes County”s Finest.
And as they were saluted for their efforts, on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, they remembered those who had lost their lives responding to the scenes of the attacks.
Sam Morris, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Columbus, spoke and prayed before barbecue chicken and pork was served to the local emergency personnel.
He remembered watching a fire truck on TV responding to the Twin Towers on 9/11.
“Those men on that fire truck went into who knows what, never to return,” he said, noting they responded to the call for the same selfless, heroic reasons local emergency responders do their jobs.
Still, Grant doesn”t think of himself as a hero.
“I feel like an average person trying to help people in need. You never know when an incident will strike close to home,” he said, remembering a time when it stuck home for him.
The first time the Jaws of Life were used in Lowndes County was after a car accident in which Grant”s mother and niece were trapped inside their vehicle, he said.
It was 1982; Grant, who was not yet a firefighter, watched as emergency responders worked to free his family members.
“It”s always good to know emergency responders are there to help out.”
Webber considers himself, fellow officers and other emergency personnel heroes.
“Only a few people would take my job and do it and honor it,” he said, comparing police officers” service to that of airmen, sailors and soldiers.
Karg also identifies the men and women of the armed services as heroes.
“All the soldiers who leave their families (are heroes). They do what they do, so we can do what we do.”
“My sons are heroes,” she said.
She had come across an article in the newspaper one day.
“It said ”My son, my soldier, my hero.””
She e-mailed the sentiments to her son, Richard.
He responded, “My friend, my confidant, my mom.”