Vanadia

NYC Stories

James Kirkland

Published Tuesday, September 18, 2001 : The Miami Herald

JAMES KIRKLAND

“I am only 13, yet I have witnessed a most tragic event”

As I was rushing off to school on Tuesday morning, the main thing on my mind was whether my gym teacher would forgive me for not having bought my gym shorts. Three hours later, the main question on my mind was: Am I going to die?

I am a freshman at Stuyvesant High School, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. When this horrible catastrophe began, I was sitting in English class discussing the strategy of narration in a poem. Suddenly the loud speaker came on, and an assistant principal explained that at 8:45 a.m., a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. At first, there was silence, then our teacher said: ``Wow, how do you follow up to that?’’ My class laughed.

The next period I had was a “free” period, so I went to the cafeteria. Some kids were watching the news, and I joined them.

The lights in the building flickered, the TV turned off, and we heard a loud explosion. We saw hundreds of people running away from my school.

I heard a second extremely loud crash . . . the scene was unimaginable. The World Trade Center building had collapsed into itself, shooting a large black cloud of smoke into the sky. I watched while bodies fell from the windows, as the building came down in a giant plume of smoke.

I was too much in shock to do anything. My friend Abby began to hyperventilate at the words terrorist attack. Some classmates were crying and others comforting those in need.

Then someone yelled to look out the front window—and a sight met my eyes that put the first thought in my mind that I might die. Smoke was slowly moving down the street toward us as people ran screaming away from it. Everyone in the school started yelling.

The loud speaker instructed us to leave the school in an orderly fashion and walk away from the smoke. But soon a policeman started yelling for us to go back into the school. A huge cloud of dark black smoke had begun billowing over the side of the school.

We started to jog back to the school, but almost as soon as we began, the policeman began yelling for us to come back fast. Another giant cloud of smoke was pouring north around the other side of the building. It was the smoke from the World Trade Center, and we all started to run.

When I turned, I saw a very disturbing sight: smoke rising into the air, totally enveloping the 10 stories of the school building. As we walked away from the school, I saw many people standing along the sidewalk watching the smoke make its way across the streets with confused looks in their eyes. I saw one Japanese businessman covered from head to toe in white dirt and soot with only the lenses of his glasses clear. He was staring blankly stunned, as if nothing that had just happened was real. I saw many more people like him as I walked on with the rest of the kids from Stuyvesant. Out to the west, the Hudson River, which we were walking along, was covered with ash and pieces of wood and debris.

I walked home, about six miles from the school, and logged onto AOL to inquire about family and friends. The saddest story was about a classmate whose father had worked in one of the buildings. When she got home, she heard a voicemail message that he had left right before the building collapsed. Her father was saying goodbye because he knew he was going to die.

These have been the most terrible days in my life. I feel sad for the people who have died in this horrific terrorist attack and also for the victims’ families.

I am only 13 years old, and yet I have witnessed one of the most tragic events in American history. I hope never to see anything this chilling again in my life. But I fear that I will.

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