9/11 ceremony: ‘where were you that day?’

Teachers and police officers remember


To memorialize the 9/11 victims, the Prosper community hosts a ceremony annually. This year the ceremony was held at the Children’s Health Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony consisted of the national anthem, a PHS choir performance, 9/11 memorial videos, air fleets, speeches by the mayor, superintendent, and fire and police department officers, prayers and fireworks.

The audience was filled with Prosper community members of all ages. Some lived through the day, some had direct contact with those affected by that day, and some only heard what history recorded. Several of the speakers mentioned in their speeches where they were that day in 2001. Everyone who lived that day is able to recount their memories and connect to the tragedy in some way.

“I got a call from my father-in-law, and I figured I’d let my answering machine get it,” Prosper fire department chief Stuart Blasingame said. “He called me to tell me to turn on the news. I thought it must be a misunderstanding. Nothing like that had occurred since Pearl Harbor.”

During his speech, Blasingame brought attention to a steel remnant of the twin towers presented on a trailer. The next Prosper Fire Department building will include a 9/11 museum to display the remnant.

“I was teaching a room full of innocent children,” superintendent Dr. Holly Ferguson said. “I wanted to shield the children from all the evil that was out in the world on that day.”

Newly appointed Prosper mayor David Bristol spoke after Dr. Ferguson. He spoke about his personal connection to the day. He attended the United States Air Force Academy and graduated in the same class as LeRoy Homer Jr. Bristol found out later that his classmate flew as a pilot on United Airlines flight #93 that day. Four hijackers took control of Homer’s plane and changed route to the US Capitol. The plane crashed and Homer passed away.

Aside from those who spoke at the ceremony, teachers at PHS recalled their memories as well.

“I remember being a senior in high school and watching the tragic events of that day play out on live TV to our horror,” world history teacher Greg Easley said.  “It was especially traumatizing for some of my classmates and I because we had just visited NYC on a trip with our choir in April of that year. We toured the World Trade Center Towers and enjoyed the spectacular view of the city from atop one of the towers.”

At the time the World Trade Center held the title of the tallest building in the world.

“During our tour of the WTC, we met a lot of really friendly people who worked there, so on 9/11 it was so sad to realize that unfortunately some of them were likely among those whose lives were cut short, ” Easley said. “I’ll definitely never forget that moment. Every 9/11 I reflect upon what a terrible loss so many families suffered, but also the heroic example shown by so many first responders.”

The Prosper 9/11 ceremony both memorialized lives lost and honored the active responders of the Prosper police, fire and emergency medical services departments.

“It was my first year teaching. I was department head, and everyone was in my classroom having breakfast for my friend’s birthday,” US history teacher Julie Rutherford said. “A seventh grader – because I taught seventh grade, comes to the door and knocks on the door and says ‘Ms. Rutherford the Russians are attacking.’ And I said ‘honey,’ I patted her on the head and she got mad and said ‘no I’m telling you something’s going down, the Russians are attacking, you need to listen to the radio.’ ”

The news of the events shocked many, as the closest event to that degree was Pearl Harbor. In comparison, 9/11 killed about 1,000 more people than Pearl Harbor did. The after-health effects continued, increasing the death count.

“I closed the door and I went over and I turned on my boombox,” Rutherford said. “When I turned up the radio you could hear Peter Jennings saying ‘god oh my god the second tower’s down.’ I said ‘everybody quiet.’ I get chills thinking about it. We all just listened for the next ten minutes until school started. Then we had to go off everything. There were no computers – no anything. We were not allowed to talk about it with our kids because a lot of our kids’ parents worked in New York City.”

Several schools did not allow teachers to speak about the events to shield the students from the events and to avoid causing stress.

“I was at school, in 5th grade, when 9/11 happened,” math teacher Erin Fitzgerald said. “My dad was an airline pilot and was gone on a trip at the time. My elementary school tried to shield us from what happened so instead of releasing any details they had all kids with parents in the airline industry go to the front office to call home. Thankfully, I was able to hear from my mom that my dad was safe.”

A total of eight pilots passed due to the 9/11 hijackers. With that, 25 flight attendants were killed.

“I was on a Marine Corps base in a city called Twentynine Palms, California,” chemistry teacher Beverly Hassell said. “I remember holding my newborn daughter and watching the second tower fall on the news. My husband was an active duty Marine. He deployed to the Middle East 10 times over the next 16 years. That was the beginning of a lot of challenges for him and his fellow Marines. Everything changed that day.”