A western Colorado community reacted with horror, disbelief, yet hope, as Sept. 11, 2001 attacks played out
A turn of the Post Independent pages back to early September 20 years ago, in the days just before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks changed the world forever, doesn’t seem like much of a step back in time compared to today’s local headlines.
The Sunday, Sept. 9 edition of the PI included a story about the city of Glenwood Springs postponing a plan to build a roundabout at the intersection of South Midland and Four Mile Road until the next spring.
However, a $1.6 million rebuild of South Midland was on the “fast track,” with construction slated to commence that fall.
South Grand Avenue from 23rd to 27th streets was also set to be closed for several weeks while new curbing, gutters and sidewalks were being built.
Big topics of the day had to do with finding ways to build more affordable housing and balancing that with development and growth concerns.
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A front page headline in the Tuesday, Sept. 11 edition called attention to logging operations in the area forests aimed at thinning beetle kill trees, while a proposed interagency wildfire response agreement was in limbo.
In the sports world, locally, the PI’s own Charlie Wertheim was not only race director for the long-running Tri-Glenwood Triathlon that Sunday, he won the darn thing in impressive time.
That post-Labor Day weekend also saw Venus Williams beat little sister Serena Williams for the U.S. Open ladies tennis title on Center Court at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York City.
The big season-opening Monday Night Football matchup pitted the Denver Broncos against the New York Giants at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos won, 31-20.
Little did the world know that New York City would make headlines in another unspeakable way that next morning when terrorists, later identified as members of the extremist group Al Qaeda, hijacked four commercial airliners.
Two of them smashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in lower Manhattan, bringing them crashing down. Another plane crashed into the side of the Pentagon in Richmond, Virginia, and the other, also believed to be en route to a target in Washington, D.C., came down in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers fought back. In total, nearly 3,000 people would die in the attacks, and others suffered serious injuries.
“Terrorists wage war on U.S.” declared the top headline in the Wednesday, Sept. 12 edition of the Post Independent. By then, the Associated Press was already reporting Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect in masterminding the attacks.
Secondary page one stories included an interview with then-3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis, originally from Glenwood Springs, who vowed “horrible retaliation” once the perpetrators were confirmed.
“Our resolve has to be significant. Our retaliation has to be horrible. But we don’t know where they are, or who they are,” McInnis told PI reporter Heather McGregor. “We have to resist any call for immediate retaliation until we verify who did this.”
McInnis also forewarned that the attacks would bring “dramatic changes” to life as people knew it at the time.
Indeed, air travel would change forever beyond the initial three-day grounding of all air civilian traffic. Much tighter airport security would ensue with the eventual creation of the Transportation Security Administration among the nation’s new security measures.
Around Glenwood Springs and across Garfield County, local residents reacted to the tragedy, as the PI featured a full 10-page inside section titled “Day of Terror.”
“It makes you feel pretty nauseous that potentially so many people are deceased right now,” commented Nicholas Elliott, who was sitting at a downtown Glenwood bakery as the news unfolded. “…I think it’s atrocious, but as far as the government is concerned, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
Across the street at the Amtrak train station Paul Van Beusichen of Frisco waited with others for the westbound to arrive.
“I think we’re going to war,” he said. “The president has to declare war on somebody because this affects our whole way of life.”
Then Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri reported that area law enforcement was on high alert.
“We’re concerned that these kinds of things bring out reactions and overreactions,” he said. “But we don’t expect any problems in this area.”
Rumors that area schools went into lockdown mode also had to be dispelled. But it certainly wasn’t a normal day in classrooms, as many of the regular classes were canceled and students were encouraged to watch news reports of the day’s events in the school libraries and have group discussions about what was happening.
“It makes you realize how secluded we are here, and it kind of makes you think,” said Brad Douglas, then a senior at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs. “Nostradamus might have predicted this. I hope this isn’t the start of World War III … We should do something, but not go bombing any place.”
In Carbondale, town Trustee Russ Criswell presided over the Tuesday Board of Trustees meeting that night in the absence of Mayor Randy Vanderhurst and Mayor Pro-Tem Susie Darrow.
“This war of terrorism can only be effective if we allow it to be,” the Valley Journal reported Criswell as stating at the start of the meeting. “If we refuse to become paralyzed, if we do not succumb to this fear, the terrorists cannot win … but we can lose it if we allow them their victory.
“That is why we are here this evening, to continue, in our small way, our belief in our society and our way of life.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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It may be by a technicality, but the Valley Valkyries 7s rugby club were the de facto champions of their hosted tournament this weekend.