Ten years later, still in a New York state of mind

I was a reporter in Stamford, CT, when the terrorist attacks occurred.  We worked hard all day and night to get the news out.  Three days later, I took Metro North to Ground Zero to ask Red Cross officials how many people had been missing from Fairfield County. There were many.  I want to thank  managing editor John Breunig of the Stamford Advocate who allowed me to write a piece about what it was like being a reporter that day 10 years ago. Here is my column (Stamford Advocate, Sept. 7, 2011):

That morning the sky was so blue, the kind of blue that makes you want to cry, because it was so pretty.

I was a reporter for The Advocate in Stamford, and though I was miles from Manhattan, the ripple effect came fast.

I was assigned to go to the schools, to churches, to the local mosque. Did you hear? I asked. Many reacted equally. They nodded, then shook their heads in disbelief. They looked into the distance, fearful and worried.

In our newsroom, little was said. We reported and wrote, reported and wrote into the night, as images of the World Trade Center, now a heap of rubble, metal, smoke and ash, were shown again and again. We kept our own questions, some too horrific to say aloud, but we couldn’t help wonder. What was it like for them: Inside the twin towers? Aboard those airplanes? On the streets, running?

I remember calling the Red Cross that day and for days afterward: How many rescued? I asked. How many missing? How many recovered? Too many, we learned in the days to come.

After the attacks, the newspaper began to fill with stories of loved ones lost, but also of kinship and acts of heroism big and small. Rescue workers combed for days in the debris. Residents rolled up their sleeves in record numbers and gave blood. Firefighters walked up and down Main Street in Stamford with a boot and collected dollars and coins for the families of those who died. Candlelight vigils were held in parks. People wanted to be together.

I interviewed members of the Sikh community, who stood in front of Bobby Valentine‘s restaurant and pleaded with people not to judge them. We are not them, they said of the terrorists. We did not kill.

I wrote about a Stamford man named John Fiorito, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. He had taken the job so he could be close to his son, Little John. Little John had just undergone a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. The boy had been doing better since his dad could spent more time with him, Karen Fiorito said.

I still have the family’s picture, unsure after all these years if I should send it back to Karen, because I’m afraid of her reaction if she should receive it out of the blue.

I left Stamford in November 2001. I thought most of the heartache was behind me, but pieces of that day followed me west.

As a reporter in Los Angeles, I’ve watched Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, swear in young U.S. Navy recruits, ready to fight the war on terror. I have attended the funerals of at least one U.S. Marine and two soldiers.

In May, when Osama bin Laden was found and killed, I interviewed Los Angeles residents who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks. They have lived with grief 3,000 miles away from ground zero.

I lost no loved ones that day. But we all have our heartaches. I am Assyrian American. The Assyrians are the Christian minorities of the Middle East. For Assyrians, Chaldeans and other Middle Eastern Christians, the terrorism experienced on Sept. 11 never really stopped. In the last 10 years, our ancient churches have been bombed, our people kidnapped, tortured and murdered or forced from their ancestral lands, all still at the hands of al-Qaida.

In the last 10 years, I have awakened to many mornings when a blue sky was so pretty that it made me want to cry. But one day, I hope the sky can be pretty without being heartbreaking.


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