I still remember that day...I wrote about it...In 1999, one of my favorite cop partners, (now a Denver Police officer), chose to marry the love of his life on 9/11. It was a special date. He was a cop...it was the emergency number.
He was my best bud on the street.
Manitou Springs, Pike's Peak. It was an extravaganza and feast for kings. We had a great time. It was his special day. They are still happily married with two great kids.
But that all changed...
I remember the day all too well. Nowhere near New York City...I was at home, preparing to go to work. I was on my last month of patrol before I was to go up to Investigations to begin my detective career. Pressing my uniform, I had the television on. As I was looking at the screen, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I switched channels. Same thing. Then I called my patrol officer friend and told her to turn on the television. She didn't believe me.
We couldn't take our eyes off of it. I watched the television for hours. She watched it at her house. We were on the phone together. Pretty soon, we were overwhelmed...watching people jump from high stories to their deaths. We felt helpless, then feeling like we should arm ourselves and do something. What was next? Was the whole country in peril? What was going on? How could this happen? We both felt sorrow, anger, and insecurity. How could it be an accident? Then the news of terrorist attacks came over with the media honing in on Flight 93.
But duty still called. Our briefing that night was somber. We all felt under attack by some unknown events to come. If they hit New York...where else? Wyoming had missile sites. Were we next? We were on high alert.
It wasn't until a few days later on patrol that 9/11 hit home on the streets. Sure, it had affected everyone...far and wide. The initial shock factor began to wear off. But I didn't know what it did until that one traffic stop...
As I watched one of my area school zones, I saw a white Nissan sedan speed through it. Activating my lights, the driver didn't pull over right away. Flipping on the siren...the driver finally stopped near the football field.
The driver's side door bolted open and an older man jumped out of the car with his hands up, crying and screaming and getting down on his knees. I was startled.
He screamed in broken English not to kill him, not to hurt him, he had family, "Police please have mercy on me."
He was shaking. He wouldn't look up at me. He was still on his knees.
I recognized him. He was a well known business man in town. I reached down and grabbed his arm to help him up, calling out his name. Still shaking, he allowed me to help him up off the ground. When he finally looked at me with tears in his eyes, I told him it was alright. He had just been speeding.
We talked of the 9/11 attacks. He felt all of America was judging him in a different light. He was Iranian. He had lived in the United States for over 30 years. He had gone to college here. He had changed his citizenship. He loved America. He was now an American citizen. Yet, he felt more like a foreigner than ever before. He didn't want people to look at him with hate and discontent. He was ashamed. I felt pity on him.
I let him go...not even finishing the traffic stop. It was one of those things. Even after seeing him drive off with relief on his face, I sat in my car. The sadness of the whole situation took over me. I never spoke of that moment until now.
Weeks later, we found out from the FBI that some of the terrorists had trained at our airport at some point during the years they plotted their attacks. They had stayed in our city...plotting...planning...training. We, the United States, had given them skills they needed. It was disgusting because it was innocent. Who would have known? Should we have known?
Several people from our state hurried to New York to volunteer. Emergency managers. Coroners. Law Enforcement. Citizens. People brought their search dogs. And lost their search dogs. The job was even too much for some of the animals. They became depressed, plagued with health concerns, and couldn't breathe. But the people kept going. They continued to help...even if they were exhausted, unhealthy, sick, or depressed. In the end...no one had regrets to go help.
So that's what 9/11 has come to...for me. It doesn't just belong to New York. It is a United States tragedy that I will never forget. Many people perished needlessly from a cruel act of terrorism. An event that reached every heart across the nation. And changed our country forever. Perhaps the only positive thing is that it banded us together...before we divided ourselves apart.
So with the anniversary our generation will never forget...be safe.