The Fall and Everything After

Las Vegas memories of a national tragedy

Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, 1999-2001:

As I got out of the shower that morning, I looked at the television and thought there was a B-movie on before it struck me that this was really happening in our country. I had this feeling of violation—like something very pure and innocent had been sullied by these actions. … I think more than anything in the past, this showed us all just how vulnerable our tourism-based economy was, and it forced us to think in different ways about how we market our destination. [It] made us realize how malleable we are and how quickly we could adjust to this “new way” of life. We sat down and looked at things differently, and that is really where the idea of Las Vegas being about adult freedom and a mecca for celebrating freedom got its start. We became the city where you could go and forget about things and enjoy your freedoms.

Jim Snyder, evening anchor, KSNV Channel 3:

On the morning of Sept. 11, I took off running. The story of our lifetime was 2,570 miles away in lower Manhattan. With the airlines grounded, driving was the only option. I picked up a photographer-friend and hit the freeway for a 54-hour road trip straight through to New York City.

What I didn’t fully understand was that I was also running away. I needed to escape the insignificance of all the trivial things that seemed so important on Sept. 10. I was running from the mundane, the mediocre, the meaningless. I was on a pilgrimage to find true meaning, even if that meant raw pain, and Manhattan was my mecca.

The trouble was coming back two weeks later to find life settling back to normal. The “United We Stand” bumper stickers began to fade. Divided we squabbled. Pettiness crept back in. The people around me were moving on, and I felt left behind. In some ways, I’ve been unable or unwilling to catch up ever since.

Rosemary A. Vassiliadis, deputy director of aviation for Clark County, whose job it was to lead McCarran International Airport’s response to the attacks and its preparations to re-open under new rules:

My boss, Randall Walker, was away in Montreal attending an airports conference. He called after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, and as we spoke we saw live television coverage of the second tower as it was hit. I didn’t see much on the TV after that; my team and I immediately had to worry about the planeloads of people who would soon be stranded on McCarran’s airfield and in the terminals. That was a day unlike any other, and hopefully unlike any other ever again.

Kelli Oster-Andino, singer, God Lives in Glass, a musical about children’s diverse perceptions of God, to be performed at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theater on Sept. 10:

It was my first day at New York University, and I was in the ballet studio. I lived on 10th and Broadway in the Brittany dorms and you could see the towers from our bedroom window. I remember the smell. Whenever the wind shifted, we would … close our windows because it just smelled like burning flesh. I didn’t talk about it. I totally avoided it and started having panic attacks on the way to class, so I left before the year was over. It took away a lot. I had stage fright because I couldn’t connect emotionally to anything without totally losing it.

Philip Fortenberry, associate conductor, Jersey Boys:

Everybody I saw on the street that day looked me directly in the eye—not a New York thing to do—as if to check in, to connect in a very real and direct way as if to establish a much-needed sense of community. We needed each other. We were all in this together.

Jim Fassel, Las Vegas Locomotives president/general manager/head coach, shared his memories of 9/11, when he was coach of the New York Giants. On Sept. 10, 2001, the Giants opened their season with a 31-20 loss in Denver on Monday Night Football. After the game, they boarded their chartered plane home and landed at Newark Liberty International Airport at about 6 a.m. on Sept. 11. The plane pulled into the gate next to the one from which United Airlines Flight 93, bound for San Francisco, would depart at 8:42 a.m.:

After we landed, we went straight to the office—we didn’t go home; we went right to work. Then we saw what happened, and nobody could concentrate on anything. So I told the coaches we were going to work till 6 and then go home, get a good night’s sleep and come back the next day. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, nobody could concentrate. Everybody’s just walking around like, “What’s going on?” So I said, “Guys, let’s just get out of here.” I got to park underneath the stadium in a private area, and there was a park-and-ride right next to it. When I came in every morning, there were always about 100 cars. When I left that day, there were still about 100 cars.

It didn’t look like anybody had come back to get their car. And I remember driving out thinking, “God, I hope most of these cars are gone tomorrow morning.” I came back the next morning, and most of them were still there. And that’s the way it stood for about five days. And I’m thinking, “Ah man, these people that took the park-and-ride from here, they perished.”

Thomas Mitchell, former editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

I was in my home office reading overnight e-mail and wire service reports on my laptop when I turned on the news. There was smoke billowing from one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

Well, there’s tomorrow’s front-page photo, I thought, and turned back to the tasks at hand, confident the New York-based Associated Press and our other wire services would do a thorough and competent job. Then the second plane struck. Frankly, I sat frozen for several minutes, overwhelmed with the magnitude of the disaster and the obvious implications.

This was our Pearl Harbor.

When I got to the office, publisher Sherman Frederick called in from Arizona and ordered us to increase the next day’s paper by 24 open pages. About midmorning, one of the networks got its hands on video of a plane crashing into one of the towers. I walked out to the city desk and suggested they change the television there to that channel. Faces were ashen. One by one they somberly turned back to their phones and keyboards. There was not a reporter, photographer, editor, graphic artist, columnist, receptionist, secretary who did not contribute something that day.

As I drove home after 1 a.m. with a still warm and damp copy of the Sept. 12 edition of the paper with the huge headline “Terror strike,” I was listening to people on the radio. Callers were saying they’d gladly give up a few freedoms to secure safety. I wanted to reach through the radio and slap some sense into them.

They were ready to abandon the First Amendment right to religion, speech and assembly, the Second’s right to bear arms, the Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless searches, the Fifth’s right to due process, the Sixth’s right to a public trial and the Eighth’s ban on excessive bail.

A part of the war was lost already.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah, executive director of the Islamic Society of Nevada:

I was up for my morning prayers when I turned on the television, saw the planes flying into the twin towers and thought it was a Hollywood scene. But I realized it was CNN broadcasting live the coverage of the unfolding tragedy in New York. I froze and could not move.

I did not realize at that moment how this would impact my faith, my community and my family in years to come. I did not know what to do at that moment. So I called all my friends, woke them up and asked them to watch the news. They were horrified at what they saw. I also gathered my family members at the breakfast table and informed them of what had happened, and we all prayed for those who perished in the attack. Around 9 a.m., I drove to the local Red Cross office to donate blood. I went to all my neighbors and invited them to a prayer service at my home where the children of the neighborhood read from their scriptures.

Soon, it became known that Al-Qaeda was involved in the attack, and that they had used my faith to justify their action. They were full with hatred toward America, my new country. They were quoting from the scriptures that I deem sacred, scriptures that inspire me to regard all human beings as one.

The years that followed were challenging. I realized that those 19 hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had left a lasting imprint about my religion on the minds of my fellow citizens. I felt that many people were suspicious of me because I was a Muslim. I felt that I was under constant watch. But I knew the hijackers did not represent my Islam. It was my duty to condemn them and remind my fellow citizens that Muslim Americans were also killed on Sept. 11 when the hijackers attacked America.

Since then, I have been trying to communicate to as many people as I can that Muslim Americans will defend this country with all their might and resources. They have no other place other than America that they can call home.