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HNHS teaches next generation about 9/11

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TALK: Veronika Russell speaks up in class discussion with Sheriff Terry Stoffel about what 9/11 looked like in Huntington.
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LISTEN: Students in Stoffel’s criminal justice class listen during their discussionabout the Sept. 11 attacks. Many of the students were newborns or not born during the attack in 2001.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

Seventeen years after the tragedy that struck the United States when four passenger airliners were hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001, students sat in classrooms hearing about how that day in history forever changed the future of the country they call home.

These students, most of whom weren’t alive yet or were just a few months old at the time, have grown up hearing stories about what happened, but don’t actually know a world that wasn’t marked by this attack.

Sheriff Terry Stoffel shared with his criminal justice class at Huntington County Community Learning Center about what that day in history looked like right here in Huntington and where their focus as law enforcement fell.

After showing a video that gave a short recap of what happened, Stoffel stood in front of his students and told them even though they had been trained to know what to do if something like that happened, they still never thought it would.

At the time, Stoffel was the Police Chief in Huntington, and was at Nick’s cafe drinking coffee and eating breakfast with his captain and two patrolman when a special news bulletin came across the TV.

“We all got up from the table and we all stood there and watched it happen. We watched the second plane crash into the tower,” he recounted. “We left our breakfast, we went to the City Police department and we started formulating a plan while watching the TV, what we were going to do, how we were going to handle this.”

Stoffel said that shortly after that, community leaders – including the mayor, commissioners, the sheriff, the coroner’s office – came together to go over the procedures they have to take to keep Huntington safe. He added that he later spoke at Meyers Funeral Home and said that while people had been trying to take God out of schools, that day caused people to pray in schools across the country and reminded everyone that they had to stick together.

Though Stoffel is able to recall exactly where he was when it happened, his students aren’t able to relate. Yet they’ve grown to understand why it’s important to keep discussing what happened.

Owen Princell said that since that day changed the way society functions, it’s important to know and remember why. 

“When that did happen it brought everybody in America together as a whole, they really united … it put all of everybody’s problems and differences aside and they just gathered together. (It) didn’t matter who you were they were helping dig people out of rubble, they were picking people up that were in the dust,” Princell said.

Lindsey Hill added that there’s no way anyone will ever forget what happened because in an instant the country went from feeling safe to feeling insecure and vulnerable.

“A lot of people came together and I think that’s something we have to think about now ... we have to come together and that’s when we’re at our best,” Hill said.

Stoffel’s students also explained they’ve grown up learning about the attack since they were in elementary school. While learning about the attack, one thing that has stuck out to some of them is that those who were alive when it happened always remember the day very clearly.

“They always say they can remember it like it was yesterday and I guess that comes with when you experience a tragedy, it kind of gets engrains that in your memory,” Princell said. “That just to me speaks more volume than anything else because if every person – no matter where they were, no matter how far they were from it and how involved they were in it – if they all remember it like that, then that just tells me how much of an impact it had on them and America as a whole and how it woke everybody up to things like this could happen.”

Dustin Eltzroth said he could understand that because his brother’s classroom was involved in the Noblesville school shooting in May and can still remember everything about that day down to the smallest details.

Even though the students began learning about the attack in elementary school, for most, they said they didn’t truly start to understand the magnitude of what it meant until they reached middle school and are still grasping just how big of a deal it really is.

“As you grow up you start experiencing your own tragedy and losing family members and things like that and I think as you mature it just speaks to you in a different way I guess,” Princell said. “Especially today we were watching a video in my U.S. History class about 9/11 and I was getting a little emotional and before when I would watch that stuff I really didn’t get that way. I guess it’s just a completely different experience when you actually understand ‘what if that would happen today’ and if you had family members that were there.”

Stoffel also spoke to this, saying he believes his students are at the point now where they can wrap their minds around the death aspect of the event and can understand that mothers, fathers and family members died that day – and it could’ve affected anyone in the room.