When I Looked Into the Eyes
of a 9/11 Terrorist
by Allen R. Kates, MFAW, BCECR
My 9/11 story begins on March 3, 2001. This is a story of which I have never spoken. In a moment, you will see why.
I flew from Tucson to Phoenix, AZ, on America West, arriving at 1:41 PM. I had about an hour before I would connect to a flight to Sacramento where I was to give a seminar at a Sacramento Law Enforcement Chaplaincy event the next day on how Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects police officers and what they can do about it.
I sat down at a table in front of a coffee kiosk and opened up my laptop. As I began to work, I looked up and right across from me sat two Middle Eastern men. They were only about 15 to 20 feet away so I got a good look at them. One wore brown pants with a sharp, flat crease. His legs stretched out in front of him in my direction. I don't remember the other man. But I remember the man in the meticulously pressed brown pants.
To be clear--I'm an investigative journalist. I believe in proof, evidence, facts, research. I'm not psychic. I don't believe in fortune telling, ESP, Area 51, space aliens or that Elvis was recently sighted riding a bicycle past a Miami bodega.
However, I do believe in intuition, what's sometimes called a "news nose." My intuition told me something was going to go down, something terrible.
What I felt at the moment this man and I locked eyes on each other was nothing I'd experienced before. I felt that not only did he hate me, but he wanted to rip me apart. That's a shockingly primitive gut reaction, one I couldn't ignore.
Cops know what I'm talking about. They have come face-to-face with people they know would kill them in an instant if they could. They have stared into the eyes of a demon. They have felt the acid bath of evil spilling over them. Now you get the picture.
I was so startled by this encounter that I wrote a description of the man in the sharply creased brown pants on my computer.
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Up To No Good
After a few minutes, the man and his partner stood up and walked out. I felt they were up to no good, and within a few seconds I followed them out. I had to tell somebody in authority. But, to my astonishment, they had disappeared. There was nobody else in this part of the terminal. There were no bathrooms they could have entered. All the chairs were empty.
But there was one door with a Restricted Area sign on it. It was the only place they could have gone.
What Would I Tell...?
I looked for an emergency phone on the wall to call somebody. I've seen them before. There wasn't one. Nobody was at the gate, not even an airline clerk. And then I said to myself, What would I tell somebody anyway? That I saw a suspicious man? He had a crease in his pants? He looked like he wanted to kill me? If I offered that explanation, I think the authorities would have had me involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward of a hospital.
Both photos are Hani Hanjour
Many months later, after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, the media released photographs of the terrorists. I recognized the man with whom I had exchanged looks, the mass murderer, Hani Hanjour.
According to the 9/11 Timeline, Hanjour trained on a Boeing 737-200 simulator for a total of 21 hours between February 8 and March 12, 2001, at JetTech International flight school in Phoenix. On March 3, I flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on a Boeing 737-200.
Hanjour On Deadly Flight To Pentagon
By September 2, 2001, Hanjour had moved to the Washington DC area. On September 11, with the aid of several other terrorists, he hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-223, and crashed it into the Pentagon.
All 64 passengers on board were killed and 125 in the Pentagon.
I don't know why Hanjour was at the airport in Phoenix. I never saw him again until his photograph appeared in newspapers alongside the other terrorists.
If there is a Hell, Hanjour is a forever resident.
Where I was on 9/11
Most of us remember where we were when we heard of the attack on 9/11, just like some of us remember what we were doing when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
On Monday, September 10th, while Hanjour was getting ready for his murderous assault, I was at the Spokane Washington Police Department, giving the first of five seminars on PTSD to police brass, street cops and police family members. There were about 285 commissioned officers on the force.
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On Tuesday morning, September 11th, I headed down in the
hotel's elevator to the restaurant for breakfast. I overheard people
whispering about the NY World Trade Center and an explosion, but
couldn't make sense of it. In the restaurant, the TV blasted out the
details. The restaurant atmosphere was hushed, tense, nobody was
talking. They were riveted by the images of horror on the screen. I
ordered breakfast, but didn't touch it.
Said A Prayer
When I arrived at the police department, everyone was in a training room watching television with officers spilling out into the corridor trying to catch a glimpse of the screen. I knew then that the seminars I had prepared were now more poignant, but the context had changed from hypothetical to real.
Due to the circumstances, we started the seminar an hour late. Half the officers who were supposed to attend were not present. They had been ordered to protect public structures, especially the airport.
I began with a prayer for those who were dead, dying and suffering. We didn't know yet how many had died, how many civilians, firefighters and police officers. Preliminary reports were in the thousands. We prayed that our brother and sister officers had not perished. I was a civilian among shocked and grieving cops, but at that moment I was one of them.
Cop Who Became Firefighter, Across the Street From WTC
In CopShock, Second Edition, I wrote two chapters about 9/11 and its aftermath. The first chapter is about Jimmy Brown, an NYPD officer for nine years, who became a firefighter just days before 9/11. He was stationed across the street from the World Trade Center.
One of the first to respond to the attack, he was buried alive when the north tower, which he had been in moments before, crumbled and pounded him with debris. In the book, he describes how he dug himself out and eventually dealt with PTSD symptoms and depression.
98 Days On The Pile
The second 9/11 story in CopShock, Second Edition, features Jonathan Figueroa, an NYPD K-9 Officer.
He spent 98 days on the pile digging for body parts. Five years later, he developed PTSD as a result of his traumatic experiences--and attempted suicide.
Fortunately, he reached out for help to POPPA (Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance), a New York City police peer support organization.
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Grim WTC Statistics
By Thursday September 13, the officers at the Spokane PD were beginning to receive the grim statistics, although it would take a few weeks to confirm that nearly 350 New York City firefighters and two paramedics had died in the towers, along with 23 New York City Police Department officers, 37 Port Authority Police Department officers, and eight private ambulance personnel.
Nearly 3,000 civilians had died, 200 of whom were forced to jump to their deaths from the burning buildings.
Pentagon and Shanksville Deaths
At the Pentagon, including the passengers on the plane, another 184 died.
Crater caused by crash of United 93
In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 40 people on United 93 had died after passengers revolted and stopped the terrorists from crashing the plane into other populated targets.
Trying To Get Home
My last seminar was on Thursday, and then I had to find a way to get back to Tucson. No planes were flying, maybe not for a week.
On Friday I went to the airport to rent a car to drive home. Hertz said they'd charge me an unconscionable rate of $380 per day plus drop off fee. Budget would charge me their usual rate of about $29 per day. Hertz will never get my business again.
After arranging the Budget car, I checked the America West booth for an update. They had a flight leaving for Phoenix in two hours, the first flight since the attack. I grabbed my ticket and headed home.
Now A Country At War
The country was now changed. We knew we were at war. We just didn't know with whom.
One Month Later, I Headed For NYC
On October 15, 2001, a little more than a month after the World Trade Center was destroyed, I headed for New York City. I had been invited to give an eight-hour training about PTSD, stress and trauma, primarily to the peer support officers at Cop2Cop, a Police Helpline organization in New Jersey.
Cop2Cop is an excellent program. It offers 24/7 support to New Jersey officers from fellow officers trained in issues such as suicidal thinking, marital, medical and legal problems, risky behavior, anxiety, PTSD, depression, recent loss and substance abuse.
This is a model program for police departments across the country, and the director of the program hopes to make it national (www.Cop2CopOnline.net).
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Walked Through The Pile
Before I was allowed to talk to the officers, the director of Cop2Cop told me that I couldn't possibly understand what their officers were experiencing until I had seen for myself the horrific destruction of the World Trade Center.
In a group led by the director, I went down to the pile where we donned boots, masks, goggles, helmets and gloves to protect ourselves from the toxic dust that was heavy in the air. Construction workers had cleared a corridor through the wreckage, and for about an hour, what seemed more like a year, we stumbled along a roadway bordered by two stories of rubble on both sides.
Rubble that had little shape, apart from twisted, blackened metal beams stuck out in odd directions. You could not clearly make out a piece of glass, a desk or a computer monitor. Most everything was burned, black, white, gray, crushed, compacted, broken, powdered or pulverized beyond recognition.
Flames, Smoke, Noise, Reek of Decay
During our walk, sometimes plumes of flame shot out from the debris, accompanied by white or black smoke. The noise was deafening. Heavy cranes and other machines teetered on top of the rubble, grinding, digging, pushing, prodding, their engines laboring and spitting black diesel smoke. The air reeked of gasoline, cement, burned things, decay and putrefaction.
By the end of the walk, my legs were tired and rubbery. A makeshift wooden gazebo stood as a shrine to the missing and the dead. Tacked and taped to its beams were letters, poems, teddy bears, flowers, paper hearts, pleas and prayers.
A Letter From A Child
I began reading a letter from a child to his father asking where he was. The tape sticking the letter to the post was coming off and I kept trying to press it on, as if my effort would give it more glue.
Then I began to weep, tears streaming down my face.
The director took me by the arm and said, "Now you can talk to our cops. Now you understand."
Woman mourns loss of her son on 9/11 at 2011 memorial
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