Bells are tolling and memorials are being held around the country today to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001, the day the nation was stunned when Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airline planes and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The attacks on 9/11 sent the nation through a time of despair and anguish that persisted with subsequent threats from anthrax to the sniper attacks in Washington.
“The nation went through a frenzy after 9/11, and our government got stronger,” said a CIA employee who chose not to disclose her name.
“My co-workers and I were scared, because we didn’t know who they were going to hit next,” the former Air Force Sergeant said. “I had colleagues that worked at the Pentagon during the time, but they were unharmed.”
Twelve years later, the nation continues to reflect on the changes since the attacks. The U.S. government created the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States.
The site of the World Trade Center is being rebuilt. In June, One World Trade Center was completed. In addition, three high-rise office buildings, a museum and memorial, and a transportation hub similar in size to Grand Central Terminal will all be added to the site.
Two years after the terrorist attacks, the nation’s capital was again strained by fear. Two men traveled through the Washington metropolitan area killing innocent people. Dubbed the Beltway Snipers, John Allen Muhammad and protégé Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized local residents. People were afraid to leave their houses in fear of being the next victim.
One place that residents considered safe was school. That’s why Tanya Brown didn’t expect her nephew to be placed in harm’s way when she drove him to Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., on Oct. 7, 2002.
Minutes after dropping off her 13-year-old nephew at school, she heard a loud bang and watched him collapse to the ground.
Samuel Freeman, 24, attended Tasker and also lived in the neighborhood of the victim, Iran Brown. “When the bus pulled up to the school, everyone on the bus sat and wondered why there was yellow tape around the front door of the school,” Freeman recalled. “We would all joke about the sniper in school whenever we saw a white van. I never thought it would happen to someone at our school.”
The two suspects were arrested on Oct. 24. They were accused of killing or wounding two dozen people, most of them in the Washington area. Muhammad was executed by lethal injection in November 2009. Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.