Deputy Police Chief Michael Keating was a newly promoted sergeant 15 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001. He remembers marveling at how blue the sky was as he walked to work that day, and then how his peaceful mood quickly changed as he walked into an “eerie silence” in the lunchroom. Ten officers had gathered there and were staring in disbelief at smoke billowing out of one of the World Trade Towers on the TV screen.
Not sure what to do, he and fellow officers Aftanas, Murphy and Tierney put on their SRT turnout gear (SWAT team), jumped into one of the Police SUVs and started driving around.
“We could see the dread in everyone’s eyes — cops and citizens alike,” he recalled. “There were reports that other planes had been hijacked and were heading for Chicago. No one in the squad said much. We listened to talk radio, hanging on every word they said.”
Keating captured the feeling of helplessness, felt by many, when he said, “All of us in the squad felt guilty about going home that evening. There was so much still going on in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania and all we had done was drive around … waiting.”
On 9/11, Imad Tarhoni, who now resides in Forest Park, was living with his family in Zawia City, Libya. He had just gotten up from a nap when he saw his father and a cousin watching the same images Keating was seeing, except that his family had their TV tuned to Al Jazeera.
The three men stared at the TV screen in confusion because they could not imagine the U.S. coming under attack in this way. He remembered thinking, “Here was an airplane filled with hundreds of innocents hitting a tower filled with thousands of innocents? When I saw people jump from windows and the buildings collapse with people still inside, I felt a combination of anger and sadness. The worst was when I learned that bin Laden claimed responsibility and said he was doing it for the sake of God and Muslim nations. I felt like he had stolen my identity as a Muslim.”
Many Forest Parkers first heard about the terrorist attack on their car radios while driving to work. Rachell Entler, a commissioner in Forest Park, remembers she and her husband, Eric, were driving under the old post office on their way to the Loop where they worked when they first heard the news.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” she said. “Early morning radio programs will do stupid things like that. Then we heard it again and realized it was real.”
Many people used the word “disbelief” to describe their initial reaction as they watched a plane crash into the second tower and people jumping out of windows. Joe Locke, an investment advisor in town, said he watched TV for hours that day as events at ground zero unfolded, almost as if he were trying to convince himself that this was really happening.
Larry Piekarz, director of the Park District of Forest Park, said, “I still can’t fathom how someone could be so cold-hearted to take a plane full of people and hit that building where there’s more people. It boggles my mind to this day.”
Keating had a different reaction saying, “I was genuinely pissed off, to be frank. It definitely made me think how fast things could go south in the world.”
His present boss, Police Chief Tom Aftanas said, “I felt shocked watching the planes hit the towers. All the other emotions, sadness, anger, fear, came later after watching people jump from the towers and then when you didn’t think things could get worse, the buildings fell.”
Locke said that he thinks Osama bin Laden is “dancing in his grave” when he sees what an impact 9/11 has had on the U.S., with long TSA lines at airports and U.S. citizens worried about terrorism all the time.
Entler looks back at 9/11 from the perspective of three generations. She experienced the event in a personal way because her dad, Tim Rehor, was a firefighter at the time. For herself it was “a monumental thing” that changed the way she thinks about the world. For her 9- and 11-year-old children today, “It’s another thing that happened.”
“When I was in school,” she said, “we practiced tornado and fire drills. “My children practice lockdown drills.”
Asked what could be done to make America safer and more secure, a woman whose parents are immigrants from Poland and who wished not to be named in the article, said there is no way to protect ourselves 100%. It would take changing people’s thoughts and beliefs.
Rev. Leonard Payton, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, got even more specific.
“This country is less safe and secure because we have dismissed the one God who is the source of all good. Consequently, there is very little that human governments can do. The problem is the heart, and that is not government’s territory; it’s Jesus’ territory.”
Tarhoni, who has lived in both a Muslim country and in the U.S., believes the most important battle to be fought against terrorism is cultural.
“My recommendation for the U.S. to secure itself,” he said, “is to destroy the stereotyped images of America that those extremists try to place in the minds of their countrymen.”
Chief Aftanas said, “I hate to say it, but terrorism will never totally be eliminated. My belief is that we should continue to put more resources toward our national security. Personally, I do not have a lot of faith in either candidate running for resident. I just hope that whoever becomes our next president has very good advisors.”
When asked which leader he thinks would make America safer and more secure, Keating said, “Superman/Superwoman.”