Archive for Thursday, September 13, 2001

Terror strikes home

De Soto copes with terrorist attacks

September 13, 2001

The scene in the De Soto Senior Center Tuesday wasn't unlike many others throughout the nation as people gathered around televisions and radios for the latest information on the morning's unprecedented terrorist attacks.

But unlike many of their countrymen, the seniors at the center could relate the experience to an earlier event in their lives the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that started World War II.

Still John McCaslin said Tuesday was different.

"World War II, people knew what was happening," he said. "Here, you don't know who you're fighting. You don't know who the enemy was."

Despite their experience with past national tragedies, senior center director Mary Bichelmeyer said the seniors gathering for lunch were unprepared for Tuesday's events.

"It hasn't even sunk in to the people here," she said as she served up lunch for seniors at the center. "This morning when (a friend) and I heard the Pentagon had been hit, it didn't sink in."

Across town in Lexington Middle School, school officials were balancing the enormity of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with the need to reassure students they were safe.

"What I don't want to happen is for the kids to get real scared and worked up about the situation," said Principal Mark Schmidt. "We made a decision we won't be listening to the radio or television all day."

Schmidt said he visited classes, assuring students they were in no danger in De Soto. Still, the principal said he didn't deny the importance of Tuesday's events.

"I told the classes we're going to be talking about this a long time," he said. "I told them they're going to be reading about this for months, even years, to come."

In response to the attacks, the De Soto school district rescheduled all of Tuesday's planned activities. Superintendent Marilyn Layman said the district wanted to give students time with their families as they dealt with the days events.

While De Soto city government carried on as usual, Johnson County went to a heightened level of alert. County administrative assistant Casey Karl said County Administrator Mike Press and other key officials were operating out of the county's emergency command center in the county administrative building. All non-essential personnel were allowed to use a leave day, Karl said.

Don Clark, De Soto, followed Tuesday's event with greater interest than most area residents. His investment company works closely with Oppenheimer Mutual Funds. Oppenheimer had four floors of offices in the second World Trade Center tower struck by a jetliner Tuesday.

Clark said he last visited the offices last spring. What he knows from his visits is not reassuring.

Many of those employed at the towers arrive from 8:30 to 9 in the morning, he said. Tourist excursions to the observation decks that were perched on top of the towers are scheduled for the early morning hours to reduce the inconvenience on the tenants.

Clark said he was told the Oppenheimer people he knew were able to evacuate the building in the 18 minutes before the second airliner plowed into the second tower. But, he added he hadn't spoke to any of the workers personally to confirm their survival.

Third District U.S. Congressman Dennis Moore said he returned to his Washington office across the street from the Capitol Building Tuesday afternoon after being evacuated earlier in the day. The Lenexa Democrat said Tuesday marked a turning point in the nation's history.

"We've lost our sense of security," he said. "We have been hit in the face by terrorism. We have to take steps, to the extent we can, to assure something like this doesn't happen again."

Moore said his immediate concern was the federal government identifies the victims of the attacks and their families. After that, he vowed Congress would investigate how the terrorists avoided detection by intelligence agencies and airport security.

"Those folks got through the cracks," he said. "Congress is going to want answers. There are no absolutes or guarantees anymore, but we need to beef up security to do what we can to assure this doesn't happen again."

"The American people want to see their government is going to continue to function and not frightened into shutting down by terrorists," he said. "The last four months Congress engaged in partisan debate on Social Security, campaign finance and other issues that divide us.

"The will be no partisan overtures on this. We're all going to stand behind the president once he decides on an appropriate response to those responsible for these attacks."

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