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Editorial: Former Park Rapids residents recall living in New York at time of 9/11 attacks

"Acts of terror hit home" was the headline in the Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001 issue of the Enterprise.

It's been 15 years already since that Tuesday morning on Sept. 11, 2001 when 19 terrorists associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.

Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.

The attacks did hit home for Park Rapids natives Sarah (Spangler) Fogleman and Eric Thomason. They were living in New York at the time of the attacks.

Spangler stood on the rooftop of the Manhatten building where she worked and watched in horror. Her words appeared in the Enterprise article in 2001. She had emailed her parents that day: "Can you believe this? It's just horrible."

Spangler said she watched the second tower collapse from the roof. "All of lower Manhatten is covered in thick, grey billowing smoke," she wrote in an email to her parents.

Today, Sarah has since left New York and lives in Indiana. She remembers exactly where she was that day.

"Every year I feel so incredibly sad thinking about that day," she wrote in an email Thursday.

It was a beautiful, blue-skyed day. She was walking to work with her future husband, Paul. They could see a little bit of smoke in the distance. Everything escalated by the minute and they got into the office and found out what had happened.

"I had a chance to call home, but then the phone lines became jammed, I think. We eventually left the building and walked home. I was not close to the buildings, I did not have to run in the smoke and fire and debris like the others."

Thomason was working at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and still works there today. He and his wife were living in Cold Spring, New York about an hour and 10 minutes north of the city.

"When I arrived in Grand Central there was this strange chaos. Honestly, my first thought was that there was a popular boy band of the time visiting Grand Central that had attracted so much attention and I ignored it and walked down Park Avenue where I first saw the smoke," Thomason recalls. "There were cabbies and black cars pulled over to the side listening to their radios. Since those guys never stop driving I assumed something was happening and asked one of them what was up and he told a plane had hit one of the Towers. He and his brother worked together and they later we called Sarah Spangler from Park Rapids who worked in another office.

Their office was facing south onto a park and, Thomason says, seeing the fighter jets swoop down over the building and head towards downtown remains pretty vivid.

"As was the reactions of my co-workers when it was reported on the radio that people were jumping from the upper floors of the Towers. Knowing how tall those buildings were it was hard to imagine people having to make that choice and it was truly heart breaking to see my friends at work have such strong reactions to the news."

Now, 15 years later, Thomason is living in Brooklyn, across from downtown, and says it catches him by surprise when the lights are turned on for the Sept. 11 memorial.

"You never really stop thinking about it and I don't think of it as a calendar event. The other night when they had them on I thought they were leaving a light on for Jacob Wetterling and got misty thinking about him and his mom, and how I should call mine."

Thomason says he feels lucky to not have lost anyone in the attack and proud to live in a city where the citizens of many backgrounds didn't single out and punish any-one group for what had happened, though, "I am not naïve and am sure some people did suffer individually based on their religion/ethnic background. I miss the towers themselves; they were one of the first things my wife and I visited when we moved here and their mass was astounding."

The towers are gone and Sept. 11 memorial has taken their place. "We Will Never Forget" became the phrase of the Sept. 11 attacks, and like so many defining events in America, we won't forget 9/11.