Alumni experience Tuesday’s terrorism

The catastrophic events of this past week have struck a chord in every American community. Williams was especially affected by the tragedy with at least two alumni missing in the aftermath of the attack. The College has always had close links to New York – about one-quarter of Williams students hail from the greater New York area and thousands of alumni live and work in Manhattan – and many other students and alumni proudly call the Washington, D.C. area home. These bonds came through over the past week as the community held its collective breath, awaiting word from family and alumni.

As details of thousands of deaths emerged from the rubble of New York’s Financial District and the Pentagon, the Alumni Office responded quickly and set up a website for Williams alums to post news about the status of other Williams alums. “[In addition to the website] the alumni office supports a large number of class listservers. They have proved invaluable in providing a means by which classmates have been able to check in with one another to seek reassurance that they’re safe as well as to share comments on the awful events of last week,” Steve Birrell ’64, Vice President of the College for Alumni Relations and Development said, “We’ve been able to compile a lot of information.” Discussions across campus revealed that many family, friends and alumni not only witnessed last week’s attacks, but found themselves at their epicenter.

Dan Shirai ’00 was at work at Bloomberg producing a live show at the company’s Brazilian TV studio in midtown Manhattan. “I sent the first wire headline out to our group, and from then on, it was madness until our satellite link to Brazil fell off the air,” he said. “We saw the second tower get hit live. While we fed wire headlines to the anchor and put up images on the screen, more kept happening.”

Brian McDonnell ’01 had just arrived at work in Times Square when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. “We all pressed up against the window, looking at the smoke billowing up. We were looking at it from the opposite side, so, truth be told, it didn’t really look all that bad.” When the second plane flew into the building, he said, “from that moment, no one doubted that it was terrorism. They immediately evacuated our building. We felt really vulnerable, since we are one of the biggest buildings in Times Square, and we had no idea what else might happen, so we got outside and took off north, basically moving as quickly as possible.”

After his evacuation from work, McDonnell ended up at a co-worker’s place on the Upper West Side, where they watched the World Trade Center towers collapse. “We could see from her porch,” he said. “They were both still standing, burning like crazy. Then, it seemed like another explosion [took place] and everything was covered in smoke. We watched in utter disbelief as the smoke cleared and realized that one of the towers was simply no longer there. That’s an image I will never forget. We realized then that the skyline had changed forever.”

Judd Greenstein ’01 walked from his house in Greenwich Village to Washington Square Park in order to fully grasp the reality of what was happening. “I’ve seen the Twin Towers shining through the Washington Square Arch for my entire life. On this day, however the scene was astoundingly different. The first tower had already fallen, and the second was a smoldering ruin engulfed in a cloud of dark gray smoke. People were crying, speaking in low tones. One guy was pushing a shopping cart, yelling, ?this is what happens when people hate each other!’ Suddenly, the second tower collapsed. There were screams, more crying, yelling and more silence than the number of people gathered would seem to allow. My father and I watched the growing cloud of dust and smoke, the only thing remaining of the memorable landmark.”

Some were frightfully close to the point of impact. “[I was] approximately four blocks away from the World Trade Center?in bed on the eleventh floor of my dorm [and] woke up after the first plane had crashed ? I didn’t hear it though ? and the first thing I saw was a blue, blue sky, with hundreds of pieces of paper flying around in the air,” said Betsy Spear ’01, who just started studying fashion design at the Parsons School of Design.

Peter Miller ’72 was in his Port Authority office on the sixty-fifth floor of One World Trade Center when the first plane hit. “The footage we’ve all seen of the first plane hitting Tower One is what I heard and felt just before 9:00 a.m. and if I’d been looking out the window the way my office neighbor was, I would have seen it too,” said Miller. “After the impact, the floor dropped maybe two feet, I was driven toward the windows, then I ran toward the core of the building thinking the floor was collapsing. No more than two strides, the floor rocked back up,” Miller said. After realizing that the building was “rocking violently,” Miller dashed back to his office for his briefcase and made sure all his co-workers got out. While getting down the stairs, “everyone reassured each other that they’d be fine, trying to help those less mobile than themselves, comforting the tearful…We got to the mezzanine lookiung out on the Plaza, which was a battlefield scene of burning plane parts, falling debris and things that I won’t describe further,” said Millier as he described his escape from a burning World Trade Center.

For several recent graduates, including Spear, their first instinct was to “flee” to the safety of friends and familiar surroundings in Williamstown. “Having ?fled’ to Williamstown on Wednesday morning, I have been safely encapsulated in the purple bubble. Accordingly, I feel really numb about it,” Spear noted. “I’m scared about going back to the city. I’m scared to look at the places where I used to hang out and realize that they’re not there anymore. I was at the World Trade Center everyday. I bought coffee there. I bought books there. I ran by it everyday. Thank God I overslept on Tuesday or I would have been even more intimately affected by Tuesday’s tragedy.”

Alumni farther a field from the attacks were also personally touched by the tragedy. Based in Baltimore, Mayo Shattuck III ’76, CEO of Deutsche Bank Alex Brown, the global investment banking firm, found himself having to account for 5,500 employees who worked both in the lower floors of one of the Twin Towers and next door at Deutsche Bank’s 40-story building on Liberty Street.

“Luckily, we had a 45-minute window to evacuate our people. We were able to immediately get about 5,000 out of there,” Shattuck said.

While most of the firm’s New York employees are accounted for, there remains a small number that did not escape or are still unaccounted for.

While dealing simultaneously with the profound human tragedy, Shattuck was faced with a business nightmare. “The dislocation has really affected the firm. Although we had a lot of backup so we could continue our business, nothing prepared us for the notion that we’d have to scramble for so much real estate,” Shattuck said.

Other New York alumni, such as George Steinbrenner ’56, owner of the New York Yankees, have contributed to the cause. Steinbrenner donated a million dollars to a fund set up to aid the victims of Tuesday’s attacks against the World Trade Center.

The bombings left many flabbergasted and overwhelmed by emotion. “Once we realized this was a planned attack, a feeling of true fear came over the place because we didn’t know what or who was the next target,” Shirai said. “I kept working away, though, live [on the air] the whole time, trying to call relatives and friends all through the process.”

He added, “After work on Tuesday, I was pretty much totaled, emotionally and physically. One cannot help but feel closely involved with the event during work, when we are constantly reporting on losses, lives and the basic facts that happened.”

McDonnell described the mood, which has permeated the city from Tuesday until now. “It was pretty surreal to see guys in camouflage with machine guns on the corner of my street in armored vehicles,” McDonnell said. “Living in Manhattan and having to walk through a sea of heart-wrenching missing persons posters?you get a real sense for what President Bush keeps calling the ?quiet rage’ that builds up inside of you.”

Ami Parekh ’01, who lives and works in midtown Manhattan, saw New York’s community feeling in the face of the bombings as a sign of hope. “It seems the city has been coping by coming together,” she said. “There have been vigils continuously at Union Square and strangers have been talking to and supporting one another. It was incredible to hear 200 people singing ?New York, New York’ there on Friday night, while raising thousands of candles high. Witnessing strangers hug each other while mourning the loss of loved ones and realizing the magnitude of the tragedy can only serve to give you hope and trust in human kind.”

Alumni in Washington D.C. were also shaken by the chaos which engulfed the Pentagon and sections of the National Mall. According to Suzanne Carrier ’00, who works near Dupont Circle, “There were so many reports of explosions downtown near the federal buildings and there was no way to know what was really going on, when it would end or how bad it would be in the end.” Although he felt removed from the heart of the tragedy, Brock Read ’01, who lives and works in the city, noted that “this is all I’ve been able to pay attention to in the past few days.”

Carrier noted the attack’s effects on the national capital’s political character. “The city has lost its political edge for the time being,” Carrier said. “Everything is nonpartisan, united, and people are genuinely supportive of the president.”

Although they felt many of the same emotions of shock, anger and vulnerability as New Yorkers, many Washington residents, according to Carrier, felt “relieved.”

“We’ve all heard that the two other planes were meant for the White House and the Capitol,” she said. “If they had reached their targets, it is hard to imagine how we as a country, much less as a city, would have recovered.”

Although the attacks are a week removed the emotional and physical wounds ? as evidenced in the charred remains of the World Trade Center and scarred façade of the Pentagon ? will take time to heal.

“The fact that ?our’ city is in such waste and that so many thousands of people who were simply going to work or arriving on time are dead, under a mountain of steel, concrete and glass is certainly shaking,” Shirai said. “It could have been anyone.”