The year of mourning and giving: Juneau, 2001

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

When terrorist-hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, the lives of Juneau residents were changed forever.

Paul Helmar, owner of downtown's Juneau Photo Works shop, got word that a cousin, the cousin's wife and their young daughter were on board a jet that slammed into one of the Trade Center's twin towers.

David Hawes, a state Department of Transportation planner visiting his daughter in New York City, was threatened with arrest when he climbed a parking garage near La Guardia Airport to see what was happening.

Army Spc. Levi Preston, a recent graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School stationed in Virginia, donned two layers of coveralls and a respirator to help sift through the debris at the Pentagon.

Tom Leisener, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, and his wife, Wendy, were stranded by flight delays in southern China with their newly adopted 18-month-old daughter.

Hundreds of other Juneau residents found themselves stuck out of state, canceling plans to leave town or waiting to hear from friends and relatives working or living at or near the attack sites.

Others gathered around TV sets and prayed at church services. Flags went up on houses, store windows and from the beds of pickup trucks. An estimated 1,800 people attended an ecumenical memorial service at Centennial Hall three days after the attacks.

"We gather today as people who struggle for answers," said the Rev. Greg Lindsay of Northern Light United Church as he opened the service. "We are Jew and Christian, Protestant and Catholic, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim ... Our presence speaks the promise that love is stronger than hate."

Baskets circulated at the service brought in $20,303, and thousands more were raised for relief efforts at car washes, can collections and crafts sales.

Teen-ager Kerriann Powers contributed almost $6,000 raised selling beaded flag pins she made in honor of firefighters she met during an August vacation to New York City. Fifth-grade classes at Harborview Elementary School collected $931.75 in loose change to help families of victims.

"The comment that sticks out in my mind is that 'It's nice for kids to have an opportunity to provide for those in need,' " said Harborview Principal Bob Dye.

Alaska Airlines flights to and from Juneau were canceled for several days after the attacks, delaying shipments to and from the Lower 48. Part of the airport parking lot was closed down, as were downtown docks when cruise ships were in port.

Several late-season ship sailings were canceled and those that did run brought fewer passengers, hurting business at tour operations, downtown restaurants and gift shops.

"It really slowed down," said Felipe Ogoy, owner of Felipe's Teriyaki. "There were hardly any cruise ship passengers around after the incident happened."

Concerns about terrorist attacks brought National Guard troops to the airport and spilled over into local mailrooms after bioterrorism scares gripped the nation.

A suspect powder reported by a state employee in Juneau prompted officials to temporarily close offices in a building near Main Street. The U.S. Coast Guard temporarily shut down one of its offices in the Federal Building after an employee found a powdery substance near a computer.

While many mail clerks donned protective masks and gloves, public health officials found no evidence of anthrax.

As U.S. forces moved into Afghanistan in search of terrorists, several Juneau residents were part of the action.

Robert Rogers, a sailor serving on the USS Carl Vinson, worked fueling jets aboard the aircraft carrier involved in Operation Enduring Freedom.

"I feel we are doing our best against terrorism and accomplishing the things that need to be done to fight terrorism," Rogers wrote in an e-mail message.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Bryce Collins manned a fighting hole in southern Afghanistan as part of the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"It's scary. We watch the news every day for hours," Gayle Collins said about her son, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate.

While many residents taped flags to windows and sent letter of support to troops overseas, not all backed the military action. A group of Quakers and others began meeting weekly in front of Juneau's Federal Building to protest U.S. bombing raids and other attacks in Afghanistan.

As the year - and the war - came to an end, locals reflected on how the world changed after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Juneau nurse Ruth Perez-Matera, who survived the Trade Center collapse after fleeing a hotel across the street from the towers, said it took time and counseling to start to heal from the emotional wounds left by the carnage she saw on the streets of New York.

"I'm feeling a lot better now," she said two months after the attack. But "you never get over that sadness and that trauma that you go through."

Empire staffers Ed Schoenfeld, Ann Chandonnet, Kathy Dye, Kristan Hutchison and Joanna Markell contributed to this report.

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