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Students Observe 9/11 Anniversary

September 12, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Through poetry, music and flowers, Ventura County residents on Thursday remembered the ghosts of Sept. 11.

At Frank Intermediate School, students came early to pay their respects.

"God bless them and take care," said Julio Berber, 13, who, like most of Frank's 1,350 students, had brought a flower to the morning ceremony.

One by one, as a choir sang softly and an American flag flew at half-staff, Julio and his fellow students placed single roses, carnations and modest bouquets on a memorial at the school.

"You have to put your hand over your heart," snapped one student to a talkative peer. "Today is a special day."

The Oxnard school shares a sad connection with some of the youngest victims of the terrorist attacks two years ago.

On Sept. 11, 2001, three Washington, D.C., middle school students, three teachers and two staff members from the National Geographic Society were flying west to join students from Frank and other schools on a science expedition to Channel Islands National Park. They were supposed to go exploring, hiking and ocean kayaking on the islands.

"We were waiting and waiting, but I had no idea it was them," said Frank Vice Principal Elaine Daugherty.

She soon learned that the children and teachers were aboard the jet that crashed into the Pentagon soon after the World Trade Center was hit.

The students had never met the victims -- 11-year-olds Asia Cottom, Rodney Dickens and Bernard Brown; teachers James Debeuneure, Hilda Taylor and Sarah Clark; and National Geographic employees Joe Ferguson and Anna Judge -- but they decided to raise funds for a memorial.

Today, the school's courtyard contains a pair of black granite "towers" representing the fallen World Trade Center, bright red-and-blue benches and a tipuana tree, all arranged around a pentagon-shaped concrete slab.

"It's sad because they were our age and they were coming to us to learn more about this part of the country," said eighth-grader Fiona Byrn, who was one of the first students to drop off a bouquet. "They didn't have their lives for long enough."

The kids all vividly recall watching the day's events unfold two years ago, but their panic has subsided. Terrorism isn't perceived as an imminent threat and airplanes are not so terrifying anymore, but they haven't forgotten.

"It still feels as if everything happened yesterday," said 13-year-old Uriel Cobian. "They all had a lot of years ahead of them and that shouldn't have happened to any of them."

While the kids at Frank marked the day in quiet reflection, the older set at Ventura College held a decidedly more boisterous, at times political, event on the campus' grassy quad area.

Many who attended ate their lunch and socialized with friends as a small group of students listened to speakers.

One woman handed out black ribbons in support of soldiers stationed in Iraq, while local peace activist Farah Kimball said a prayer asking God to forgive the United States for "placing oil interests above human welfare."

And while many of his peers didn't take much notice of the speakers, 23-year-old former Marine Justin Love listened attentively.

"We should feel fortunate for the way we live, because it's not like that everywhere in the world," Love said.

Asked if it bothered him that many of his fellow students seemed to be ignoring the speakers, he said he had mixed feelings.

"This is important because it's something we all lived through," Love said. "No matter where you lived after 9/11, everyone was walking around like a zombie. It's good that life is going on ... because that's the whole purpose of terrorism, to stop us."

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