Three Terrors
A first-hand account of 9/11, the D.C. sniper and Istanbul bombings
Email Article  Print Article Joan Dawson (joanied40)    
My mother always says things happen in threes. I often think she's right. She was certainly correct about the terrors that shadowed my life for three years.

2001: Sept. 11 Attacks

It was a balmy September morning when my boyfriend drove me to Washington National Airport. As we drove, we heard the news on the radio that a plane crashed into the Tower. We continued driving, thinking it was a fluke, like everyone else did that morning. I checked in at the airport and the airline representative tossed my luggage onto the conveyor belt.

When we heard a loud boom shortly thereafter, my boyfriend and I gave each other quizzical looks, wondering: Will my luggage make it in one piece? Giving it no further thought, we stepped outside to say our good-byes. I was leaving for a six-week extended stay in Ecuador.

Minutes later, an airport worker came running out. She pointed to the sky in the direction of the Pentagon. We saw the clouds of black smoke billowing up. Horrified, we ran inside. We were told immediately that all flights were cancelled. After a teary phone call home, we sat in the car listening to the news. Renewed tears streamed down my face as the announcer said a third plane was still up in the air.

At first, we were officially unable to leave the airport. In fact, we were barricaded in. So we just sat there, in our car, anxiously listening to the news. Soon, we were being evacuated. Fear of the third plane hitting a target in D.C. made officials act quickly. We didn't need any prodding; we left expediently. The left luggage, sitting curbside, became a blur in the rearview mirror.

It felt surreal that September day. I'll never forget it. It was the first time terror had struck so close, but it wouldn't be the last.

2002: D.C. Sniper

The following fall, I went to work in Rockville, Maryland. Early that afternoon, I was alarmed by news that a sniper was driving around Rockville in a white truck. He had randomly killed four people that morning. And I was to leave work early that day to meet family members in Annapolis, about an hour's drive away. My sisters and I were going to celebrate Mom's birthday.

I hesitated on leaving the office. I waited and listened to the news in hopes that he'd be caught. No longer able to wait, I set off. I made it safely to my destination, but for weeks I remained largely at home waiting out the shooting spree. Most people did the same. The streets were eerily quiet. When people did venture out, they often ran from their cars to the stores.

As the TV news showed spots were the snipers had struck, I recognized them as places I had been -- gas stations, hardware stores, etc. But the worst day of all was when they shot at a school and injured a young boy. Even the Maryland police chief, Chief Charles Moose shed tears, displaying the emotions we all felt by the snipers' cowardly and disturbing shooting.

It was a relief when John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad were finally caught three weeks later. A truck driver spotted the two men sleeping in their car at a rest stop. It turned out it wasn't a white truck like people originally believed. It was a blue car bought in Trenton, NJ from a place called Sure Shot.

The men had drilled two holes in the trunk the size of Coke cans and removed the back seat so they could reach the trunk without ever getting out of the car. They simply aimed their rifle and the shots came from the trunk of the car, which allow them to remain unnoticeable for weeks.

In total, 10 people had lost their lives.

2003: Istanbul Bombings

In late 2002 and early 2003 I started searching for a job teaching English overseas. At first, I had an interview scheduled with a school in Russia. This was around the time the Chechnyan suicide bombers were striking. In December alone, they had killed 72 people and wounded several hundred. It was also the month of my sister's birthday.

At dinner, the Russian waiter warned me, "I don't even want to be in Russia. Why go?" Well, since the director never called me, I didn't go.

Next, there was the college in South Korea that wanted me to join them. This must have been January or February, the month that Kim Jong-il, North Korea's "Dear Leader," announced he had nuclear weapons. Since the college wouldn't provide me with a reference from another foreign teacher, I declined their offer.

My next interview was with a school in Istanbul, Turkey in March. It sounded hopeful. The next day, however, Collin Powell came on the television to announce the war with Iraq was imminent. So was my decision.

Since my choices seemed to correlate uncannily with the hot spots on the planet, I temporarily gave up the pursuit. That is, until I got bored. At the end of summer, the school in Istanbul announced a position again, so I joyfully set off for Istanbul, Turkey in the fall of 2003 to try my hand at teaching English abroad.

I had only been in Turkey for a few weeks when terror struck for the third time. It was 11 a.m. on Nov. 20 and I was teaching my Level 4 English class. Suddenly, a loud noise sounded and the floor beneath my feet shook, causing a reverberation in my chest cavity.

Did the boiler explode? Was it an earthquake?

"Bombala," my students said and I suspected they were right. I escorted my students -- sobbing girls and sullen boys -- out of the classroom.

When all the students were evacuated, we started to piece the news together as we witnessed the army of ambulances in the street below. The British Embassy was one block from my school. Unfortunately, the bombing took the life of the Ambassador. Miraculously, his wife survived as she had stepped out to buy some milk. How strange fate can be.

Personally, I believed my fate was going to improve when I arrived in South Korea in 2004. I felt lucky... and safe -- for the first time in a long time. The crime rate was low in Korea. And there were virtually no terror alerts...

Of course that changed when Kim Jong-il tested a nuclear weapon over the sea. His antics got media attention for months. Fortunately, they were just that: antics. No damage was ever done.

I survived my stay in Korea after all and arrived safely back at home in the US last year. Time has erased my sense of fear and has provided me more inspiration to advocate for peace, security and human rights. These three ideals go hand-in-hand and confirm again that Mom is always right: things happen in threes. And sometimes, they can be good things.


2008/09/12 오전 2:01
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