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Memorials to mark third anniversary

Story by Greg Gelpi, Justin Boron, William Neal and Ed Brock

Terrel Smith, 9, still remembers the fear.

Smith, a student at McDonough Elementary School, lived in Queens in New York City, when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers three years ago.

A first-grader at the time who learned of the attacks while in class, was saddened and worried about his mother who could have been driving by the site of the World Trade Center attack.

Smith and his classmates in Donalyn Vaughn's fourth grade class on Friday discussed Sept. 11, terrorism and why they like living in America.

It's tough discussing the details of the terrorist attacks, Vaughn said, but the class does discuss terrorists and terrorism. The word of the month for the school's character education program is "respect," and terrorism is the absence of respect.

"Terrorists don't respect differences and don't respect other people," Vaughn said. "(The students) watch the news, and they know what's going on. I had several people ask me if anything would happen during the Olympics."

Doubtful that the fear will end, she embraces the diversity of her class, a class of many nationalities, and teaches that America is diversity and that diversity requires mutual respect among different people.

"It's a free country here, and we don't care if you're different," Spencer Rush, 9, said. "Everybody respects everybody else."

The students created an American flag mural adding magazine cutouts of various faces, representing a variety of races, religion and cultures.

"I think it makes me proud because we're getting together as a family," Kelli Block, 9, said.

Bermuda native and fellow classmate Hadiya Butterfield-Fairman is new to the country, but said the flag represents freedom to her.

T.J. Anglin learned from the project that we "should love one another no matter what color, no matter what race."

The anniversary of the attacks remains difficult for Renee Brittian of Riverdale and her family. Her sister, Diane Hale McKenzie, was killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. News reports on the findings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States keep the memories fresh.

"The more they keep it on the news it makes it harder to heal," Brittian said. "It feels like the government could have done something more to prevent it."

Showing the country's interest in the terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Commission Report has been a national best-seller and in the Southern Crescent.

Barnes & Nobles Booksellers in Morrow, which is selling the report from a prominent display, reports successful sales since its initial release, and it has even sold out on a regular basis. "The book has been selling very well, although sales have fallen within the last week," Manager Brenda Burrell of the Books-A-Million on Jonesboro Road in McDonough said. "However, we will receive more copies with the next shipment, and have a moderate supply still in stock."

At Army Garrison Fort McPherson in Atlanta some of the soldiers serving in the current war on terrorism filed into the chapel to remember the day it all began, now called Patriot Day.

"I think it's part of our culture now," said Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Lee Dudley. "We do these types of ceremonies so we won't forget."

Steen Miles, who is a former television news personality in Atlanta, made the address at the event and spoke about the "army of journalists" who were on the front lines of covering the terrorist attacks. Some of them gave their lives, Miles said.

"Media personnel perhaps did not save any lives on that day but with their courage and dedication they did deliver valuable information," Miles said.

Miles was organizing a press conference to announce the "sub-media in tunnel advertising," a type of billboard that uses the motion of a passing train to appear animated, at the Dunwoody MARTA station when the attack happened. When she received a page about the second plane hitting the Word Trade Center towers in New York she knew something was going on, so she called off the press conference.

"It was one of the few times I longed to be out there on the front lines with my colleagues in the Fourth and Fifth Estates, the print and electronic media," Miles said.

The ceremony impressed Sgt. 1st Class Mark Paras of McDonough, the Equal Opportunity Advisor for the fort. Paras said he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, when the attacks occurred.

"We were working and then they gathered us all at about 10 a.m. and told us what happened," Paras said. "Everyone just stopped what they were doing and waited for an order."

Paras' job was to call the soldiers on leave and make sure they were all right.

Since the 9/11 attacks, hospitals across the country, including Clayton and Henry counties, have undergone increased training and increased vigilance in case of another disaster.

The current terrorist threat alert level is displayed throughout Southern Regional Medical Center, hospital spokesman Mike Sawyer said.

Running through drills and scenarios, including a mock anthrax attack, Southern Regional continually grades itself and practices for a disaster, Sawyer said.

Through a nearly $200,000 Homeland Security grant, the hospital has also improved its ventilation system, increased hospital security and implemented technology to counter non-conventional terrorist attacks.

Henry Medical has done the same, using grant money to purchase protective suits in case of chemical attacks and coordinating efforts with Henry County emergency services, spokeswoman Donna Braddy said.

Braddy said that until the Sept. 11 attacks no one realized that "something so significant" could happen on American soil.

While hospitals in the area have taken measures to shore up gaps in security, a heavy burden weighs on local law enforcement bodies, which are crucial to preventing future domestic and foreign attacks, a Homeland Security official said.

National terrorism programs have laid a tremendous expense on local law enforcement organizations, said Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, who sat on the Homeland Security Task Force for Georgia.

"The local area has been footing the bill for a lot of the national programs," he said. "It drains everybody's resources."

Clayton law enforcement lacks much of the training that Tuggle said officers need in order to protect citizens from domestic or foreign acts of violence.

"The status of security has improved from where it was three years ago, but there's a long laundry list of things that still need to be done."

Tuggle said there needs to be more drills like the weapons of mass destruction drill held at the juvenile detention center recently.

The drills provide real-life training for disasters that would enable officers to react with little delay if an act of terrorism actually occurs, he said.

The sheriff's office has introduced more training and purchased new bomb detection equipment, but the measures are still insufficient for what needs to be done, Tuggle said.

More Transportation Security Administration security screeners are on the way for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, said Willie Williams, federal security director for the airport, at a press conference Friday.

Standing outside by the underground luggage screening system under construction at the airport, Williams told reporters that they would hire between 350 to 400 full-time screeners starting in late September. He hoped to have some of the new screeners in training by mid October.

"Overall, it will speed up the time for the process it takes to get the bags checked," Williams said.

The jobs will be advertised on the TSA Web site. Also, the first phase of the new underground luggage system, which will allow passengers to drop their bags off at the curb and have them checked for explosives before they enter the terminal, is expected to be complete by 2005. Phase II should be done by 2006.

The war on terrorism can be won, and it will be won, U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta, said.

"I have sobering feelings with that moment etched in my mind today as clearly as it was that day," Scott said.

Expressing "great pain of loss," he said that his pain is for the thousands who were killed in the terrorist attacks, as well as the country's "loss of more innocent times."

"We enter into a new era of a new reality of having to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks everyday," Scott said. "What has changed since that time is our way of life."

With the recent birth of his second grandchild, he asked himself if the same fear that envelops the country currently would remain for generations to come. Scott said the question prompted him to recommit himself to the war on terror and to national security.

"We've proven that we're strong, resilient and we'll make it through this," Scott said. "I think there's a resolve at every level of this country to win this war. I'm very optimistic that it is winnable."

Unsure as to when, he said he is certain that the war on terror will be won once the world as a whole opposes terrorism.

"My feeling is that in the immediate future our lives will be dictated by these terrorist attacks and these terrorist organizations," Scott said.

Scott said he is working on legislation that would enact all of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

The country must work alongside other countries, specifically befriending countries in the Middle East; end "partisan bickering;" apply military pressure smartly; form a better understanding of Islam and Islamic culture and develop better intelligence, particularly placing intelligence officers on the ground, he said.

"The best way to thwart terrorism is to have the best intelligence," Scott said. "We were woefully short of that."