Five years, five lives

 by James Kindle
 published on Monday, September 11, 2006

Ryan A. Ruiz / THE STATE PRESS
Approximately 80 people assemble for a moment of silence in remembrance of Sept. 11 during a candlelight vigil at Tempe Beach Park Friday night.

Everybody has a story.

As the twin towers fell, it became apparent that the stories would reach far beyond the soot-covered streets of Lower Manhattan.

Now, a half decade into history, The State Press takes a look at the Sept. 11 terror attacks from five separate perspectives.

A university president compares the day to the feeling before a big storm. A soldier knew he would be sent to war. A student waits for his country to heal. A protester wonders 'why?' A New Yorker adjusts to an altered skyline.

Though their stories are disparate, the consequence is the same. They are five lives, forever changed.

John Rothleutner

Soldier Staff Sgt. John Rothleutner still remembers the land mines.

"Land mines make this flash like someone taking a picture at night," he said. "You saw the flash [and seconds later] you heard the boom."

Rothleutner, now an independent studies sophomore in urban planning and business, was one of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers who served in Operation Enduring Freedom, known to many as the war in Afghanistan.

Land mines, remains of Afghanistan's conflict with the Soviet Union, would also play into his final memories flying out of the country.

"There was this Polish soldier leaving Bagram [who] had stepped on a land mine," said Rothleutner, now in the 877th AG Company (Postal) and involved with ASU's Reserve Officers' Training Corps. "Where he wasn't bandaged on his face and neck, there were streaks of shrapnel. ... That was when I saw the realities of war."

A blue-and-red jelly bracelet boldly printed with "Haiti" adorns Rothleutner's wrist and a dog-tag necklace styled after the Haitian flag hangs from his neck, both in homage to the country from which he was adopted.

However, Rothleutner has spent nine years of his life in service to the United States.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Rothleutner was at his home in Phoenix getting ready for work. Although he'd been in the Army Reserve for four years, Rothleutner had never seen combat.

But that day, he knew this would change. He said he thought, "We're going to war.

"Pack up my bags. When am I going to get that call?"

That call would come in June 2002, when Rothleutner's 164th Corps Support Group of the Army Reserves, headquartered next to ASU's Polytechnic campus, headed to Bagram, Afghanistan.

"[The CSG] takes charge of the whole theater of operations," Rothleutner said. "[We're] in charge of fuel, food, supplies, troops, everything."

Rothleutner spent about three weeks in Afghanistan, interacting with the Afghan citizens.

"The people were very friendly," he said. "One of the people called me Mike Tyson. I think that's the only African-American they had to associate [with me]."

Rothleutner said the Afghans' gratitude is one of the traits that he remembers the most.

"Every building was blown up or full of bullet holes," he said. "They were still grateful."

After Afghanistan, Rothleutner served primarily in Uzbekistan, Turkey and Germany before he returned to the United States. He spent just enough time in Phoenix to see his daughter's birth before he left for Texas to finish his year of duty.

"I raced home against my commander's wishes [and] got to see her born," he said. "Just a few hours later, I had to leave."

The girl is named Saidah, which means "happiness" in Swahili, he said. Rothleutner learned the name during a stopover in eastern Africa while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Charlez Kunz

A New Yorker Each time Charles Kunz drives on the Bruckner Expressway, which connects his suburban New York home to Manhattan, he looks for the Twin Towers.

"I look every time and [they're] still not there," the ASU U.S. history senior said. "It still hurts. Five years later, it still hurts."

Kunz, who was a high school junior at the time of the attacks, resided in Rye, N.Y., a suburb 25 miles from Lower Manhattan. On Sept. 11, he said he awoke to the most beautiful day of 2001.

"The temperature was perfect; not a cloud in the sky," he said. "I thought to myself, 'I can't believe I have to go to school today.'"

Sitting in his physics lab nearing 9 a.m. EDT, while many in Arizona still slept, Kunz first heard the news.

"I heard someone say somebody had flown into the World Trade Center," he said.

Kunz's first thought, or hope, was that it was an accident, like a private plane that had flown into the Empire State Building decades earlier. He soon found out it was not.

Kunz would spend the rest of the day watching the towers collapse, watching his classmates leave to return home and listening to the sound of silence and crying in his school hallway.

"I never saw anybody from my high school cry before," he said. "People [were] just openly sobbing."

Kunz immediately thought of his father, who worked in Times Square, but found out from his mother that he was fine.

Later that day, Kunz would find out many families were not so lucky, including his father's best friend, whose wife died when the first tower fell.

"A couple months later her husband Jim came over," Kunz said. "[He had] always been a loud guy, [but] he was just deflated, his life force was gone.

"That was the last time I saw him; he died a year later from a heart attack."

Many students from Kunz's high school were also victims of the attack.

"We also lost four graduates of our high school," Kunz said.

When Kunz returned home, he only needed to look outside to see the remains of the attacks.

"You could see a giant brown cloud. You could smell it, too," he said, describing it as "thick, acrid [and] disgusting."

Five years after the attacks, Kunz still has not gone to ground zero.

"I plan to go to the Freedom Tower [when it's] rebuilt," he said. "I don't know that I want to see a hole in the ground where two of New York's proudest buildings once stood."

Chrystopher Soto

A Protester When Chrystopher Soto's father called him to watch the footage from New York, Soto quickly began looking for the motivation behind the attacks.

"I remember watching it on television with my roommates and some friends, and I started thinking about ... what was the cause of this," he said. "Nothing like that happens without a reason."

Soto, then an English sophomore at ASU, said that's what prompted him to start asking, "Why?"

"I think it's linked to globalization, and I think it's linked to how the 'first world' treats the Third World ... these different types of warfare," he said.

He soon became an activist against military retaliation, he said.

"It was apparent very quickly that we were going to go to war, and that wasn't the answer," Soto said. "I really strongly believe in nonviolence and as long as we continue to participate in violent attacks, retribution or pre-emptive, it won't stop. It's a cycle."

Soto said he sees the wars that have taken place as being based more on economic interests, rather than humanitarian objectives.

"It seems like a lot of it is clearly for economic gain for rich people like Bush and his family," he said. "I don't understand killing people for their freedom, that doesn't make sense to me."

Soto took part in war protests in Phoenix and Tempe, and organized an event outside the Memorial Union on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The group that I helped found, Q, we did a demonstration [and] read poetry," he said. "There were definitely people that were angry, but there were more people that thanked us for being there."

Today, Soto, now a gender studies senior after taking time off from school to work in the nonprofit sector, said he fears that little progress has been made in Afghanistan.

"I think it's pretty clear that Taliban still exists, and we haven't necessarily [eradicated] that," he said.

Soto said the U.S. is trying to force its own ideals onto other countries.

"We're trying to implant Western democracy [and] the people of Afghanistan have the right to determine as a whole country what's best for them," he said.

Lattie Coor

A University President On Sept. 11, when people around the world were concerned for friends and family, Lattie Coor was worried about the safety of more than 50,000 students.

The former ASU president's morning, like so many others', started off mundanely that Tuesday: rising at 5:30 a.m. in his home in south Phoenix, exercising with his wife, getting ready for work.

Then, at 6:45 a.m., came the phone call from his daughter, Elizabeth.

Coor, in his 12th year as ASU president and with over 40 years of employment on college campuses, said he "had never seen anything like this."

After speaking with campus security and senior ASU officials, Coor's attention quickly focused on the potentially dangerous location of the ASU campus.

"The most immediate concern that I had [was] the fact that the University is on a glide path to a major airport," Coor said.

Planes flying to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, like all U.S. airports, were grounded that morning.

Classes were not officially cancelled, though many teachers chose not to hold them, or used class time to watch broadcasts and discuss the attacks.

Coor coordinated the University response from his office but spent much of the day on campus, interacting with students and faculty.

"I would characterize [the feeling on campus] as a very deeply sober recognition that our lives had changed and would never be the same," he said.

Coor said he remembered the uncertainty and sense of vulnerability that permeated the campus.

"In my own experience, the only thing that is comparable is a major serious storm where the power is out and people are really exposed," he said.

The administration focused on ASU's Middle Eastern and Muslim populations, remembering anger that was directed at these groups following the Oklahoma City bombing, Coor said.

In the days that followed, the community would see an ASU student attacked in Lot 59, another assaulted with eggs on Terrace Road and an Indian Sikh killed at a service station in Mesa.

But overall, Coor said he saw unity among the students on campus.

"It was a remarkably healthy response," Coor said. "The community did come together."

The administration worked that day, and the days ahead, to ensure students had means to contact their families and to stay informed, Coor said. Religious leaders and campus officials put on interfaith programs and campus rallies.

Looking back, Coor said the most lasting changes to ASU have been for international students, especially in terms of admissions and recruitment.

"There was a major impact for students coming to ASU, particularly to the grad school and to this country, [but] it has begun to return to normal," he said. "Students who are here now are under much closer scrutiny just in terms of their visas and in terms of their activities here."

Also, political and global awareness among college students has increased, Coor said.

"The lack of involvement, that has changed," he said. "[The attacks of] 9/11 fundamentally caused a renewal."

Zabihullah Noori

An Afghan Student When he was 20 years old, Zabihullah Noori, now a first-year journalism graduate student, ran for his life.

Noori, now 28, was a resident of the north-central Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the town where he had spent his entire life, when Taliban soldiers advanced in the summer of 1998.

"I knew if Taliban came to city they would kill me," he said, adding that because they thought his family was hiding him, "they beated my brother a lot."

Noori's face is composed of shades of brown, with chestnut hair falling over dark eyes.

He is more likely to be misunderstood because of his occasionally quiet voice rather than his noticeable, but not overpowering, accent.

Noori had been in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul around April of 1998, waiting to go to Pakistan for a school holiday, when the city fell to Taliban fighters.

"The previous soldiers were already gone," Noori said. "They announced that they killed the previous president. They shot him and hanged his body in one of the crossroads. I saw him."

Noori returned home to Mazar-i-Sharif days later, free of Taliban rule at the time, and spoke out against the Taliban.

Mazar-i-Sharif's residents were hopeful that the Taliban wouldn't come, but three months after Noori's return from Kabul the militia encroached on the city's east side, he said.

This is when the running began.

"My parents gave me some money," he said. "I left with one pair of clothes."

He hiked for two days through the mountains, encountering other men, women and children who were also fleeing the Taliban. From there, he rented taxis with other Afghans and headed to Pakistan.

In describing the time the Taliban was in power, Noori said simply, "It was really hard."

Noori lists unemployment, tribalism and restrictions on personal freedoms and women's rights as the dominant problems of the Taliban.

"Pregnant women couldn't go to the doctor without a close male companion," even if they were in labor, Noori said. "[There was] no education for women for five years."

Afghans wanted help from whichever country would provide it, he said.

"Under the Taliban, since we had really bad situation, people were welcoming anyone, not the U.S. especially, but anyone who would kick these people out," he said.

In Pakistan, Noori worked odd jobs, eventually owning his own video store, where he was until February 2002.

When Noori heard about the attacks of Sept. 11, he wasn't immediately sure who was behind them, but thought signs pointed to Osama bin Laden.

"I was thinking that the only person who can do this is Osama bin Laden," Noori said. "He was the only financial supporter of Taliban at that time."

Pakistan, like most of the world, was in disbelief at the size of the attacks, Noori said.

"In Pakistan, it wasn't [immediately seen as a] political issue," he said. "It was more a sense of, 'Wow, how could people do this?'"

Noori was not sure how his country would be affected. The most immediate impact was on his video store.

"Everyone was interested in news," he said. "No one was renting DVDs or movies."

In the months ahead, after coalition forces removed most Taliban fighters and Noori returned home, the country improved elections, currency and especially women's rights, he said.

But many challenges remain, he said, including opium production, continued Taliban fighting in the Pakistani border region and conflicts within the government.

But he is optimistic about his country's future.

"If you cut your finger with a knife, [the damage is instant but] it will take you a week for the cut to heal," he said. "We've had 20 years of war. We cannot expect five years to fix it. It takes time."

Reach the reporter at james.kindle@asu.edu


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