AYER — They were only in the early stages of grade school when it happened.
But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 hit very close to home for students at Ayer High School. One example is sophomore Mary Caley, who was in second grade at the time, but said her memories of that day are vivid and will last a lifetime.
“I was dismissed from school when it happened because my uncle was supposed to be on that plane, the first plane that hit (the World Trade Center),” she said.
It turns out that Caley’s uncle missed his plane by less than five minutes, which ended up saving his life. But the family didn’t know that for more than five hours after the crash, which they spent at her grandmother’s house, transfixed to the television and waiting for word.
While the family was greatly relieved when Caley’s uncle finally reached a phone and told them he was OK, she said the experience gave her a relatively unique outlook on remembering 9/11.
“It’s like a mixed feeling, because everyone else died,” she said. “It’s kind of like an opportunity to see how much I really love my uncle.”
Sophomore Peter St. Peter also has vivid memories of the day, saying he came home to find his mother crying in front of the television. St. Peter, who is adopted, later learned that his biological grandfather was in the city that day and was reported missing.
Though he never met that grandfather, St. Peter’s voice still choked with emotion while telling the story, when his mother would only say that something really, really bad had happened.
“I think everybody lost a little bit of someone,” he said. “Everyone is connected to someone; the world is a small place.”
Caley, St. Peter and roughly 50 others attended an early-morning 9/11 tribute at the Ayer High School flag pole last Friday. The brief observance was organized by technology teacher Steve Tulli, who is the faculty adviser for the school’s leadership program and said it’s important to remember the day’s significance.
“As you know, this is the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the Trade Center, Washington D.C. and also in Pennsylvania,” he told students at ceremony. “We’ve got to remember what happened eight years ago. I know it’s been a long time, it seems, but we’ve got to remember the soldiers and all of the armed forces that are out there right now to help us out and keep us free.”
Tulli’s words were followed by AHS alum and Army National Guard Pvt. 1st Class Tristan Hoffler lowering the flag to half staff. A moment of silence followed , and scattered drops of rain fell as a pair trumpet players from the high school band played taps to close the ceremony.
There was also a prayer from AHS senior Isaiah Goss, who praised the courage of first responders after the attacks, prayed for support to the families of those who lost loved ones, and asked those assembled to remember. “I pray you can be with all of us God and to not leave this remembrance of them at this flag pole, but honor them through the lives that we live,” he said.
The school leadership program collaborates with the Army National Guard at Devens to provide students with instruction on thinks like leadership, discipline, and team building, said Tulli before the ceremony. They also host the school’s annual Memorial Day celebration and take the lead on the 9/11 observance as well, something Tulli termed important, even if it’s not universal. “A lot of places aren’t doing it, and I heard on the radio that a lot of places are doing it not as a day of remembrance but as a day of service, or something environmental,” he said. “Really, I think we should have a tribute of some sort to the victims; over 3,000 people died on 9/11.”
“I know it was eight years ago, but we still have to have that remembrance day that’s consistent every year,” he added.