On a blue-sky late summer morning 20 years ago today, 19 terrorists associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked and crashed four airplanes in what would become the deadliest terrorist attack on United States soil.
Two of the planes brought down the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City and a third plane hit the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. The fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers heroically attempted to regain control from the hijackers.
Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the attacks, and the United States was forever changed by the event. “None of us will ever forget this day,” President George W. Bush said on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, during his first address to the nation after the attacks, a sentiment that still rings true today.
Fairbanks, like the rest of the nation, was left in shock the morning of 9/11. For most, the historic day is one that they will never forget.
“I was managing our investigations division when it happened, and yeah, I definitely remember it. It was pretty shocking,” said Dan Hoffman, who was the sergeant in charge of the Fairbanks Police Investigations Unit in 2001.
“I remember at the police department we had a TV set up, and a lot of us were kinda transfixed watching those videos come in from New York and it was strange, in a way, being up in Alaska. You felt so removed from everything. It was strange to see all of this stuff happen on the East Coast. But as a member of law enforcement, I think we immediately realized the gravity of the situation,” he recalled.
Travis Kulp, a longtime member of the Fairbanks Fire Department and National Guard, recalled feeling powerless on the morning of the attacks.
“Initially, it was feelings of disbelief and hopelessness,” he remembered. Kulp however, said those emotions were quickly replaced with ideas and strategies surrounding how the United States could prepare for the next attack.
For others, the event changed the course of their lives.
“My story is kind of unique because 9/11 affected me personally, to the point where it really shaped my academic and professional career,” said University of Alaska Professor Brandon Boylan.
“I was in college when 9/11 happened, but I was studying abroad in Australia,” he said. “I was so disoriented and confused by the event. I had no idea about Islamic terrorism and al-Queda and the reasons for why the attacks happened. It just had such a profound impact on me.”
The event ultimately led Boylan to pursue a doctorate degree in international affairs with a concentration in ethnic terrorism.
“I was totally put on that path because of 9/11 and the war in Iraq,” he said.
Today, Fairbanks City Mayor Jim Matherly urges Alaskans to honor Americans who tragically lost their lives and those who continue to suffer from the consequences of the tragic event.
“It’s important to remember that people are still suffering who lost family members and loved ones,” he said. “To remember who were heroes on that day and how people are still fighting the battle 20 years later, with smoke inhalation or some of the things they went through at Ground Zero.”
“We just need to remember that those things can happen. And we need to try to prevent it from happening in the future,” Matherly said.