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‘The Class of 9/11′ Remembers WTC Attacks Through the Eyes of First Graders

September 5, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Students, teachers and parents of New York's P.S. 150's, located just blocks away from ground zero, recount their powerful memories of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. This is an extended excerpt from the film "The Class of 9/11," produced by filmmaker Jacques Menasche for the Dart Society.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, another 9/11 story.

This one begins a series of reports on how the attacks of 9/11 have affected people in this country and around the world. What’s changed in the decade since that fateful day?

Tonight, we look at the powerful memories of a special group of eyewitnesses: the students, teachers and parents at New York’s P.S. 150, a school just blocks away from ground zero.

“The Class of 9/11″ was produced for the Dart Society, a nonprofit organization that supports journalists who cover wars, conflict and other traumatic events. It is the work of independent filmmaker Jacques Menasche. His son Emanuel was in the first grade at P.S. 150.

Here are extended excerpts from the documentary.

WOMAN: I remember the walk to school that morning. And it was this incredibly blue, blue, blue sky.

WOMAN: Just quintessential fall, early September day.

GAETANO, student: It was like a normal day at first.

ALYSSA, principal: We had this really nice kind of gathering area outside our school where the students would line up, and I would ring a bell to just mark the beginning of school.

VIN, parent: We stood there and the kids duly filed into the building. And as they just were — almost the door closed behind them, I looked up and there was a silver plane that was sort of framed in the blue sky of the building. And I thought, how beautiful.

LILY, student: We happened to be just coming up in the hallway and hanging our backpacks right up against the window. And the window faced the World Trade Center, so I actually did see the first plane hit the first building. And that’s an image that is pretty much forever ingrained.

MAN: We were here.

JACQUES, parent: Do you remember anything about those moments standing out here?

EMANUEL, student: I remember hearing it.

KATHY, parent: I heard the loudest noise I have ever heard in my life.

ALYSSA: I ran down the stairs to Jay Street and I looked up and saw just this fiery hole in the World Trade Center.

VIN: And at that moment, we stood in the Plaza and thought, what should we do?

LINDA, teacher: I brought the kids upstairs. And we started our day.

GAETANO: We kept talking about things that kids talk about. We were talking about SpongeBob and stuff.

QUINN, student: I remember being in the classroom beforehand, and we were just — it was just a normal day.

CHRISTINE, school secretary: So, I took my daughter upstairs to Peter’s class, the kindergarten class, because I thought, you know, God forbid if something is going to happen, if she’s playing or doing something, she will never know.

ALYSSA: We were encouraging people to stay, because I just thought, where are you going to go?

TONI, parent: So I went out on the plaza to take a look. And then, at that point, when I was walked around the corner, that was when the second plane hit.

STEPHEN, parent: I remember plotting my course on the way to school. So, when I got to school I was covered, littered, littered with material. And I remember signing the kids out.

JAYNE ANNE, parent: When the second plane hit the second tower, that — I think you were out there. You remember the ball of fire that came up Greenwich Street? And that’s when I felt the heat. I felt the pressure. And I thought, oh, my God, there’s kids up there.

ALYSSA: We were going up to classrooms, getting kids, bringing them down, and trying to be systematic about that, trying to record, document who was leaving.

CHRISTINE: When I came down, I met Alyssa at those — at the bottom of those steps. And I asked her what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to try to keep the parents calm and if a parent wanted a child for me to get the child out of the classroom, so we could — we would still have control of who is in and out of the building.

JAYNE ANNE: She said: “Who wants their kid? I’m making a list.”

ELLA, student: I remember leaving the school like almost as soon as we got in the classroom.

QUINN: We went downstairs. We didn’t know why we were going downstairs.

EMANUEL: I think that I was — I was sitting on like a bench or something.

JACQUES: That’s right.  

EMANUEL: Yes.

TERRELL, student: I remember my mom coming, like coming in at the front staircase of the school like scared and like out of breath. And that’s when I actually noticed that something was wrong.

VIN: We walked down the stairs. And, in fact, I said to Ella, I do not want you to look to the right.

STEPHEN: Don’t look. I was telling them, you know, look to the left. As soon as you come out, look left. Go left. Go left. Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look.

VIN: Of course, Ella and Lily turned around and — and looking.

ELLA: I remember looking back up at the building, and there were pieces falling off. And it was kind of — it wasn’t exactly exciting. But like, when you’re 6 years old, you don’t really understand what’s going on. So it doesn’t feel exactly scary.

LILY: You could see all the paper in the air from the buildings. And there was a lot of — people were like running around wearing the — you know, the masks.

KAI, student: Like, gray smoke, debris was everywhere. And people were saying that you had to like cover your mouth.

QUINN: I remember like being over my dad’s shoulder and like looking back and seeing like these two burning buildings and just thinking, oh, my goodness, what’s going on

VIN: It was as if we walked through a kind of stone forest. People were rooted to the spot.

STEPHEN: I remember starting to walk up Greenwich, and then the tower was going.

WIL, student: And I just saw like the top just started to like crumble and fall.

STEPHEN: And then we started running.

WIL: And then I was told to just run. So I ran.

STEPHEN: So we were running, physically running up Greenwich with the dust cloud on our heels.

LINDA: It was summer. The windows were open. We didn’t have air conditioning. And anybody — it was like a giant communal scream. And the kids are saying to me, what’s happening? What’s happening? What’s happening? And what I said to them was, there are people that are dying. I didn’t — I — that was the truth, that there were people that were dying. I said, but you are all going to be OK.

CHRISTINE: We had to evacuate the P.S. 3. So we all came down through these steps. So — and by the time we were exiting is when the chunks of the building were starting to come down.

ALYSSA: When we left to go to P.S. 3, I mean, we were not on a sidewalk 10 seconds and the second tower fell.

MAN: Did you hear the building?

CHRISTINE: You could hear it like, like that, like scraping against, you know, the concrete.

ALYSSA: It’s a sound that I will just never, ever forget. I mean, we were — literally saw it and heard it falling behind us.

GAETANO: Next thing you know, we’re on the block. This dude is just rushing us. He’s like, come on, come on, come on, you have got to go. And I had no idea what was going on.

CHRISTINE: This street seems pretty wide, but, that day, it was so narrow. There were so many people.

ALYSSA: And I had my three or four kids that I’m trying to keep close and keep walking. There are thousands of people coming. And the building is falling and this tremendous cloud of smoke that you see.

LINDA: People were so terrified, that they didn’t really — they were just running. And one of the kids tripped on the corner. And I remember having to, like, use my body as a shield, so that the people didn’t run over the kids who had fallen. They were so panicked.

GAETANO: Just a mess is all I saw. I thought it was like Armageddon, you know?

KAI: I asked my mom like, who did this? Why is this happening? Who got hurt? And even after it, I was just like, is everyone OK? Like, how many people died? Because I was really into like who died.

GAETANO: Nobody really explained to me what happened on that day. Everything just kind of was really silent.

EMANUEL: I kind of wish I remembered it more. It’s kind of awkward like to only have certain — certain fragments.

KATHY: I know you were little and you couldn’t possibly understand everything that was going on, but when we were watching CNN that night and everybody was crying, you didn’t understand everything that happened?

GAETANO: I thought there was a fire in the building or something. I had no idea. I was trying to make it out in my own mind.

KATHY: Wow. For how long?

CHRISTINE: Until eighth grade.

QUINN: I have anxiety disorder. And it — I have been told that it stems from Sept. 11. And it’s changed my life drastically. And it’s hard, because I can’t do a lot of the stuff that a lot of kids can do without being on medication, because I’m on Zoloft right now and…

JAYNE ANNE: And Ativan for panic.

QUINN: And Ativan for panic attacks. And I can’t go to school and have a normal school day without being on a medication. And it’s tough.

GAETANO: I’m a very strong-minded person. I mean, I get over stuff easily. My dad died a month ago. And, you know, I wasn’t as emotionally affected as everybody else was because, you know, I’m not really — I’m just good at not reacting all scared to these types of events, you know? So, I share it, but it’s not — because, it’s like, I need strength all the time, you know?

PHOENIX, student: I guess I distanced myself from it. When it does come up, I — it’s like I don’t normally make the connection that I was there and I was part of it, but it’s more of something like away.

QUINN: I have been having panic attacks. I had one really bad one where I ended up in the hospital. And it’s so scary that, sometimes, you wish like you should — you could die, because anything is better than what you’re feeling.

LINDA: It’s always there. And that’s what I’m saying about those kids. It’s always there.

(SINGING)

JUDY WOODRUFF: That was from “The Class of 9/11″ by filmmaker Jacques Menasche, produced for the Dart Society, a nonprofit organization supporting journalists who cover conflict here and around the world.

You can find a link to the entire documentary at NewsHour.PBS.org.