September 11, 2001

Melrose and the terrorists' attack

... How Melrose reacted

by Russ Priestley

How did our moderately-sized community react to the terrorists' attack on New York City and Washington? Ours is termed a bedroom community because so many of us are housed here and work in Boston. There is virtually no industry here, except for the Churchill Corporation which produces the black boxes for the recording of aircraft activity.

As in other cities and towns, our citizens experienced complete shock as the news spread. Some broke down in tears. After watching the cruel incidents on TV, most turned to radio talk and news programs to learn about who, how and why. Away from the radios, people greeted each other solemnly. By the evening of that fateful Tuesday and the next day, the city organized prayer vigils and planned for blood drives and money donations. Mayor Richard Lyons vowed to offer assistance wherever it was needed. American flags began appearing everywhere in support.

At the Unitarian Universalist Church, a vigil was held. Candles were lit for the victims and the assembly sang. The final song, performed by our Polymnia Choral Society, was Brahms' "How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place." As people began leaving the church, one woman stood up and said, "Before all these lovely voices depart, could we sing 'God Bless America'?" The group returned to fill the church with song. As in a typical painting of New England's famous Norman Rockwell, this was how the people of this city reacted.

Personally, I did not learn of these terrorists' attacks until noon. I was on the local golf course when a partner suffered injuries in a fall when leaving the 18th tee. Another partner and I went with him to the Clubhouse for first aid on the bleeding wounds. As he was being treated, I saw on their TV the attack on the Pentagon. In a small attempt to console my friend, I said, "You think you have troubles... a suicide plane just hit the Pentagon!" I was updated by the pro shop employee. "Yes, and just after nine o'clock two planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City."

Melrosians affected at the scene include a financial consultant who was having breakfast on the 21st floor of World Trade Center Marriott Hotel. She witnessed the first plane hit. On seeing flaming debris and glass flying, she quickly exited the building by the stairs. While in an attempt to use her cell phone, she saw the second plane hit the second tower and she was swept away from the area by panicked crowds. Police told her no transportation was available so she walked 50 blocks to mid-town to find no hotel rooms were available. When able to reach her husband via cell phone, she was told a cousin had a hotel room in the area. She stayed with him for the night, returning to Boston by train next morning.

Two others: one a California resident who had just finished work on a construction project in Melrose, was killed on United Airlines flight 175; a second, Ray Rocha, MHS '90 class vice president, National Honor Society, and football and track star, was working as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center, north tower, is missing and presumed dead. He was to announce his engagement that week to Jennifer Botelho of Melrose.

It is obvious that this drastic event has affected our quiet city. And these are only the ones of which we have knowledge at this writing.

October 5, 2001

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