'It could have been anybody': N.B. class who visited Twin Towers months before Sept. 11 reflect on 20th anniversary

Rothesay native Alycia Bartlett was sitting in a first-year business lecture on her first day of university in Fredericton when two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

"People were walking around not knowing what to do or say," said Bartlett, who watched the terrorist attacks on CNN in her class 20 years ago. "It was stunning."

Less than a year earlier, Bartlett, who was 18 at the time of the attacks, was in New York for a high-school class on global issues and international law. The delegation of Grade 12 students from Rothesay High School had taken part in a conference at the United Nations.

During the trip, Bartlett and her peers rode the elevators to the observatory at the top of the World Trade Tower and standing outside in the wind and cold, looked out at the vast city of five boroughs beneath them.

"What resonated with me (was) knowing how many people were there that day because I had been there," she said. "It was a workday. There must have been thousands of people I passed, you know, going up to the very top floor."

Remembering the details of the day so vividly like so many people around the world, Bartlett said she had worried students were there at the time of the attack.

"It could have been anybody standing on the top floor of that building that day," she said.

Back in Rothesay on Sept. 11, 2001, Bartlet's former teacher Lawrence MacDonald was also in a class when he learned of the attacks.

The retired teacher – who spent 41 years teaching high school world issues and international law – had been organizing trips to the United Nations for years, during which students stayed at the Marriott World Trade Center. MacDonald and his students were in the middle of organizing yet another trip for December.

"We're watching it live and everybody is in this state of confusion," he said. "Everybody is sort of left with this feeling of helplessness. Your heart went out to the people, and you started thinking about: Was anybody on top of that building at the time, and what about the people who were working in those upper storeys above the floors that were hit? How would they get out?"

While security was tight before, school trips to the city changed drastically after Sept. 11, MacDonald said.

"These students have to be well-prepared before they go in terms of watching out for things and not leaving their bags unattended," he said, adding they had to monitor their behaviour in airports, hotels and public institutions. "(They were) always on the outlook and always anticipating what could possibly happen."

Over the past four decades, the teacher and students have travelled to Russia when it was the Soviet Union and China during the height of communism. Some had the chance to meet Pope John Paul II while travelling in Italy.

But 9/11, with the 20th anniversary on Saturday, stands out as one of the most significant historical events in his life, MacDonald said, because of his personal attachment to New York City, visiting it so many times with his students.

"We lived in the World Trade Center for five days each trip," he said. "To eat there. To sleep there. To be on top of the observatory of the World Trade Center many, many different times.

"Then to feel so helpless with what happened," he continued. "The empathy, the sorrow and what is it that we can do? That's one of the most frustrating things. You wanted to be able to do something to help, but there was very little that you (could) do."

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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