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updated: 9/11/2011 7:31 AM

10 years later: What we've learned in the aftermath of 9/11

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  • The World Trade Center is aglow in light, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. One World Trade Center is on the left. A decade has passed since the Sept. 11 attacks when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into a field in rural western Pennsylvania.

    The World Trade Center is aglow in light, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. One World Trade Center is on the left. A decade has passed since the Sept. 11 attacks when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into a field in rural western Pennsylvania.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Ken and Patty Boyd on 9/11

  • Video: John Fahy on 9/11

  • Video: Razia Khan on 9/11

  • Video: Jim Mulvihill

  • Video: John Tobin on 9/11

  • Video: Vadim Lovinsky on 9/11

  • Video: Noor Khan on 9/11

  • Video: Katie Stack, who lost her son

  • Video: Bob Stack, who lost his son

  • Video: Marion Kminek: Grieving mother

  • New World Trade Center site

    Graphic: New World Trade Center site (click image to open)

  • The decade since 2001

    Graphic: The decade since 2001 (click image to open)

  • The morning of Sept 11

    Graphic: The morning of Sept 11 (click image to open)


For the past 10 years, Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy has hung on to a 4-by-6 photo he found at ground zero.

He picked the bruised, color picture of a smiling baby girl out of the rubble of the World Trade Center. It was date-marked "07/01," which means it was taken about two months before the terrorist attacks.

"This was probably sitting on someone's desk," he said, staring at the photo, weathered by time, fold marks and remnants of the gray-white dust that coated lower Manhattan after the twin towers fell.

"I always wonder about this kid. How she's doing? She's 10 now," said Fahy, one of four Elgin firefighters who went to New York to help comb through the ruins.

Ten years have passed since the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, which changed people's lives around the world. Ten people from the suburbs died that day, and the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed more than 80 suburban military men and women.

While some people live with the pain of Sept. 11 every day, others let it fade into history. Even people without a direct connection to the tragedy are reminded of it every time they're in an airport security line, spot a suspicious-looking person or bag in a crowded public place, or see an American flag flapping off the back of a firetruck.

We spoke with some suburban residents directly affected by Sept. 11 and asked them to reflect on what they've learned. Each answer was slightly different, but there was one universal thought: Life is fragile. Appreciate what you have.

'I won't work in a tall building'

Vadim Lovinsky, Vernon Hills

Vadim Lovinksy said he's not consumed with the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, but his memories of escaping from the 61st floor of the south tower that day remain vivid.

Lovinsky, 40, felt United Airlines Flight 175 rock the building just above where he and other Morgan Stanley co-workers were in training. Once outside and safe, the shock hit him in a manner a psychologist later told him was normal, not egotistic.

"The first thing I was thinking is, I have to get to a computer to sell my stock," he recalled. "I had a guilt trip for a while."

Lovinsky eventually left the finance industry and tried to make a go of running a restaurant in Arlington Heights. But the economy scotched that venture, and he's since returned to finance.

Lovinsky keeps a newspaper article about his story framed on a wall in his office, but questions about that clear blue day don't come as often as they used to. He'll talk about his experience, but he doesn't like to dwell on it. He hasn't kept in touch with any co-workers from 10 years ago.

Compared to before Sept. 11, Lovinsky said, money doesn't hold the same priority as it once did, and providing true help to clients has become part of the reward.

His fears that a plane flying overhead might crash or that a tunnel he's traveling through might collapse have eased, but there is one thing that hasn't changed.

"I won't work in a tall building. No way," he said.

'It's not over'

Elgin firefighters Jim Mulvihill, Steve Barry, John Tobin, John Fahy and Tony Bialek

When a group of Elgin firefighters came and went from ground zero, people lined the streets applauding them. Strangers bought their gas and food. Some hugged and thanked them.

Firefighters Jim Mulvihill and Steve Barry remember thinking it was nice, but also a bit odd, given all the despair around them.

"Back then, it was incredible to see Americans come together from all backgrounds and all walks of life," Mulvihill said. But the Elgin firefighters also recognized the hatred others felt for the United States.

Mulvihill fears those feelings of unity and vulnerability we had have faded since Sept. 11.

"As a nation, (Sept. 11) opened our eyes. But it seems like America's eyes are starting to close again," Mulvihill said. "It's not over. There are still people plotting and scheming every day to take this country down."

The Elgin firefighters -- and the dozens of other suburban firefighters who worked at ground zero -- say it's something they'll never forget. The "eerie silence" across the massive heap of destruction. Sleeping on sidewalks or on cots in a building's basement. Finding body fragments and putting them in a plastic bucket with the word "HUMAN" written on it, so they could be taken to a DNA lab and identified.

The firefighters also remember the adrenaline-filled ride to New York, and then the silent, solemn ride home. Yet, they all say they'd do it again in a heartbeat.

"It was one of the greatest things I ever did in my life," Barry said.

'People have forgotten'

Ken and Patty Boyd, Palatine

When CJ Boyd was killed in Afghanistan last summer, the nation was no longer paying attention to the war on terror or to the American casualties. Instead, the focus was on LeBron James and which NBA team he was going to play for.

That disturbed his parents, Ken and Patty Boyd.

"Since 9/11, people have forgotten," said Patty, sitting with CJ's twin toddler boys. "When 9/11 happened, people were softened and kinder and more caring. Now it's a flash on the news if someone dies. I wish it were still on TV every night."

CJ was only 13 when the terrorist attacks occurred, but it was the impetus for him to enlist in the Marines.

"That's what really drove him. He always wanted to be in the military, but after 9/11, there was no changing his mind," said Patty. "That was his dream, and he was very determined."

Ken Boyd said his view of the world has become more cynical, and his passion to help other military families and veterans is stronger than ever.

"People don't really understand what happens to a family," he said.

The Boyds now spontaneously pick up dinner checks for military personnel they see in restaurants and are active in several military charities, including Heart of a Marine Foundation in Elk Grove Village, the Veterans Network Committee in Fox River Grove, the Illinois Patriot Guard, the Lombard-based Homeless Sandwich Run, the Palatine-based Vet Fest and the Semper Fi Fund.

After CJ's death, the Boyds say it was their neighbors, friends, fellow Marines and private groups who supported them the most, and they intend to pay it forward.

"I was always under the assumption that they're getting help from the government, but they're not," Patty said of military families. "It took a tragedy like CJ dying to teach this to a small group of people. But at least a small group now knows."

'This is not who we are'

Noor Khan, Naperville, and Razia Khan, Hoffman Estates

Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, administrators at the Islamic Center of Naperville installed protective mesh on the school's windows and flood lights in the parking lot as a precaution.

It drew the attention of neighbors and police, who wondered whether the school had received threats.

Noor Khan, then a teacher at the school, said DuPage County sheriff's police deputies came by to reassure school officials that they were there to protect them, and neighbors also offered to help. It gave Khan a heartwarming feeling of being part of the community.

Yet, other post-Sept. 11 reactions were far less reassuring to suburban Muslims.

Razia Khan, 61, of Hoffman Estates, who is not related to Noor, was walking last year on Devon Avenue in Chicago, a popular social and retail hub of Indian and Pakistani immigrants, when a woman came up from behind and pulled her headscarf and dragged her down onto the pavement.

"She took me by surprise. I didn't notice her at all," Razia Khan said. "I just remember saying, 'Why you did that to me?'"

She was left shivering in shock. She was bruised, lost her glasses and was in pain for weeks.

Yet, Razia said she will continue to wear her headscarf in public and has become more willing to discuss her religious traditions with strangers.

"I am open to people coming up and asking me why I wear a scarf," she said. "If they have anything against me, I am ready to address it."

Noor, 35, a fifth-grade teacher at Naperville Unit District 203's Meadow Glens Elementary School, also has learned to try to turn people's anger into a platform to find common ground.

After Sept. 11, she and her husband decided they had to reach out to the non-Muslim community and asked to be part of church services mourning the victims of Sept. 11.

"They are essentially good people, and sometimes it is the emotions that get the best of us," Noor Khan said.

"By reaching out and by communicating, we can overcome our misconceptions of each other."

'Life can turn on a dime'

Marion Kminek, former Inverness and West Dundee resident

Marion Kminek wasn't sure how she would carry on after her 35-year-old daughter, Mari-Rae Sopper, died on Sept. 11. She attended memorial services at Fremd High School in Palatine and at the Pentagon, where Mari-Rae's plane crashed. Kminek also went to the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba to witness the terrorist trials and started several programs and scholarships in Mari-Rae's name.

Since Sept. 11, Kminek has recognized that Mari-Rae was determined not to take a single moment for granted -- and that she should follow that lead.

On the day she died, Mari-Rae was flying cross-country to begin her dream job as a girls gymnastics coach at the University of California, Santa Barbara after quitting her high-powered job as a lawyer. She couldn't have been more excited, her mother said.

"What I've learned is that you don't have control over anything like you think you do, and I learned everybody is here on loan," said Kminek, who now lives in Florida, where she works as a Realtor, spends time with her grandchildren and enjoys sailing with friends. "Life can turn on a dime."

'It made him want to go fight for our country'

The Stack family, Arlington Heights

Katie Stack was in 5th grade on Sept. 11, 2001. She remembers watching the coverage on TV but was too young to fully understand what was happening. And she could have never dreamed that, 10 years later, there'd still be a war raging and her husband would be killed in it, leaving her to raise her daughter without a father.

Katie's husband, Cpl. James Stack of Arlington Heights, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 10, 2010. He was 20 years old.

On Sept. 11, 2010, only a few days before he left for Afghanistan, Katie and James watched the Sept. 11 anniversary coverage together, just as they did every year. It was always a somber day, and they would talk about the issues involved.

"It made him want to leave. It made him want to go fight for our country," she said.

Katie keeps James' memory alive by telling stories about him to their daughter, Mikayla, who's almost 2. She covers their Arlington Heights house with his photos and mementos.

"He's everywhere in our house ... and she points to his picture and says 'Da Da!'" Katie said, "But she really doesn't understand why he's not here."

James' parents, Bob and Linda Stack, said they know now what it takes to serve in the armed forces.

"I don't think I fully appreciated the sacrifices (people in the military) make ... until my own son chose to serve," said Bob Stack, a teacher at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights. "I'm so thankful now for anyone who serves. It requires them to be so selfless. We owe a debt of appreciation to anyone who has served."

They're also grateful for a kindhearted community supporting them and for their certainty that death doesn't really separate them from their son.

"The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that this place is temporary," Linda said.

"And that our separation from James is temporary," Bob added.

• Daily Herald staff writers Madhu Krishnamurthy and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.