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Sept. 12, 2001: Students watch history unfold

Students and staff at Winthrop University talked in hushed tones Tuesday as they gathered around a big-screen TV in Dinkins Student Center.

They still had classes to attend and tests to cram for, but their minds were not on English or history as they struggled to comprehend the devastation of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

"It was just like something from a movie, things flying into buildings," said Matt Parks, a sophomore. In front of him, dozens of other students sat on couches in the student union lobby, watching the news unfold.

When many students went into morning classes, they thought it had been another tragic plane crash. When they came out an hour later, it became obvious it was much worse.

"America's been blown up," said one person, who could be heard above the crowd.

Boyd Jones, coordinator of student activities, couldn't get much work done as he kept watch in the lobby, talking to students who were flooding in from class.

"They can't believe it. They're just stunned," he said. "It makes you realize what's important. It really makes you put things into perspective."

Others felt a loss, even though they are hundreds of miles from the targets.

"It's amazing. I can't believe anyone would do this," said Jessica Brown. "Our whole lives center around New York and Washington, so it affects everyone."

Classes still went on as usual, and the university took no extra security precautions, said Melford Wilson, vice president for academic affairs. However, he said no one was pressured to attend class, and faculty were allowed to dismiss or cancel classes if they felt it was necessary.

President Anthony DiGiorgio sent a campuswide e-mail.

"The enormity of the tragic events of this day prompts all of us to reflect on what is most meaningful in our lives — from our loved ones and the individual well-being, to the larger world in which we live," he wrote. He told students that classes will continue.

"This is a time when meaningful conversations can occur inside and outside the classrooms across this campus —when our students can reflect on their own values and how they relate to others and to their place in the world," he wrote.

The same atmosphere hung in the air on another campus across town. At York Technical College, classes also continued even though students were gathering around televisions.

"The mood has been somber," said President Dennis Merrell. "This is a horrendous tragedy. People are worrying most about their immediate families and trying to be with them. It will be some time before we are able to deal with what's going on."

Two York Tech faculty members — Ed Duffy, vice president for development, and Bob Kosak, director for alternative energy transportation program — were in Washington for a two-day meeting, said Merrell, who confirmed the men's safety after talking to them Tuesday.

With the events, Merrell feels some form of payback is inevitable.

"It's going to generate some retribution," he said. "I think it will be devastating. I can't imagine the population of the country being reconciled with something less. That might be the saddest part, that this won't lead to a more peaceful world, I'm afraid."

Administrators in school districts throughout York, Chester and Lancaster counties said they were trying to keep schools calm and schedules running smoothly. In many area schools, many students and teachers watched as history unfolded — something their children may read about in textbooks.

Schools districts said some parents were picking their children up early.

York Superintendent Katie Brochu said they were allowing conversation about the tragedy to take place in the classrooms.

"It probably is as calm as it can be," Brochu said. "I think that they are in shock."

Rock Hill, York, Fort Mill and Clover school districts canceled after-school activities Tuesday. All plan to be in session today.

Contact Jennifer Stanley at 329-4070 or Herald staff reporters Erica Pippins, Tamara Ford and Chris Richburg contributed to this story.