Local Woman In D.C. During Attacks

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For most Rim country residents, the terrible events that unfolded Tuesday, Sept. 11, were tempered by distance and by the fact that acts of terrorism are much more likely to occur in major population centers.

But at least one local resident was right at the center of it all on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. when terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Susannah Cernojevich, a Star Valley resident and park ranger at the Tonto Natural Bridge, was at the Capitol Tuesday morning waiting to meet with a friend when she heard the news.

"I walked into a congressional office for my meeting and there was a television set on CNN," Cernojevich said. "On one part of the screen they were replaying the second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center, and on the bottom was the Pentagon with smoke coming from it.

"Somebody came in and said, 'Let's get out of here.' Then I heard the announcement that Capitol Hill was being evacuated, so I left with everybody else."

Cernojevich knows Washington, D.C. well. A graduate of UCLA and Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, she worked there for Voice of America prior to moving to the Rim country when her mother died a year ago.

She said the evacuation of Capitol Hill was orderly."There were probably thousands of people leaving, and you had a sense that there wasn't a strong evacuation plan, but there was no panic people weren't running or screaming or anything."

"It took maybe five to 10 minutes to get everybody out, and there were already people in uniform on the streets. The military was up there really fast. We kept hearing these explosions and we didn't know what they were. There were rumors that bombs were going off on the mall and at the State Department. It turned out that what we were hearing were sonic booms from F-16s taking off from Andrews Air Force Base. The president had ordered them to shoot down any commercial planes flying over D.C."

After finding the friend who had driven her into town, the two went to another friend's apartment nearby. There she called her father in Star Valley to tell him she was OK.

When they went to lunch a few hours later at a restaurant near Capitol Hill, it was full of congressional staffers.

"They were there drinking beer and watching the news," Cernojevich said. "Different congressmen kept coming in with their staffs. Everyone was trying to make sense of it, but there was no sense to be made."

Cernojevich didn't get back to the Rim country until late Saturday night, a day later than intended. That week in the nation's capital was very different from the way she remembered it when she lived there.

"People were being really friendly to one another," she said. "D.C. is not a mean town, but it's not a real friendly town either."

Although sirens were frequent, the town seemed almost deserted.

"The bridges were closed for people coming in, and a lot of people stayed home from work for a few days."

One of the more poignant moments came Friday, she said the national day of mourning.

"We were at a restaurant that evening, and at 7 p.m. the restaurant passed out candles," Cernojevich said. "Everybody left their food, and joined everybody else out in the street. We held our candles for five or 10 minutes and then went back inside."

Back home in the Rim country, Cernojevich recalled going by the Pentagon that morning and not giving it a second thought.

"We came in from Virginia Tuesday morning on 395 the freeway that goes right past the Pentagon just about an hour before it was hit," she said. "I didn't pay any attention. It's just always there. But as we were being evacuated from Capitol Hill, I looked off toward the Pentagon two or three miles away and saw the smoke rising. It's a sight I'll never forget."

The way to combat terrorism, she said, is not to be terrorized.

"Don't lock your door and grab all your money and put it under a mattress," she said. "The friends I was with who work in D.C. were actually in a position to do something to keep going to work. The last thing you want is for the government to shut down."

It's a lesson she believes applies to her friends and neighbors in the Rim country as well.

"Go buy some stock. Or at least go to Wal-Mart and buy something," she said. "We can all do our thing by living our lives normally. That's the way to overcome terrorism by going on with our lives, we are doing something."

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