Ten years later, Juneau residents recall 9-11

By September 9, 2011Community
In August 2001, Nicole Hallingstad moved from Fairbanks to New York City pretty much on a whim.

“My first choice would have been to move to Europe. My master’s degree was in European history. But given that I didn’t have any prospects in Europe, I thought, well, what’s the best domestic choice? And so of course it had to be New York City,” Hallingstad says.

Her apartment was located three blocks from the World Trade Center, and she decided to visit the twin towers for the first time on September 10th. A fear of heights kept her from going up to the observation deck.

“No, never made it up to the top and you know, I’ve still got receipts from the shops that I went to that say September 10, 2001, World Trade Center. And the next day, they were gone.”

Ten days after the attacks she was allowed back in her apartment for 15 minutes, accompanied by National Guard soldiers. She remembers it being filled with debris from the fallen towers. It would be five weeks before she was allowed back for good.

“People talk about it like it was a movie, it was a war zone. It’s something that you don’t experience in real life and the only way you can reach to describe it is by comparing it to things that you’ve seen in magazines or on the screen,” says Hallingstad.

Having grown up in Petersburg, the lure of Alaska brought her back to Juneau in 2003, and today she’s vice president and corporate secretary at Sealaska Native Corporation. She says it’s still kind of surreal to think back to that time.

“I absolutely am still processing it,” Hallingstad says. “I find that I still get a little teary-eyed and I get shaky when I think about that day. And part of the reason I get so emotional is because I remember the tremendous upswell of humanity and kindness that I experienced in those days and weeks and months in New York City after 9-11.”

Destiny Sargeant went to New York about a month after 9-11.

“I saw the best and the worst of humanity,” says Sargeant.

A psychologist at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Sargeant leads Juneau’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team, which exists simply to talk to people and guide them through traumatic events.

“We literally walked around every day, ground zero, to talk to the people that were having to look at this trauma day-in-day out,” Sargeant says. “Tried to help support them emotionally and educationally, let them know what to expect and where they can get the assistance and help they needed, and we helped normalize their feelings for them.”

Critical incident stress management teams have been around for over 20 years, but only started gaining recognition in the wake of 9-11. Several teams like Juneau’s went to New York after the attacks at the request of authorities there. But if September 11th taught us anything, Sargeant says it’s that the fear bred by terrorism isn’t isolated in one place.

“People watched the same things over and over again on television, even the newscasters were affected, you know it was traumatic for them,” she says. “Our nation really came to standstill. That’s what I remember. No planes were flying, it was difficult to go anywhere, and it really sort of took over everybody’s life.”

Juneau Police Detective Kim Horn is also a member of the stress management team. While she hopes to never have to go through something like that again, she says it was rewarding in the sense of being able to help people cope, especially her peers in law enforcement.

“Being able to help somebody else go through something very personal and tragic, not only for themselves but for their community,” she says.

Horn says many of the New Yorkers she met were more interested in hearing about Alaska, than they were in talking about their recent trauma. Some have since come to visit Juneau and other parts of the state.

“This last summer one of the officers who we had talked to came up on a tour, so we actually gave them a tour of Juneau,” says Horn. “So there is that connection that we still do hear from them every now and then.”

Horn, Sargeant and Hallingstad plan to mark Sunday’s 9-11 anniversary in different ways. Horn will join other Juneau officers and Capital City Fire and Rescue firefighters in a memorial stair climb.

“It’s in honor of the firefighters who climbed the twin towers. We’re going to be doing 110 flights of stairs at the federal building.”

Sargeant will be at the annual memorial service held at Riverside Rotary Park.

“I go every year that I’m in town,” she says.

Hallingstad says she’ll be on a plane for at least part of the anniversary. She’s flying to Seattle to be with her fiancée and other loved ones.

“At the end of the day, I think that’s the very best way to mark any kind of remembrance is to love one another, and to make those connections with people and keep those connections with people,” says Hallingstad. “Because, as I think almost everybody realized ten years ago, that’s really what matters.”

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