Alabaster shoppers, police recall 9/11

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Even though Kelsey Amerson was only in second grade on Sept. 11, 2001, she remembers exactly what she was doing when she heard about the first Boeing 747 smashing into the side of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

While she was coloring in her classroom at Shelby Elementary School, her teacher began to frantically run toward the television.

“The teacher started going hysterical, and then turned on the TV,” Amerson said as she was shopping recently with her sister at Alabaster’s Colonial Promenade shopping center. “After that, we watched TV the rest of the day.”

Because she was so young when the attacks happened, Amerson did not grasp the full impact of the event until she spoke with her parents.

“I didn’t really know what was going on until I got home later that day,” she said.

Debra Brantley, who was also shopping with Amerson, was also at a school when she heard the tragic news.

“I was teaching at Virginia College, and my heart just dropped (when I heard about the attacks),” Brantley said. “The receptionist came up to me and said ‘Go find a TV. There’s been an attack on the twin towers.’”

After Brantley located a television, she could not believe what she was seeing.

“We watched it as the other plane hit. I just couldn’t believe it. It was unreal,” Brantley said.

The scene was also surreal for one of Alabaster’s top-ranking police officials as he watched the scene unfold at the Alabaster Police Department.

“I was actually listening to Rick and Bubba on the radio, and they were talking about it,” said APD Deputy Chief Curtis Rigney. “They said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, but I suspected it was just a small plane because it was hard to judge how big the plane was based on what I was hearing.”

When Rigney arrived at the department, he immediately rushed to a television in Chief Stanley Oliver’s office, where the two witnessed the second plane strike the World Trade Center.

“Some of the other officers were standing out in the parking lot, and we all got together and said ‘My God, we are at war,’” Rigney said.

Because of the turmoil following the attacks, Rigney and his fellow officers did not know how widespread the terror plot was.

“Your worst nightmares start to take shape,” Rigney said. “We were seeing it in New York, but that is a big media market. Were there attacks happening all over the country?”

Before the attacks, Rigney had been to the twin towers “a few times,” which gave the tragedy a heavier impact.

“To realize how big those buildings were, to see them just collapse into themselves like that was almost hard to comprehend,” he said.

Watching his police colleagues in New York rush into the face of danger also hit home for Rigney.

“There’s a saying in law enforcement that it’s not what we do, it’s who we are,” Rigney said. “You couldn’t have told any of those guys ‘You can’t go into that building, it’s too dangerous.’ Those type of people are always going to do whatever they have to do to help others.”