Locals recall Sept. 11 attacks

Published 12:15 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When Pelham resident Claude Peacock arrived at the Carl Elliott Federal Building in Jasper on Sept. 11, 2001, he wasn’t sure why he couldn’t find any of his colleagues in the building’s courtrooms.

Peacock, who did social work for Social Security and disability hearings, had arrived at the building on time, but was unable to locate anyone other than the courthouse security guard.

“I was right on time, but the judge, the court reporter, nobody was there,” Peacock said. “I asked the guard, and he said ‘They’re in the senator’s office, there’s something going on.’”

When Peacock walked into the senator’s office, he was immediately struck by what he saw on the television.

“The first tower had already been hit at that point, and at some point while we were watching it, the second plane hit,” Peacock said.

Shortly after the group watched the tragic events unfold on the TV, the courthouse received a call from the federal regional office in Atlanta ordering everyone in the Jasper courthouse to vacate the building and return home.

“I drove back to my house in Chandalar and spent the rest of the day in front of the TV,” Peacock said, noting the terrorist attacks stick out in his mind more prominently than when he heard about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“September 11 sticks out more in my mind than the JFK assassination, because I don’t know that I had ever conceived that could actually happen,” he said. “I spent days trying to put logic together, and I couldn’t. What was the point of killing all those innocent folks?”

Pelham Police Department Capt. Larry Palmer also has detailed memories of the 2001 tragedy. Palmer heard about the first attack while he was at home preparing to begin his shift, and quickly sped through his morning routine when the news reached him.

“I started really hurrying to the office at that point. Nobody knew what was about to happen in our country,” Palmer said.

As a first responder, the tragedy hit especially hard for Palmer, who watched his colleagues in New York City run into the collapsing towers without hesitation.

“That is what we do for a living. They didn’t hesitate, and we wouldn’t either,” Palmer said. “We chose to enter this profession. Law enforcement isn’t what you do, it’s who you are.”

After Palmer arrived at the office, he and his fellow local officers began running through every scenario they could imagine in Pelham.

“We have a disaster plan, just like any professional law enforcement agency has. We try to prevent things before they happen,” Palmer said. “When someone like Al Qaeda puts a plan into action like that, it can spur other groups or individuals into action.

“It could be some guy mad because he had to pay his taxes on his car tag, or someone upset with the government or their community. You just never know,” Palmer said. “We weren’t worried so much about Al Qaeda coming to Pelham. It’s those other groups that we were worried about.”

As the 10th anniversary of the attacks draws near, Palmer and Peacock said they are continuing to keep the day’s victims in their thoughts and prayers.

“I remember all the public safety workers who died, but I also remember the people who lost loved ones that day,” Palmer said. “Those people are extremely courageous, and I am still praying for them.”