Community commemorates 9/11

Former first responders, military personnel honor fallen heroes


The events of 9/11 that included four intentional plane crashes and the death of 2977 individuals not only impacted the people of New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC but also individuals serving for their city or country on the West Coast.

“When it became apparent that it was a terrorist attack, I told my kids they were staying home,” Philip Downs, former police inspector and current history teacher, said. “Living in Marin, they would have to cross the Golden Gate bridge — a symbolic target for terrorists.”

Many Convent & Stuart Hall faculty and staff, like Downs, say they feared the attack on the Twin Towers was not an end to the nightmare. Their fears were validated when two more planes crashed at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“I was late to work,” Cynthia Ovares, who was in the U.S. Navy at the time and is currently a Spanish teacher, said. “I saw everyone huddled around a TV. Everyone was watching it happen. It was very emotional, and there was a lot of uncertainty.”

9/11 brought about a surge in the surveillance of civilians in public places in an attempt to prevent terrorist attacks of the same scale from happening again in the United States.

“Honestly, it was an incredibly quiet day,” the president’s executive assistant Kathleen Zepeda said about working as a San Francisco firefighter during 9/11. “It was so sad, just so sad.”

Along with those who died because of the plane crashes, 72 law enforcement officers as well as 343 firemen died bringing the total death count to 3,392.

“A lot of people got deployed almost right away,” Ovares said about the Navy’s reaction to 9/11. “There was a lot of instability and uncertainty in terms of what your fate was.”

The U.S. deployed troops into Afghanistan Oct. 7 with the intent of dismantling Osama Bin-Laden’s terrorist network. Nearly 10 years later, on May 1, 2011, SEAL Team Six killed Bin-Laden in Pakistan.

“When 9/11 happened, everything turned upside down,” Ovares said about deployment schedules in the Navy. “I finally deployed, everything was indefinite and unstable. I think, ultimately, that’s probably why I decided to leave.”

Ovares joined the Navy in 1999, right after graduating high school and during her four years, she served as an aviation machinist mate and eventually a second class petty officer.

“Specifically with 9/11, we did have extensive training after that regarding response time and terrorism and what they called critical incidents.” Downs said.

Downs was a member of the San Francisco Police Department for 30 years throughout which he was a first responder to both the Loma Prieta Earthquake and a mass shooting at 101 California Street that killed eight people July 1, 1993.

“Freedom is not free,” Downs said. “It is important to remember 9/11 because it reminds us of the people who have died for, fought for, and continue to fight for our right to freedom against America’s many adversaries.”