By Adam Madison
Triplicate Staff Writer
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Jim McQuillen, then principal at Margaret Keating Elementary, was driving to school when he heard news of the attack on the World Trade Center.
"I wanted to know what I could do to help," said McQuillen, now the educational director for the Yurok tribe. McQuillen remembered thinking, "what if this was part of a bigger attack?
"I wanted to prepare for the day; what kind of questions the kids would ask," he said.
When he arrived at school, McQuillen said he had the third- through eighth-graders watch the news.
Some of Crescent City's leaders, including Mayor Dennis Burns, emergency services workers and a Vietnam veteran offered accounts of where they were at the time of the attack.
"I was principling at Sunset High School. I remember that well," Burns said.
Burns was driving to school when heard about the event on the radio.
"I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio) when an announcer broke in and said ¬Ďa plane has crashed into the World Trade Center,'" he said.
After he arrived at school, Burns said he turned on the television and watched the tragedy unfold with his students.
"We were watching it in social studies class," he said.
Sheriff Dean Wilson, then a Crescent City police sergeant, was in a meeting.
"A janitor came in and told me that the World Trade Center had been hit," he said.
"By the time I got home, I watched the second plane hit," Wilson said.
He noted the risk that emergency workers take each day. "You leave your family in the morning. You're not sure of what the day's going to bring you," he said. "It could have happened closer to home."
Steve Wakefield, chief of the Crescent City Volunteer Fire Protection District, said, "I remember waking up to it on TV. I remember watching it in amazement.
"After the second plane hit, I didn't think it was an accident anymore," he said. "The whole view of the fire service has changed since that day."
He said that the attack helped "people realize the risk firefighters take every day."
Terry McNamara, head of Del Norte County Search and Rescue, was getting ready for work.
"I turned the news on. I just stopped in my tracks," McNamara said.
"It really does drive it home what a dangerous business emergency service is," he said.
Local Vietnam veteran Ron Stilwell was in bed watching the news.
"They said it was an accident," Stilwell said about the first plane.
"The second one hit, then all thunder broke loose," he said, adding soon afterward all flights were ordered grounded.
Stilwell said he could remember saying, "nothing like that happens in the United States.
"I don't see any problem with rooting out the ones who were responsible for it," he said.