Growing up in the age of terrorism

Published 11:13 am Thursday, February 26, 2015

Twenty-two years ago today, I was eating lunch in an elementary school cafeteria as Americans got their first bitter taste of modern-day terrorism.

At 12:18 p.m., Feb. 26, 1993, a group of terrorist detonated about 1,200 pounds of explosives packed into a Ryder a rental van in the underground parking garage at the World Trade Center. I remember hearing the talk from teachers in the almost silent cafeteria before heading back to class.

My teacher at Aikin Elementary School in Paris, Texas, wheeled in a large television on one of those old black steel three-tiered AV carts and class screeched to a halt as we watched live news coverage of what had been at the time the most heinous act of terrorism on American soil.

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I was 9, but the memories are forever etched in my brain.

The Daily News called it “New York’s Day of Terror” in giant font across their front page, but really it was America’s first day of terror, my first day of terror.

Watching the shocked crowds — faces covered in blood and ash — scurry into the street of lower Manhattan on live television left my young mind in anguish. Why, I thought, was such a thing possible?

My teacher explained, “There are bad people in this world, and sometimes they do bad things to good people.”

I wondered who it was and why they could be so angry, not knowing that under different names and leaders, essentially the same group of terrorists would dominate the news of my lifetime.

Six people — John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, William Macko, Wilfred Mercado and Monica Rodriguez Smith, who was pregnant — were killed in the attack. More than 1,000 people were injured.

Two days later, what has become known as the Waco Siege began at the Mount Carmel Center, which was actually about 10 miles northeast of Waco in an unincorporated part of McLennan County. Again the AV cart was wheeled in, and then again on April 19 as my classmates and I watched as the compound burned to the ground.

By March 4, FBI agents had begun to arrest the World Trade Center bombers. I had never seen an FBI agent, except on fictional crime shows.

By April 19, 1995, I had long been sick of that 32-inch television and its black steel cart as I watched the violence in Oklahoma City unfold. It was again a Ryder rental truck packed with explosives, this time killing 168. Our first assumption was that it must be part of the same group responsible for the World Trade Center bombing. Certainly no one else could harbor that much hate toward innocent people?

Within 90 minutes, an Oklahoma state trooper had arrested Timothy McVeigh. Growing up near the Oklahoma state line, I had seen penalty of troopers before in real life.

That made me feel much safer, but I still hated Ryder trucks and AV carts.

Josh Edwards is a reporter and can be reached by email at or by phone at 601-636-4545.