by Jim Boyle
Every American old enough to remember 9/11 has a story of where they were when they learned a jet airliner slammed into the iconic World Trade Center.
Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe is no different.
He was a patrol sergeant working the day shift. He was driving south on Proctor Avenue near VandenBerge Middle School when one of his officers messaged him on his squad’s computer that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers.
“I distinctly recall typing in my response: ‘accidental or intentional?’ Rolfe said Saturday at Elk River 9/11 program. “His response was: ‘Not sure. They’re talking about it on KQ.’ ”
Even as Rolfe turned on his FM radio to listen, he said he knew in his soul that it was no accident. The World Trade Center had been the target of an earlier terrorist attack in 1993.
“The towers were too symbolic and the weather was too perfect for this to be an accident,” Rolfe said. “Any lingering hope that it was an accident vanished when the second plane struck Tower 2 as I listened.”
Rolfe listens to that radio broadcast every year on the anniversary of that day via YouTube and he remembers.
The terror attack didn’t stop with the Twin Towers.
“Flight 77 into the Pentagon,” Rolfe continued. “Flight 93 into a Pennsylvania field. People jumping from burning buildings. The collapse of the Twin Towers, all broadcast as America watched in disbelief.”
The loss of life was staggering. Rolfe gave an accounting:
“2,606, World Trade Center. 87, American 11. 60, United 175. 125, Pentagon. 59, American 77. 40, Shanksville, Pa.”
Among them were eight EMTs and paramedics, 23 New York City police, 37 Port Authority police and 343 New York firefighters.
“I didn’t know any of them, but I remember them all,” said Rolfe, who calls the terrorist attacks atrocities as opposed to tragedies.
“An accident is a tragedy,” he says. “This was an atrocity. America and the world changed that day. I changed that day, and you changed; law enforcement changed.”
Security has been bolstered. The Department of Homeland Security was created. Airline security measures were increased. Information sharing at all levels of law enforcement agencies was enhanced and streamlined.
Rolfe offered specifics, too.
“I receive two security bulletins a day covering local, national and international security concerns. Training and equipment for law enforcement has improved. Under the threat of chemical, biological and radiological attacks, first responders received training and equipment to cope with these hazards. Remember the anthrax incidents?
“To this day, Elk River officers carry HAZMAT suits and respirators in our squads. Officers across the nation have received training in response to active shooter incidents, and we have the necessary equipment to respond effectively to them.”
Rolfe noted the nation’s efforts have been largely successful, as there has not been a successful major international terror incident in this country since Sept. 11, 2001.
“But the danger in our success is complacency,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset.”
Rolfe urged people not to live in fear, but also to avoid self-absorbed unawareness.
What does that mean locally? He encouraged people to do a few things:
•Get to know your neighbors.
•Pay attention to your surroundings, report suspicious activity.
•Know what is normal and not normal in your neighborhoods and where you work.
•Secure your property and your personal information.
•Remain informed about local criminal activity and national threats.
•Participate in neighborhood watch groups.
•Keep an emergency evacuation kit ready and have an evacuation plan.
•Support your local police, fire, medical and military personnel.
“Homeland Security begins with hometown security,” Rolfe said. “We don’t have the luxury of believing that terrorism can only occur in large cities — that we here in Elk River are beyond its reach.”
Rolfe closed his talk with a reminder that there were 19 terrorists on the four planes hijacked that fateful day, and the so-called 20th hijacker was in the Sherburne County jail when the second plane to strike the WTC was broadcast on television.
As it aired, that person, Zacarias Moussaoui, drew attention to himself by cheering as the horrific attacks and carnage occurred.
“He remains the only person charged and convicted of conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks,” Rolfe said. “He is commonly referred to as the ‘20th hijacker.’”