This is No Accident – Boston Marathon Terror

This is No Accident – Boston Marathon Terror

While pondering how I was going to frame this post about a friend of ours who has had a lot on his plate for a very long time, the Boston Marathon exploded in terror. There are grave injuries – and in these first stages two deaths – following at 130415155039-boston-marathon-explosion-03-c1-mainleast two blasts that rocked the finish line in downtown Boston.

Which brings me to my friend. He’s a dedicated runner who has tackled the Boston Marathon among other races. For reasons I do not know about, he did not run in today’s event. He’s out of harm’s way, but so many others – perhaps people our friend knows – are in the middle of this organized chaos. Can you imagine how these tens of thousands of people directly affected by this tragedy are in the midst of reaching loved ones; getting treatment; figuring out what to do next and where to go?

Here we are again – back at the stage where we will now question whether we have become too complacent; whether we can ever take enough precautions and how we need to be ever vigilant in protecting our communities. One of the most effective tag lines: “If you SEE something, SAY something” is a thought I have every day. Whether it’s someone talking to them self at the grocery store (he or she was probably on their Bluetooth-cell phone) or someone who just looks out-of-place in a public location, I do think twice and look twice at them. I’ve never felt the need to “say something,” but the thought is up front.

At a public event recently, a person with an opposing view to a friend and colleague, started to get very agitated which upset my friend. For just a second, I wondered whether that person would do something vicious – beyond the words being used. It’s not paranoia – it’s about being aware of what’s going on around me. So many people live in their protected bubble. They keep their eyes front and do not get involved with anyone outside their bubble. That can be dangerous.

If YOU see something – SAY something; be observant; notice things that are out-of-place; what people are wearing; what they were saying and doing; then give all the information you can  – to the right people; people who care; emergency responders. Be serious; be firm; be clear; be calm.

In Boston – or anywhere – this could be your hell. Let’s discuss and think about this latest act and find ways to help our communities; understand other people; and be ever vigilant.

10 Years Later

When someone asks you, “Where were you on September 11th,” you instantly remember. You probably remember the clear, blue sky on that sun-drenched Tuesday morning as summer started giving way to autumn. Today, almost ten years later, I learned more about what I did that day and how it affected one person who lost their loved one in the terror.

My routine at WHYY’s Morning Edition was set in stone: deadlines every ten minutes; running in and out of the studio with news, weather and traffic updates and longer, local newscasts at the top and bottom of the hour following NPR’s national newscasts. I always had the TV news on in the newsroom since “staffing” involved me and a part-time production assistant. I had to keep my fingers on the pulse of the rest of the world so I knew what was going on outside the local studio.

Moments after that bottom of the hour local segment at 8:30, I saw on one of the network morning shows, a plane hitting the first tower. I sprinted around the corner and across the hall to where my VP of News – and the man who hired me at WHYY – Paul Gluck – was in an executive staff meeting in a glass-enclosed conference room. I waved to a colleague across the room, since Paul’s back was to me; she got Paul’s attention and Paul jumped up to see why my face showed so much alarm. When I told him what happened, in seconds we established that NPR was dropping the ball – in a big way; NPR was NOT breaking into what was a re-run of an earlier broadcast hour. Paul told me to sit down behind the mike – and start talking. An engineer was rolling TVs into the studio (which stayed in that studio for all the years I remained at WHYY) and I literally did play-by-play about what was unfolding, ad-libbing as best as I could with information from the news wires and what I saw on television – telling whoever was listening that morning – what would turn out to be life-changing events. I saw the second plane hit the South tower – live. The Pentagon scene was also unfolding. My colleague, Marty Moss Coane joined me in describing what was going on. At some point, NPR finally started coverage.

At first glance, the long camera shots of the twin towers, the plane that hit first appeared small; that’s what I told people – a small plane had hit the tower. That was moments after 8:46 a.m. on September 11th. There was no time to think about how many people were listening in those seconds; I knew I had to be as calm and clear as possible. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. Not the least of which was how BIG was this disaster going to get?

Fast-foward ten years. Today, I read in the Inquirer one of the remembrance stories about the people in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County where 18 of the September 11th victims called home. Tara Bane DellaCorte who lost her husband, Michael Bane, was profiled in the September 4th newspaper. She described how she found out about the twin tower attacks.

“He woke her on their last morning together because he couldn’t find his laptop bag.

“I said, ‘Oh, it’s over here,’ and he kissed me goodbye. I can still see him walking out of the room. And I said, ‘Be careful,’ as I always did.”

Tara had a client at 9. She was making a quick bank stop on the way when “I heard — I guess it was on NPR — ‘ A small plane has hit the World Trade Center.’ That’s what they said at first, a small plane. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’ve got to call Michael.’

“I called his office, and it rang, but then it went to nothing right away. I called his cell, and I think it went right to voice mail.”

She realized later that Michael may already have been dead. The Marsh & Mclennan offices were right in the path of American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked en route from Boston to Los Angeles, as it nose-dived into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.

By the time she got to the parking lot at work, the radio news had grown much worse. A second plane had hit the South Tower; there was talk of a terrorist attack.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 4, 2011)

Tara Bane DellaCorte in 2003 (Phila. Inquirer September 4, 2011)

Tara had heard me announcing that the plane had hit the North tower.

Broadcast news is often bad news. But there was no worse news than this news on this particular day. I was far removed from the many reporters who were thrown into covering the attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA. My role in telling listeners what had happened was so small – but in many ways so incredibly powerful. Many people were driving from here to there. They could not get to a television. The fact that I was the one who told Tara Bane DellaCorte that her life had forever changed, makes me incredibly sad. My job was not personal, it was professional and I handled it that way. But this day was incredibly personal. People had to know what was happening and the listeners needed to hear this horrible news in as straightforward a manner as possible. I gave them that. It wasn’t until very late in the afternoon until I finally went home to be with my family and give thanks.

This is a time to remember – to mourn – and somehow make sense of the pain that so many people have suffered for these ten years. While I will never be a part of a news event that huge, I know that what happened that Tuesday in September had a purpose. I wish I could know how many people my words reached and I wish I could tell each of them – including Tara Bane DellaCorte – that I cared, I wish they never had to feel such pain – and I’m so sorry for their loss. Reading the survivor stories now though, we learn about the resiliency of people. Their lives were changed forever – but they have found ways to remember those who were lost while forging on with another chance at happiness and peace.

Just Passing Through

“We’re not owners here; we’re just passing through.” In the outstanding Academy Award-winning film, Out of Africa, Denys Finch Hatton (played by the wonderfully photogenic Robert Redford) is dancing with Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) and laments to her that our possessions and our lives are fleeting.

Imagine the despair and hopelessness felt by the tens of thousands of Haitians affected by the earthquake. Their lives were always difficult. Haiti is among the poorest nations in the world. Formal education is rare; illiteracy is the norm. But, this was their normal. The happiness experienced in the past, friends, family and day-to-day tasks will likely never be the same. While we are so very resilient as a species, lives in Haiti have been cut short; those who have survived may be suffering for an incredibly long time with illnesses, injuries that never heal properly and the loss of loved ones.

The 11 year-old girl who ws a miracle just the other day; pulled from the rubble in Port-au-Prince died.

Anna’s life was fleeting. She did not own her life; she was just passing through.

As our nation honors Martin Luther King, Junior with a day of service, we remember to help those in our communities. This week, Sustainable Cherry Hill ( and the Center for Transformation in Camden are presenting “The Poet of Poverty.” The documentary profiles Father Michael Doyle, a long-time advocate of Camden, its people and what is good no matter where you live. The event also includes a panel discussion led by Father Doyle and other local community leaders. The event itself is a sell out, but the message is: take your passions, your knowledge, your strength to other communities that need your help. Rutgers-Camden is also planning an event the end of the month to inspire the campus community to help in its host community.

While an earthquake of the magnitude that struck Haiti is never like to strike in our region, there is poverty and hopeless people within a few miles of you. We can help in many ways large and small. What is important is that we try to help.

“When you think the gods are punishing you, they answer your prayers,” said Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. We can help answer some prayers..every day.

The Wait – Finding Hope

Can you imagine being in the shoes of a person who has loved ones in Haiti and you can’t reach them? For as much communication and connectivity we have in our lives today to not be able to reach someone on a cell phone or by email must be incredibly horrifying. Even as the Red Cross and other agencies populate their special pages and web sites to help find victims and survivors of the earthquake, the agonizing hours and days of waiting are anguishing.

The searches are continuing; there are some miracles as an 11-year-old girl is pulled alive from the rubble with a badly mangled leg. Doctors Without Borders are setting up portable hospitals somewhere near Port-Au-Prince. Aid is beginning to flow into the devastated area, but roads remain blocked and survivors are living in the streets and the few open areas that remain. Families and children are helpless

These facts from a CNN report before the earthquake are stunning:

Athena Kolbe of the University of Michigan did a survey last summer of nearly 1,000 households in three highly populated neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

Just over half the people in those neighborhoods had access to electricity — when it was available at all — the survey found.

Most used public or private water kiosks as their main source of drinking and cooking water, and most used shared pit latrines rather than bathrooms, Kolbe found in her study for the Small Arms Survey. Few families had water piped into their homes.

More than nine out of 10 used charcoal for cooking; the others used gas.

Adults had an average of just over two and a half years of formal schooling.

Eighty percent of Haiti’s 9 million residents live under the poverty line. More than half — 54 percent — live in abject poverty, according to the CIA Factbook.

Now, factor in a disaster of this proportion, and you’ve probably seen Haiti fall 50 years behind where the nation started. Whatever we can give, however we can help, we must try. I’m going to the Red Cross web site:

Dig as deep as you can.

100,000 and counting in Haiti

The death toll in Haiti will likely top 100,000. That’s like wiping out all of Cherry Hill and Haddonfield in one fell swoop. The photos and video this morning of the president’s house were remarkable. It’s hard to imagine the White House being similarly devastated. It could have happened September 11, but that would have been man-made.

Just the other day I was thinking about how San Francisco recovered after the October 1989 6.8 earthquake. The Marina district was devastated. The 101 freeway collapsed on itself crushing motorists. Remember Al Michaels switching from World Series play-by-play to disaster coverage? That earthquake struck just before the digital age. Cell phones weren’t big and computers were just starting to become mainstream. Even in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, cell phones, texts and emails to the outside world were possible so many families could find out how their loved ones fared in this disaster.

Being in the news business for so long, as I saw word of the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti Tuesday night, I knew the disaster would be widespread. A hospital collapsed, bodies are in the streets, the bone-crushing injuries others are suffering – it’s heartbreaking. Now, the tent cities will rise from the rubble. People are already camping out awaiting help from around the world.

The faces of the survivors will be filled with shock and grief for days to come. People who have tried and failed to get word from their loved ones in Haiti will get devastating news in the coming days. Some lucky people will find out their loved ones did survive, but have lost everything, or worse, are tragically injured.

For most of us, we do what we can: we donate blood, write a check to the Red Cross or other relief organization. Still others who are specially trained, will be heading to Haiti to help the stricken people in any way they can. So remember the victims, the survivors and those relief workers as well as the search and rescue workers who have so much to do for months to come.

One thing we know: people are resilient. We find a way to start again. No matter how horrible the crisis, we dig deep and look to find what it takes to move forward. Bless the children, their families and all those stricken tonight.