Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the college learned that three alumni had lost their lives. Several others were directly affected by the tragic events, and the campus reacted to the devastation with observances, meetings and discussions.
A search of the college's database shows that 12 alumni had given the World Trade Center as their work address. The three alumni who lost their lives were Frederick C. Rimmele III '90, a physician from Marblehead, Mass. who was aboard United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, which struck the South Tower of the Trade Center; Brock Safronoff '97, a programming analyst for the Marsh & McLennan Company on the 96th floor of the North Tower; and Maurita Tam '01, who worked at the Aon Corporation on the 99th floor of the South Tower. President Gerety, professors, coaches, classmates and friends attended memorial services held for each of the three graduates, and there were ecumenical services on campus for all the attack victims. Along with these alumni, the dead or missing also included family members of several Amherst students.
At Amherst, Rimmele, who grew up in Clifton, N.J., majored in chemistry and English, rowed crew, and graduated magna cum laude. He attended medical school at Duke University and chose to specialize in primary care. He practiced in Danvers, Mass., and taught medicine at the Beverly (Mass.) Hospital residency program. Rimmele was married to Kimberly Trudel four years ago. An Eagle Scout in high school, he was a nature enthusiast who loved bird watching, canoeing and hiking. He was flying on September 11 to attend a medical conference in California and planned, while there, to do some bird watching in Monterey. Rimmele was 32. A memorial service was held September 24 at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Marblehead.
Safronoff, who grew up in Traverse City, Mich., majored in chemistry at Amherst and was a starting pitcher in baseball. For two of his four years on the team, Safronoff led it in earned-run average and was an excellent all-around player. In his studies he originally planned to enter medicine after college but became fascinated by computer programming, which led him to the job at Marsh & McLennan. He and an Amherst classmate, Tara Neelakantappa '97, began dating each other at Amherst in freshman year, and they were married last August 4, only 38 days before the fatal attack. Safronoff was 26. A memorial service was held on September 29 on Staten Island.
Tam, an economics major at Amherst who sang with the Women's Chorus and the Concert Choir, grew up in New York City and took her job there after graduating from college last May. A second-generation Cantonese-American, she was involved with the Asian Students Association on campus. Tam was 22. A memorial service for her was held October 6 at the United Nations Chapel. Led by Director Mallorie Chernin, 22 members of the Choral Society attended the service and sang selections from the repertory of the overseas tour that Tam and other Amherst singers had taken last summer. The pieces included Randall Thompson's "Alleluia," Lewis Levandowsky's "Enosh," and Zoltan Kodaly's "Esti Dal." President Gerety read excerpts from an essay Tam had written about her family.
The shock of the airplane attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania spread quickly September 11 as students, staff and faculty followed the harrowing developments on campus television screens. In the first of many college-wide e-mail messages he sent over the next few days, President Gerety called a general meeting that was held at 4 that afternoon in LeFrak Gymnasium. Athletic practices were canceled and he urged that other activities "be structured, if possible, to provide solace to those members of our community who may be directly affected, particularly our students."
A crowd of nearly 1,700 filled the gymnasium to hear Gerety, professors and students share thoughts and emotions about the morning's events. Michelle Oliveros-Larsen, a senior and president of the Student Government Organization, told the gathering: "What we need now is community. We need a community to harbor us from the cruelty of what has transpired, and of an unsure future. . . . We feel targeted and unsafe. But as a community we can make a difference for one another . . . we must offer each other this place, this school, as a refuge."
The meeting was followed over the next several days by an ecumenical service in Johnson Chapel, two candlelight vigils, panel discussions, a moment of silence at the War Memorial, and separate demonstrations for nonviolence, and for patriotism, at the Keefe Campus Center. The Homecoming activities program for October 20 was rearranged to include an Interfaith Service of Remembrance attended by more than 400 alumni and others in Johnson Chapel.
In a letter mailed October 1 to alumni and parents, Gerety wrote that, "as we reflect on the horrific events of recent days and face the uncertainty of the months ahead, we are reminded of the importance of bringing people together to discuss important ideas, the value of diversity and exposure to those whose backgrounds and experiences are different from our own, and the strength that is to be found in community, especially the small, personal and intellectual community that is Amherst College."
A student-led Assembly for Patriotism on October 18 took an unexpected turn as it drew to a close outside the campus center. Organized by students, the event was a wide-ranging discussion by liberals, conservatives, radicals and pacifists of what it means to be an American. It ended with participants reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Suddenly a small group of non-Amherst students—one with a sign saying "This flag is about bigotry"—stepped forward and burned two small American flags.
In response to unconfirmed reports that at least some of the protesters were students from Hampshire College nearby, Hampshire's President Gregory S. Prince issued a statement noting that freedom of speech "means hearing things we do not like and with which we strongly disagree" but adding: "At the same time, while strongly defending the right of the protesters to express unpopular views, I object to their methods and especially to their insensitivity to the nonpolitical goals of those who organized the event . . . ."
The college did what it could to correct inaccurate news reports that suggested that the flag-burners were Amherst College students.
Meanwhile, the campus received reports of other Amherst lives touched by September 11. The New York offices of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW), an investment bank founded nearly 40 years ago by Harry V. Keefe '43 and two partners, was on the 88th and 89th floors of the South Tower. Keefe, who is retired, was not there at the time. The loss, though, was devastating. The firm lost nearly a third of its employees, 67 lives.
Joseph Spalluto '81, KBW's managing director who works in the company's Hartford, Conn. office, was unable to reach its New York headquarters by telephone when he learned of the attack. He finally reached a company officer who was in midtown Manhattan. "When I was on the phone with him, the building collapsed,"Spalluto told The Hartford Courant. "And from there on, it was just a series of bad news." He said employees who survived are driven by a simple imperative: "If we don't rebuild," he said, "we're not going to serve the memory of those who died."
Donn Monroe '87, a marketing director from The Colony, Tex., was on a business trip to New York on September 11, staying at the Marriott Hotel next to the Trade Center. "I was in the shower when the first plane hit and didn't hear the announcement to evacuate," he recounted. "So I stayed in my room, ironing my clothes, packing for my trip that morning to Detroit, and hanging out until the second plane hit. Then I turned on the TV and looked out the window and saw fiery debris falling.
"Then someone was shouting in the hall, asking if anyone was left. I opened the door, and a hotel employee said I had to leave ASAP. I grabbed my luggage and ran down the stairs and out the front door, zigzagging across the street to avoid falling debris."
Russ Hanser '94 of Alexandria, Va., was driving that morning on Washington Boulevard past the Pentagon to his job in the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. "Traffic was awful," he remembers. "We inched forward. Then, I heard a very loud 'boom' and felt a shock wave coming from behind me. I instinctively whipped my head around and saw a giant fireball. The plane had struck [the Pentagon] about 400-500 feet from my car.
"In the following minutes, there was pandemonium. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper, so it was impossible to get away . . . . about a quarter or half mile ahead, there was a break in the divider, and people were crossing to the traffic-free southbound lane. I waited as we crept to that point, then turned around to drive home."
Paul Rieckhoff '98 is a second lieutenant in the 105th Infantry Battalion of New York's National Guard. He was in midtown Manhattan when he saw the second plane hit the Trade Center. He went home, put on his uniform, and got to the conflagration before Building 7 collapsed. His unit was activated and reported to the scene several hours later. It spent the next couple of weeks working first at the attack site and, later, providing security at New York-area bus and air terminals.
At ground zero, Rieckhoff said, "the first several hours were hectic, just trying to see what was going on. There was nobody in control, and you couldn't see: it was just a cloud of dust." Pieces of buildings were still falling and workers had to stop their rescue efforts and dash from the site whenever they heard a piercing three-whistle alarm. Then the New York Fire Department took charge, and "the way people came together was really incredible," he said. "I've always respected fire-fighters, but this was another whole level.
"The outpouring of civilian support was enormous; the emotion was overwhelming." Strangers seeing the uniformed workers hugged them and offered them dinner, and there was "just a deeper look in everyone's eyes," Rieckhoff said—"a little more respect, a little more honesty."