Remembering 9/11: Kristen Prather

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Ten years ago, a photo of Kristen Prather on the front page of the Salisbury Post reflected the community’s heartbreak after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
With her tear-streaked face and downcast eyes, Prather sits in stunned silence at a Catawba College prayer service hours after four hijacked planes crashed and killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Prather leans into a friend, who has his arm across her shoulders.
Her head tilted and mouth open slightly, Prather looks as if she has just uttered the words so many in Salisbury and Rowan County said when they finally sat down at the end of that terrible day.
“My God, my God.”
Like Prather, we wept.
We prayed.
We leaned on friends and family for strength.
We turned to the community for support.
We struggled to comprehend.
As the U.S. marks the 10th anniversary today of 9/11, the Post caught up with Prather and several other people whose stories and photographs were documented in the pages of the newspaper in the days following the attacks.
Here, a college student, flight attendant, paramedic, business leader and pastor share their memories of Sept. 11, 2001, and talk about how that day has changed them.
At 10:30 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, the Catawba College sophomore finished an exam and walked out to hear women talking about planes hitting the World Trade Center. Prather thought they were joking.
“No, it’s really bad,” Carol Gamble, who worked in the registrar’s office, told her. “You need to get to a television.”
When Prather saw footage of a plane crashing into the tower, she screamed “Adam” and collapsed.
Adam Greenly, her best friend, was a student at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York. Because Greenly was an emergency medical technician, Prather feared he had rushed to the towers. She was right.
It would take Prather six days to reach her friend, who survived.
Prather ate lunch in a daze. That afternoon, she attended the prayer service at Catawba’s chapel, where she leaned against friend and New York native Bob Walker.
She remembers campus pastor Dr. Kenneth Clapp telling students and faculty to pull together and take care of one another. Prather, who grew up in Ohio, graduated from Catawba in 2004 with a degree in political science.
Now 29 and living in Washington, D.C., she works as a grassroots manager and lobbyist. Prior to that, she worked as a political fundraiser. She had planned to go to law school, but 9/11 changed that.
“Instead of becoming a lawyer, I decided to move to D.C.,” she said. “I guess I’m trying to change the world one step at a time.”
The events of 9/11 opened her eyes, Prather said.
“It got me more interested in international affairs, where before I only thought about domestic issues,” she said.
Like so many people, Prather realized the world was intertwined in a way she hadn’t understood before.
“It made me more aware of how our international policies cause people to not like us,” she said.
Hatred for the United States had made the country a “very big target,” and a madman had recruited an army intent on the destruction of America, Prather said. She sees the lasting effects every day in Washington, from snipers on the roof of the White House to random bag checks on the metro.
Traffic patterns have been completely altered since 2002, when Prather served as an intern for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole in Washington. Vigilance, cautiousness and suspicion are now ingrained.
“It’s become part of the culture,” she said.
Even the recent earthquake that rocked D.C. sent people into near-panic, thinking, “Oh my God, it’s another terror attack,” Prather said.
Suspicion turns easily to intolerance, which Prather said makes her sick. Arabics and Muslims are broadly categorized as terrorists, she said.
“Intolerance of us toward them is going to help breed a new generation of terrorists, rather than trying to figure out who they are and what they’re about and trying to bridge the gap,” Prather said.
Prather said she has Islamic friends, and they are wonderful people and patriots.
“They also remember where they were on Sept. 11, and they were crying same tears I was,” she said. “Some people don’t get that.”
Ten years ago, Prather finally reached her friend Greenly when phone lines to the Merchant Marine Academy were restored. He hadn’t slept in three days and had just returned from recovery efforts at Ground Zero when she called.
Greenly came to Salisbury to watch Prather graduate in 2004. He fell in love with North Carolina and now works as a police officer in Charlotte.