Chapter One ~ Background to Terrorism’s Aftermath In Arizona
Almost fifteen years of working in the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix exposed me to unexpected excitement several times a week, but all the events occurring outside our doors never put us, the employees, into harms way until the events of September 11, 2001.
Our museum and the federal, state, city, and county governments and courts are clustered in somewhat over a square mile called The Capitol District. All these governmental entities are protected and guarded by the elite Capitol Police. The capitol district itself is surrounded by slums, homeless shelters, psychiatric facilities, soup kitchens, cheap motels and restaurants, drug houses, and shabby housing. Among this mixture, one can find attorneys’ offices, bail bondsmen, and a few houses of ill repute.
There is even a sorry little elementary school whose students’ lives were stressed and sad. Once a year, grade level classes would walk to our building without having to cross any streets, and we welcomed them to our exhibits and free school programs. As a result, most of the children felt protective of us, and we had almost no negative incidents during non school hours.
Traffic mishaps at our location were common nearly daily. Every month or so, a somersaulting motorcycle rider flew through the air as the result of a violent collision fueled by road rage. Arizona, to this day, does not require bikers to wear safety helmets, so many unfortunate bikers find out the hard way that helmets are an integral part of their well being.
On the sidewalks bordering the museum, occasional heart attacks, as well as fainting spells, strokes, labor pains, and hysterical outbursts from people who had forgotten where their cars were parked would add a bit of excitement to the day. Inside, we had our share of medical emergencies. We also hosted a surprising number of frenzied parents who thought their children had been kidnapped because the offspring were not to be found in that day’s visiting school group.
After the destruction of the World Trade Center, we saw a sharp upswing of odd incidents at the museum. Mostly, the perpetrators were individual local citizens or homeless psychotics who acted in somewhat bizarre ways under the influence of or extreme emotions or alcohol or drugs who wanted to kill anyone wearing a turban. Several innocent Asians and Islamic men were actually attacked, and several were murdered. Since the head of our department was a Sikh, we were on perpetual alert. The Capitol Police were stationed diagonally across the four lane street from us, and they were able to be at our doors in less than a minute their guns drawn. Arizona is a state that is rushing headlong into the nineteenth century, and drama is part of its gestalt.
The state quickly mandated emergency drills and procedures for all buildings, and it was not unusual to see the entire staff of the Supreme Court, Department of Education or Capitol wandering around the area, waiting for the all clear to be sounded. We were also drilled in observational skills as well as personal safety and specific procedures. The most dangerous of these procedures was taking loaded guns away from visitors and putting them into a safe place until the guests were ready to leave. Arizona permits guns to be carried, and some of these people took umbrage and rained insults and threats against the employees. We were frightened, but quickly sent out a silent alarm.
As the United States slid into the terrorist wars, demonstrations became violent. In its established lack of wisdom, the city permitted pro and con demonstrations at the same time, and there were some rather severe clashes. Emotions ran high as people dealt with the right to bear arms, illegal immigration, lack of government funds for schools and medical facilities, lack of services for the disadvantaged and mentally challenged, homeless shelters, the disenfranchisement of disabled children, and other local matters. During such times, our doors were locked, and police stood guard and kept the demonstrators on the move. From time to time, the Scottsdale mounted police stood guard around our building.
Innumerable patriotic demonstrations –pro and con – noisily moved past our doors. The police would keep guard until the demonstrators had passed. Eventually, the city stopped scheduling opposing demonstrators within the same time frame, and insisted on a one way flow of foot traffic out of the capitol area, thus preventing extensive vandalism by emotional demonstrators.
It was a tense time.
Chapter Two ~ Repercussions of Terrorism’s Power
Bea, one of the women who worked at the museum was not exactly observant. In my opinion, she was totally disinterested in anything that did not show up in her mirror. She claimed she liked doing her job. Period. Many times she complained about all the excitement, and she couldn’t understand why events were so violent about something that had happened “all the way across the country.”
On a bright Tuesday morning, I was manning the main contact station and gabbing with a visitor from the northern part of New Jersey. Out of the corner of my eye (and ear) I vaguely became aware of Bea talking to two young men. One was as tall as I, and the other was about six and a half feet. He was the caricature of an Arab: cigarette smell, trimmed beard, nervous characteristics, and all. He spoke with a recognizable mid eastern accent.
I wondered what was happening, and quietly picked up the silent alarm. With one eye on the tableau, and the other on my visitor, I saw her, a minute or so later, sending the two men on the self-guided tour. Then she sidled over to me, and broke into the conversation with: “They’re armed, you know.”
Our jaws dropped.
“Yeah. They both have guns in their holsters.”
Immediately, I sent out the alarm, then told her and our visitor to get out of the building by way of the back door.
“Alert the upstairs and tell them the police are on the way. You were supposed to take their guns.”
“But they are Arab terrorists and armed and I …”
Venomously, I snarled at her in a low whisper, “Get the hell out of here, then call upstairs on your cell phone as soon as you are outside. NOW.” I waved the PPD at her.
She stared at me. Then the male the visitor put his arm in hers and dragged her out. As they disappeared around the corner of the main gallery, out of sight of the two men, I saw him clap a hand over her mouth before they disappeared from sight.
Cautiously, I approached the two armed men looking at the exhibits. They did indeed carry weapons in their holsters. I hold the PPB up and introduced myself. “I understand you have weapons?”
As the police poured in with drawn guns, they chorus in true horror, “Oh no!!”
They stared with genuine fright at the half dozen oncoming police. Then, in unison, they reached into the holsters – one holster on each of their hips.
I think: I’m gonna die.
The police charge, screaming. In no time at all, my officer friends have them on the floor on their stomachs, and handcuffed. Then the officers pull out the mean’s “weapons”.
It turns out the men are computer installers, and are wearing their holsters – stuffed with all sorts of pertinent tools. One tool, a pair of pliers, has an angled handle, and almost looks have looked like a gun butt.
The police take them to the men’s room to strip search them. One of the officers, whom I knew, offered to have me observe.
I said, “No, I’m too old for that.”
In ten minutes they returned and were declared clean. During the body search, the men’s identification checked out with Homeland Security and their employer.
The police brought the museum evacuees and visitor back into the building and explain what happened. Everyone is very proud of how I handled the situation, and eventually, I got an official letter of commendation.
I turned to the tall dude, “You have an interesting accent.”
He replied, somewhat sarcastically, I thought, “Does it sound Arabic?”
“Mid Eastern,” I answered. “Israeli?”
He grinned broadly, “I’m an Israeli.”
“Oh, not to worry,” I responded. “We Semites all look alike. We are all the children of Abraham. Half of my family lives there.”
He smiled: “And on which side are they?”
“The side that knows not to carry suspicious looking holsters in public.”
The officers took in our repartee then looked darkly at the two. The chief said, “You’re lucky you weren’t shot, you idiots. And why weren’t you wearing your photo identification badges in the Capitol District?”
With that, I turned around and stalked back to the contact station. My boss said, “You didn’t say ‘good bye, come again.” I snorted. He roared with laughter.
Soon it was quitting time. I left for the day. When I got into my car and sat down, I suddenly thought, Oh, good Lord! What did I do?????????? This is AFTER September 11th!”
Then I got the hiccups. I hiccupped all the way home.
Why ME? Oh, well, it made my day.