Sept. 11 transfixed the world on mass murder in New York City and Washington. But the first two planes to be hijacked and turned into bombs flew out of Boston. So the end of the road for Osama bin Laden took many Bostonians back to the beginning.
Remembering Sept. 11, 2001
It was a crystal clear May morning when many awoke to Monday's news, a day much like that beautiful blue September morning in a world long gone, recalls James Carroll. A morning that turned black.
"There was a way in which Boston was the unacknowledged other city in 9/11," Carroll said. "Because it was traumatic for us when we recognized that the crime began here. It felt like a double blow."
Carroll is a Boston Globe columnist, distinguished scholar-in-residence at Suffolk University and the author of the book, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem."
"That doesn’t bring my brother back. On the other hand, it gives a message that anyone that’s out there that wants to take on the United States better think twice about it."Frank Dewan, whose brother died in 9/11 attack
While Carroll was watching the television in horror, so too was State Police Maj. Tom Foley, who couldn't believe what he was seeing. Foley, who would soon become the colonel of the State Police, took charge of the criminal investigation. All of Logan Airport was his crime scene.
"That was the beginning of a whole new era," Foley said.
As part of that new era would come fear, suspicion, color-coded alerts, war on terror and, in Boston that day, chaos.
Troopers and cops raced to secure the State House and City Hall in case they might be attacked. The sheriff of the Middlesex jail later evacuated hundreds of inmates in a massive convoy of cruisers and buses up Route 93. Phone calls jammed the cell towers and cars jammed the roads.
"It was absolutely gridlock," said local firefighter John Brown. "It seemed like everybody was trying to go somewhere. I don't know where. People were ignoring traffic lights, people were trying to get by."
Foley and the State Police had never faced anything like this before.
"As all these rumors start spreading around, you're trying to find out what's true and what isn't," Foley said. "I think everyone was trying to figure out what's next here."
It took Foley and 150 detectives only two hours to determine the names of the hijackers and to find the rental car some of them had driven down from New Hampshire. But the State Police, the cops and the feds were robbed of the suspects, who'd incinerated themselves.
"As you point out, it was a crime of absence," Carroll said. "And yet those of us who are Bostonians have never forgotten where those planes began."
But in the darkest moments, early on, a feeling of solidarity and shared community stood in counterpoint to fear and chaos.
One lasting image is Greater Boston's firefighters and John Brown's stress management team streaming to the rubble of the Twin Towers. At the time, Massachusetts was still reeling from the death of six Worcester firefighters in December 1999. There was a special bond with New York.
"They knew that we understood large losses, nowhere like the losses in New York City," Brown said.
A Firefighter's Last Rescue
One of those people they were going down to help was Gerry Dewan, a 35-year-old Boston native who worked for the New York Fire Department.
"He was due to work at nine o'clock that morning," said his brother, Frank, a retired cop in Boston.
Frank was watching the same horror on television when he got a call. One of the family wanted to know what time Dewan started his shift for Ladder Three.
"And I sat there and saw the second plane hit," he said.
Dewan was in Tower One. A marathon runner, he'd climbed 65 stories up, and was halfway down carrying severely burned and injured people.
"Then they heard 'Mayday' and the place collapsed," Frank said. "I had silent hopes that he'd be found in one of the crevices and holes they had down there, but down deep you knew he was gone."
Frank's silent hopes were the same as the hopes of John Brown and the firefighters from Boston.
"They worked around the clock. When they went in, everyone gave 150 percent of their time, but it was to no avail," Brown said.
Their frustration and grief were so great, the Boston firefighters themselves needed counseling.
Bin Laden's Death Brings Feelings Of Justice, Fear Of What's Next
Foley and the State Police had treated Logan Airport as a "crime scene." Though the hijackers were dead and gone, going after bin Laden, who was the criminal boss, was "police work."
But soon enough, the mass murder was no longer defined as "a crime," but as an act of war. And the Bush administration launched its global war against terror, against Iraq and Afghanistan.
Monday, 10 years later, Frank put on a hat for FDNY Ladder Three.
"I was basically thrilled with the thought that we had finally got him," he said.
He also wore the 2001 jersey memorializing his brother Gerry and 11 others who died that day.
"That doesn't bring my brother back. On the other hand, it gives a message that anyone that's out there that wants to take on the United States better think twice about it," he said. "We're going to hunt them down no matter how long it takes. And we're going to kill them."
Foley said he's thrilled by the outcome.
As for Brown, he said it's bittersweet.
"There is some closure, but I also have to say there is some pessimism, you look around the corner and wonder what's next," Brown said.
From others and across the country came elation at the news of bin Laden's death. But not from Carroll, who said the war was unnecessary.
"Having said that there is a tremendous need we have all have had for the completion of an unfinished process of justice," Carroll said. "We have all felt a tremendous unfinished character of this crime that was committed against us as a people and against the civilized world on 9/11, so there's there's a proper sense of relief."
In Boston, like the rest of the country 10 years later, the chaos of that day is over, but the fear it brought has changed our world. Our response to "terror," even at the death of bin Laden, still divides us.
Full Interview With Carroll:
This program aired on May 3, 2011.