Mercyhurst Magazine Fall 2020

Mercyhurst responds... Sept. 11

Condensed from Mercyhurst Magazine , January 2002

Students flocked to the campus ministry office and the student union, seeking companionship and answers to questions perhaps forever unanswered. But for some, the riveting news coverage sparked something more, a deep and instant need to take action in a situation where everyone seemed so helpless. A group of freshman students in McAuley residence hall approached their resident assistant, sophomore Rich Gardner, and told him they needed to organize a blood drive. Soon Gardner and the group of young men from McAuley Hall were working together with Amy Bortz, a junior with a double major in voice and arts administration, who was working on a blood drive in the union. By 2:30 that afternoon, the Mercyhurst Student Government shuttle was running back and forth to the Erie Community Blood Bank, a trip it would repeat over and over for several hours — rarely with an empty seat. For another group of Mercyhurst students, the opportunity to do something presented itself through a professor in the archaeology / anthropology department. At about 11 a.m., Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, head of the forensic science program at the college, received a call he knew was inevitable. Dirkmaat headed down Interstate 79 to a site not far from home. Traveling with Dirkmaat were professor Allan Quinn, three graduate

students — Zachary Venable, Joe Hefner, and Jeff Illingworth — and senior anthropology student Christine Fuchs. Once the team arrived at the site, they worked with several other groups, mainly law enforcement, to grid and search the area of the crash, a huge endeavor given that wreckage was strewn over 4 million square feet. “As anthropologists, we are best trained to take those fragments and identify them so they are useful in the investigation,” said Dirkmaat. “There are few people who do what we do, and we had a job to do that day. The students knew that and they did it well.” Meanwhile, back in Erie, Campus Ministry worked to support the spirits of those on campus. “When I saw the news, I knew immediately we would need to be together and to pray,” said Sister Geraldine Rosinski of Campus Ministry. By noon, only three short hours after the terror began, a group of 300-plus students, faculty, administrators, and visitors to the campus were clasping hands and working together to find the strength to understand the day’s events. Campus Ministry also organized a Mass for later that day, and continued to hold daily noon prayer breaks for several weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. The group also worked closely with the students to help organize a panel discussion of the events a few days later, an opportunity to tackle the events intellectually.

For many on the Hill, the reality of a new way of life shaped by terrorist attacks on their homeland didn’t truly hit home until nearly two months after the initial impact of the fall of the World Trade Center towers. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, everything came to a standstill after a powdery substance spilled from a letter in the admissions office, sparking a two-day ordeal for everyone on campus. For the next 48 hours, Mercyhurst College joined the scores of other colleges, post offices, office complexes, and other sites targeted by tricksters. Once on campus to respond to the threat, the FBI reminded the Mercyhurst community that over 7,000 hoax letters with foreign substances were sent in the six weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, and all, except a few, tested negative for anthrax. Despite those reassurances, the college was forced, with the help of the Erie police and fire departments, the Erie County Emergency Response Team, Hamot Medical Center, and the FBI, to quarantine, test and secure antibiotics for about 500 students, faculty, administrators, and staff. By mid-afternoon on Thursday, Nov. 1, the scare was officially just that, but for students, parents, and other members of the Mercyhurst community, it was a sobering burst of reality on a normally quiet campus.

Prayer vigil around the Munson Plaza water sculpture, often called the “blessing fountain.”

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