TWIN FALLS — Write your name and your next of kin’s phone number on your arm.
Those were the instructions Chris Hawley received after a veteran firefighter handed her a black Sharpie in September 2001. It was just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and she was volunteering for search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero.
Except it became more of a recovery effort — because there was no one left who could be saved.
“We became determined and resolute that no victim was left behind in that pile,” Hawley recalled on Sept. 11 as she shared her story during a 9/11 remembrance service at Twin Falls City Park. “Through the fear and feeling of helplessness, we remained unwavered and concentrated on bringing loved ones home to their families.”
Hawley, now a senior deputy coroner for Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, was working for the Kitsap County, Wash., coroner’s office at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But up until Monday, she hadn’t talked openly about her experience.
“It takes time to heal,” she told the Times-News. “I did this speech as part of a healing process for myself.”
Monday’s service was co-hosted by Twin Falls Fire Department and the Twin Falls County coroner’s office with a goal to honor those who had died or helped rescue efforts at the World Trade Center in 2001. But the service was also intended to honor the sacrifices of veterans, soldiers, military families and first responders.
The Twin Falls, Filer, Buhl, Kimberly and Hansen police departments attended, along with Magic Valley Paramedics, the city of Twin Falls, Idaho State Police and members of the public.
Through speeches, songs and moments of prayer and silence, those gathered were called to remember where they were on the day of the terrorist attacks. Law enforcement officers shared stories of being at work, or getting woken up by a spouse so they could watch the news.
But they also tasked those gathered Monday to not get caught up in the reports of racism, bigotry and divisiveness around the country.
“This is not what this country is about,” Twin Falls County Coroner Gene Turley said.
He referred to John 15:13 — “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
“We remember this because that is what America is all about,” Turley said. “That is what Americans are all about. We set our own safety aside to help another that’s in distress.”
“We will never forget,” he said.
The heroism, talent and actions of first responders that day set a new standard for other first responders, firefighter Gerald Dillard told the Times-News after the ceremony.
“There was no hesitation,” he said.
But the day’s events had a lasting impact for others, too.
“Sept. 11 affected all of us,” Hawley said. “Individually, as a nation and as a people.”
She recalled how, before creeping through the wreckage of the twin towers, she was told to always look for the steel beams — which could save her life in case of a collapse, and help other rescuers find her.
After a month of volunteerism, she had the “World Trade Center cough” for about nine months. And she continues to have nightmares as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But she considers herself lucky.
The death toll on 9/11 was 2,996 people. That included 343 firefighters and paramedics and 60 police officers. Remains of more victims are still being identified, and more people are dying from cancers and other effects of being in the debris.
Still, there was also some good that arose from the event. The Salvation Army provided 39,000 meals to officers and volunteers. The country was united, Hawley said.
“Even as the ashes began to rise, the goodness and kindness in America’s heart started to bloom that day,” Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins said. “… Our world had just been turned upside down. Now, 16 years later, we know that what was intended to be the ultimate act of evil inflicted on our nation, has spurred us on to forgive and to do good.”
And people can continue with that purpose in their everyday lives.
“I urge you all to remember,” she said. “Remember that out of terror, we can forgive. Remember that out of ashes, beauty can grow.”