A Local Mom Finds More Hope Than Horror in Recent Attack, Recalling Her Father’s Role in 2001, As She Sought a Place for in Local School for Her Daughter
(Editor’s Note: This is the personal narrative of P.S. 89 parent Jeanne-Marie McEnerney, whose connection to Battery Park City spans three generations.)
In August 2013, after returning home from a two year stay in London, I called my father to convey my relief at having found a wonderful school for my 5-year old daughter. We had arrived in New York in early August and school was to start in a few days. Although we had moved into the much sought-after Battery Park City school district, we had been told that our daughter might have to attend a school further away due to the number of families seeking to secure a spot in the local public school, P.S. 89. To our relief and surprise, P.S. 89 welcomed our daughter into the kindergarten class with open arms.
What I didn’t realize was that my dad was no stranger to my daughter’s new school. He had spent the evening of September 11, 2001, in the cafeteria of PS 89, after all the students had been evacuated from the building due to the horrific attack that took place just outside the school doors earlier that day.
My father is a Colonel in the United States Army. He was the Army Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer to FEMA Region II and was a first responder to the 9/11 attack. He was the only Army personnel at that meeting at P.S. 89 on the evening of September 11.
In the years that followed, my father’s memory of that day would come alive when he spent time with us in Battery Park City. For us and the other young families living in the area, it was different now. Battery Park City was filled with life, and children everywhere. It was clean and beautiful. It was suburban living in Downtown Manhattan. There was no sense among its residents that the tragic incidents of 9/11 took place there. I loved living downtown because it represented the real New York to me, a neighborhood rich in history, the heart of the nation’s first capital, a neighborhood that still houses the financial capital of the world, home to a community that celebrates diversity and multiculturalism, in a city where people come to express themselves as free individuals. It’s a neighborhood that looks out into the New York harbor at the Statue of Liberty, the monument that best represents the principles our nation is founded on.
To me, downtown New York is a very special place, a place my family and I called home, a place where I met lifetime friends. It’s a place I miss so much that I frequently ride my bike from the Upper Westside of Manhattan, where I now live, down the bike path next to the Westside Highway so I can I visit it.
On Tuesday, after picking up my children from their new school, ready to celebrate Halloween, I began receiving frantic texts from my friends downtown, who were in lockdown at P.S. 89. They had been picking up their own children in anticipation of an evening of Halloween festivities when they witnessed a man drive his truck into a school bus and heard the gunshots that followed. I was in shock, to say the least. How could this happen in a place I know so well, to friends and children that I care for so much? How could this happen again? How could P.S. 89 be the site of another terror attack?
I spent Tuesday evening and most of Wednesday telling my friends how grateful I am for having them in my life and asking them to hug their beautiful, innocent kids for me. And of course, I had been talking to my father about the tragic events of Tuesday and their connection to his time in Battery Park City in the days following 9/11. I noted to my father that the principal at P.S. 89 is the same principal who was there on September 11.
I sit here, a few days since the incident, and realize now, more than ever, that New York is strong, resilient and filled with goodness. I went from seeing images in the news of my friends and their children walking home past police tape after hours in lockdown to seeing images on Facebook later that evening of their children in costumes trick-or-treating amongst the heavy police presence and the criminal evidence that blocked their streets.
I read a New York Times article about the principal at P.S. 89 taking charge once again in a crisis and keeping the community safe and calm.
It may sound strange after such a tragic event, but my faith in humanity and my gratefulness for friends and for life has been restored. People are good and we will continue to rise above the hate. Downtown Manhattan has proven its ability to do so more than once. It has been the target of terror attacks many times but continues to be the heart of New York and the capital of the world!