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9/11 reflections: Local residents remember the tragedy that shook America
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On his 35th birthday, Bill Gould was at home in New Haven, Conn., with his wife, trying to decide how they would spend the day.

But then the phone rang, and the person on the other end told him to turn on the television.

“Just like everyone else, we were absolutely glued to the TV,” said Gould, who turns 55 today and is now chief of the Swanzey Fire Department.

It was Sept. 11, 2001. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 careened into the South Tower. Thirty-four minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, and at 10:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Gould and other community members are remembering the tragedy that shook the country.

That afternoon, Gould met with some of his colleagues at the New Haven Fire Department’s training center.

“Everyone was in disbelief. Nobody knew what was going to happen next,” he recalled on Friday. “Everyone had questions, but nobody had answers.”

The next morning, he and other New Haven firefighters grabbed their gear and took a train into the city. The only passengers were first responders. As the train made stops along the way, station platforms were lined with other firefighters, carrying their gear and ready to board, looking to help New York City however they could, Gould said.

Toward the end of the 90-minute commute, he could see lingering smoke hovering over the city. It was less than 24 hours after the attacks.

“It was strange, very, very strange how [the city] just kind of came to a halt, especially lower Manhattan,” he said.

The firefighters arrived at Grand Central Station and made their way to the Javits Center, where they joined other departments from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and waited for orders.

“We were on the periphery,” Gould said. “Some departments went right to the site. We actually went back through the city and stopped at a couple fire houses to see if they needed anything.”

After six or seven hours, the New Haven group returned home with a mix of emotions.

“It was almost like a helpless feeling — you wanted to help, everyone wanted to help,” Gould said. “They were trying to get order down there. We didn’t want to hamper those efforts.”

Gould said that while he wasn’t personally close with members of the New York City Fire Department, he had attended courses and classes with several of those who were killed. He recalled that almost every day, firefighters from New Haven were heading into the city to attend funerals.

Just over 200 miles away, residents of Keene — like people around the world — tuned in to the news. Businesses downtown opened early on 9/11 so people could gather and watch the coverage in the company of others. Police departments were on high alert, trying to make their presence felt throughout their communities. Schools remained open, and older students knew what had happened.

At ConVal Regional High School, students and teachers gathered in the library, 150 at any given time.

“I don’t think any of us can understand the magnitude of what’s happened,” said social studies teacher Michael Wozmak at the time.

In an interview on Thursday, Wozmak reflected on that day. He said he returned to his classroom at the beginning of each period to retrieve his students and bring them to the library to watch the news reports.

“It was just absolute silence as things were unfolding,” he recalled.

Twenty years later, Wozmak still teaches at ConVal. But now most of his students were born after the tragedy, and he said it’s difficult for young people to fully grasp the emotional impact of that day.

He shows his students the film 102 Minutes That Changed America, a collection of video and audio clips recorded on 9/11.

“They begin to understand, seeing the emotion and fear and terror on people’s faces as they’re running through the streets.”

He added that he then goes deeper to discuss the long-term impacts of the events, how they affected the victims’ families, and the ways the country has changed post-9/11.

The evening of the attacks, clergy members from local churches gathered with approximately 350 area residents at the United Church of Christ in Central Square for a vigil.

Rev. Peter Coffin, who at the time was affiliated with St. James Episcopal Church, attended the vigil.

Coffin’s sister lived in New York City at the time, and when he first called her to see if she was OK, his call went to the answering machine.

“When the beep sounded, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t find the words to say,” he told The Sentinel at the vigil. He later connected with his sister and learned she was safe.

“It felt like a common experience of panic and concern, and then finally resolution,” Coffin — who lived in Marlow before moving to South Carolina last year — reflected on Thursday. “A joyous comfort and resolution to connect with loved ones — if they were indeed alright. I felt that was something everyone at the gathering could relate to.”

At the vigil, Coffin and other religious leaders read scripture and addressed the community.

“Nobody prepared anything. It was probably the best way to do it, because everyone spoke from what they were feeling and thinking that day,” he said.

Artist James Pelletier was a junior at Keene State College in 2001. Before attending Keene State, he spent a significant amount of time in lower Manhattan in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1979, he coordinated with building managers in lower Manhattan for his NIGHT/LIGHT exhibition, a larger-than-life display of geometric shapes through the windows of buildings.

When the attacks happened on 9/11, he knew he wanted to return to the city. In the months that followed, he connected with the New York branch of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (now known as Learning Ally), and proposed creating a recording of the names of all the victims. The group also worked with the United Nations to ensure all the names were pronounced correctly.

Volunteers from RBAD recorded names of the Twin Tower victims, actor Jerry Orbach read the names of victims from the New York Police Department, and actress Betsy Palmer read the names of airline victims.

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, the recording was played at Battery Park.

Pelletier returned to the city annually to be involved with the memorials, but said in 2004 traveling to New York became too expensive. In 2008, he contacted Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge to see if the organization would host the recording. He also expanded it to include the names of all the 9/11 victims, including those at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

For the 13th year in a row, the recording, which lasts about three hours, will be played at 8:45 a.m. this morning at Cathedral of the Pines.

To mark the 20th anniversary, volunteers are also recording Pelletier’s poem “Downtown Lower Manhattan,” which he wrote after returning to New England from New York City. Pelletier said he’s contacted a variety of people — from Pete Seeger to Bello the Clown — to contribute, and that recording, along with the 2002 recitation of the victims’ names, will be given to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The Edge Ensemble Theater Company will also be commemorating the attacks.

At 7 p.m tonight, the company will perform “The Guys,” which tells the story of an editor helping an NYC fire captain struggling to write the eulogies of his colleagues. The play, written by Anne Nelson in the months following the attacks, is based on a true story. The performance will be hosted by Keene Public Library, and admission is free.

Mark DiPietro, who plays the fire captain, had known of the play and several months ago, suggested performing it for 9/11’s 20th anniversary, according to Director Kim Dupuis.

She said she hopes the audience will remember that while society often refers to the first responders who perished as heroes, they were also real, normal people.

“The material is beautiful, and I’m sure it’s going to resonate with a lot of people.” Dupuis said. “The idea is that ordinary people doing extraordinary things makes them heroes.”

Meanwhile, a Keene resident is quietly commemorating the anniversary with a display outside her home.

Earlier this summer, Alison Adams hung a large American flag on the side of her barn for the Fourth of July — and now she has 343 miniature flags in her yard to match it, each honoring a firefighter killed in the attacks.

The array was installed along Baker Street Friday morning with the help of six Keene firefighters, Adams said, adding that she was floored so many members of the department came out to help. She said she put out the invitation on Thursday while dropping food off at the station.

Adams has firefighters and service members in her family, and they always try to commemorate 9/11 in some way. It’s a practice that’s close to her heart, she said, and one she’s maintained the past two decades.

“I just hope people going by will see it and take a moment and remember,” she said. “It’s 20 years later, but there are people who feel it every single day.”

20 years after 9/11, war on terror persists and there are more threats than ever

WASHINGTON — The day after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States issued a warning to the Taliban: No government that provides a haven for terrorists is safe from the American military.

“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them,” President George W. Bush said at that time.

Within weeks, the United States had invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and hunt al-Qaida operatives responsible for the 2001 attacks.

In the two decades since, three consecutive presidents have scaled back the number of American troops on the ground to wage that war against terrorism and have increasingly relied on remote surveillance and strike capabilities.

President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover last month completed that transformation.

Focusing intelligence and military resources toward future threats will require more emphasis on remote technologies, such as drones based in allied countries and in international waters.

“The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America — not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow,” Biden said in addressing the end of America’s longest war.

“The threat from terrorism continues in its pernicious and evil nature,” he added. “But it’s changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change, too.”

Intelligence experts say the United States has succeeded tactically at thwarting new attacks, even as it has struggled strategically to prevent militant groups from splintering, swelling their ranks and spreading into new countries.

“The idea of anything like 9/11 — foreign terrorists traveling to the U.S. to carry out a significant terrorist attack inside the United States — is vastly diminished,” said Suzanne Spaulding, an under secretary at the Department of Homeland Security from 2011 to 2017 and now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But as former President Barack Obama learned after pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011, terrorist threats can evolve rapidly in a vacuum. The rise of Islamic State in that country, where it conquered vast swaths of territory in a short period, forced him to send troops back into Iraq in 2014.

The fear of a resurgence of terrorists organizing in Afghanistan and of continued threats from other militant groups overseas will force the United States to remain engaged in the fight against terrorism as it has over the last 20 years.

“There are many, many more people radicalized to violent extremism than there were on 9/11,” said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who worked on intelligence at the FBI, State Department and Treasury Department. “There are many more groups, and they are in many more places around the world.”

Terrorism has ‘metastasized’

In 2001, the U.S. focus was on al-Qaida when it was a localized, centralized, top-heavy group that had found safe haven in Taliban-controlled lands. But it still took a decade for the United States, under the Obama administration, to find al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. In 2011, Navy SEALs raided his compound in Pakistan and killed bin Laden.

Today, Biden’s administration faces a more diffuse set of groups seen as threats.

“This is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan,” Biden said.

“We face threats from al-Shabab in Somalia, al-Qaida affiliates in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and establishing affiliates across Africa and Asia,” Biden said.

Groups that remain intent on striking U.S. interests, according to intelligence agencies, include al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamic State in Somalia and Islamic State in the Khorasan (ISIS-K), which carried out the suicide bombing at the airport in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans.

The United States retaliated against ISIS-K targets with a drone strike.

Spaulding said that remote capabilities are not as effective as having eyes and ears on the ground.

“We’re not flying blind,” Spaulding said, “but we’re unlikely to have as good intelligence as we have presumably had over the last 20 years when we were on the ground.”

Biden was emphatic that the United States will “maintain the fight against terrorism” with “over-the-horizon” capabilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“We’ve shown that capacity just in the last week,” he said. “We struck ISIS-K remotely.”

Intelligence limitations

Washington’s increased reliance on drones began over a decade ago. While Biden was vice president, Obama expanded the program and ultimately ordered 10 times the number of strikes conducted by his predecessor, according to government data released at the time.

The United States no longer has a base in Afghanistan to launch, land and refuel drones to maintain near-constant surveillance over emerging threats. Drones will have to be launched from afar, requiring more fuel and offering less time to conduct missions.

The unexpected closing of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and the lack of agreements with some of the neighboring countries are added limitations for intelligence gathering in the region, Levitt said.

“I can tell you many people in the intelligence community are very, very worried,” he said. “They are being asked to be able to forecast threats before they happen at a time when we are losing or relinquishing significant collection platforms in an important place like Afghanistan.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to go dark, but it’s going to get very, very gray in terms of the kinds of intelligence we’ll be able to procure,” Levitt said.

CIA Director Bill Burns acknowledged that concern to Congress in April, when Biden was debating the timeline for withdrawal with U.S. generals.

“When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” Burns said.

The Biden administration continues to express confidence in its ability to maintain remote drone and surveillance capabilities not just for Afghanistan, but around the globe.

But some national security experts warn that threats from al-Qaida in Afghanistan, degraded significantly since the U.S. invasion in 2001, may resurface.

“I have every reason to think the military and the intelligence community will work as hard as they can within the constraints they face to defend us,” John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Bush and national security adviser under President Donald Trump, said in a recent interview.

“But there is simply no way you can say truthfully that we will be as secure relying on over-the-horizon technology as we would be if we’d kept a presence in Afghanistan,” he said. “It would be a false sense of comfort to think otherwise.”

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Dozens of COVID-19 cases, 5 deaths reported at Alpine Healthcare in Keene
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Alpine Healthcare Center in Keene has reported an outbreak of COVID-19 affecting dozens of people and tied to five deaths in the past month, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

The county-run Maplewood Nursing Home in Westmoreland has also reported cases among two residents and one employee, along with two deaths, state health officials reported in their daily COVID-19 news release Thursday.

This comes as cases of the viral disease have surged in Cheshire County and in the state overall.

County Administrator Chris Coates confirmed Maplewood’s case and death numbers, and said the cases are no longer active. He declined to comment further on the outbreak.

Alpine Healthcare’s outbreak began on Aug. 10, state health department spokeswoman Kathy Remillard said Friday.

The 298 Main St. facility told residents’ families in mid-August that a staff member had contracted the virus, according to a Keene woman with a family member living there.

Since then, the woman — whose relative is recovering from a COVID infection and who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said Alpine has provided regular updates on the number of active cases there. It reported Thursday afternoon that 37 residents and 16 staff members had tested positive during the current outbreak, she said.

The state health department’s data, as of Thursday, show the facility having 32 resident cases and another 13 among staff, as well as five deaths. The data discrepancy could be due to the lag time between when facilities report cases and the health department determines whether they constitute an outbreak, which has happened throughout the pandemic.

Alpine owner Avi Goldstein confirmed the outbreak Friday afternoon, saying he did not know how many cases or deaths the facility had in relation to the outbreak. But, when told the numbers from the state health department, he said it “sounds like the same.”

Goldstein wasn’t sure how many cases are considered active, but Remillard said Friday afternoon that there are 13.

All of the deaths were of residents, Goldstein said, adding that “a couple” of them were in hospice prior to the outbreak.

Alpine ended visits to the facility after the first case last month and has told families it is following the state’s public-health guidelines, according to the Keene woman whose relative lives there. Goldstein did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to confirm this.

“I am very worried obviously because COVID’s serious when it comes to seniors ... but from my experience, the staff has been very good,” the woman said. “They work really, really hard. I’ve just known them to be very diligent and hard workers and very loving to the residents.”

Asked by a reporter Friday about Alpine’s current vaccination rates, Goldstein said he didn’t have the exact numbers available. However, he said “they’re very high” among both residents and staff.

Data reported late last month by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services showed that 92 percent of Alpine residents and 73 percent of staff were vaccinated.

As with other vaccines, it is possible to contract COVID-19 after being immunized — but studies have shown this to be rare, and symptoms should be milder. Of the 398 COVID-19 deaths the state recorded from late January to early September of this year, 7.6 percent were considered breakthrough cases, according to Remillard.

“It is a difficult time, and we’ve been in this for well over a year, and we’re just doing our very best,” Goldstein said. “... I’m really proud of how our team is handling this difficult situation, and we do feel for those who’ve been affected. Our hearts are with them.”

Alpine plans to implement a COVID-19 vaccination mandate among its employees, according to Goldstein, but he said the details are still being fleshed out.

This is in line with a new federal requirement announced last month by President Joe Biden that nursing homes and long-term care facilities must require all workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of Medicare and Medicaid funding. The deadline is not yet clear, according to news reports about the announcement.

Maplewood also has not yet implemented a vaccination mandate. As of Aug. 20, all of Maplewood residents were vaccinated as well as about 75 percent of staff, Coates said at the time.

COVID-19 cases have surged nationally, and hospitals are feeling the impact.

However, in Keene, Cheshire Medical Center’s intensive care unit and emergency department are maintaining normal levels, Amy Matthews, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services, said Friday.

Matthews added that hitting full capacity for any department within the hospital is normal, and that over the past week, no one has been turned away from the ICU because of a lack of beds.

The ICU has 10 beds, she said, but typically fluctuates between six and eight depending on staffing levels and community needs.

Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease physician at Cheshire Medical, added that within the past two weeks, there has been a steady uptick in the number of COVID-19 patients within the ICU, making up about half or more of the department’s patient population.

But both he and Matthews stressed that patient levels in the ICU — like any other department — fluctuate rapidly, and that the hospital has several protocols in place to help if it becomes overwhelmed.

As of Friday, there were 337 new cases reported in New Hampshire. Daily case numbers have been rising over the past few months and have recently approached the highest seen since April, after which cases declined until July, according to statistics from the state health department.

The total number of active cases in the state now stands at 3,144. The average number of cases per day for the seven-day period ending Friday has increased 4 percent from the week before.

Hospitalizations have followed the same general upward trend, with 149 people currently in New Hampshire hospitals as of Friday.

In Cheshire County, the number of active cases is at 139, with 54 of those in Keene, according to health department data on Friday.

The county has a 3.5 percent positivity rate over the past seven days, which is the number of positive tests divided by the total number of test results reported. The state’s rate stands at 6.3 percent. Keene’s positivity rate was 2.2 percent, while Hinsdale had the highest positivity rate in the county, at 19.3 percent, New Hampshire health department data on Friday show.

The state says 54 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, with 59 percent having received at least one dose.