Prince William ‘almost inconceivable’ police chief recalls the day in Washington | Securities
It was a clear, sunny day.
Everyone has their own story, but everyone seems to remember the weather from 20 years ago.
Yes, when you read this it may not be exactly 20 years old. It might be a day before or a few days after, but you certainly remember where you left off to listen to the news when you first heard it.
It’s hard to describe the uncertainty and chaos of 102 minutes in September 2001 to those who were younger, maybe not even born, at the time. It can be hard to understand that people who remember that day vividly are now seeing their stories told by those who may have only been in third grade at the time.
With the end of the war in Afghanistan, it’s easy to finally isolate this part of American history from the present. But if you were in the Washington area and remember it clearly, you can easily remember how life was even more uncertain once the smoke started to rise from the Pentagon.
Ask anyone who was in a position of authority on September 11, 2001, and you might get more compelling and compelling stories of the day. But maybe the story of someone so close, but out of control, can be linked to those in Northern Virginia.
Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham started the day away from the scene but suddenly he was very close.
The man who took over earlier this year as the county’s top law enforcement official was at the time a second district commander of the Metropolitan Police Department. His mission: to oversee a district that included Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.
Newsham vividly remembers the first part of the day, as many do, watching United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Just over 30 minutes later and across the Potomac River, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
Across Washington, many were trying to evacuate. Others tried to take their children out of school. Anyone who has traveled the District knows that getting around town quickly is not easy. As word spread, Newsham was called to MPD headquarters.
Smoke at the Pentagon was visible. But despite the chaos, the townspeople have done their best to ease the traffic jams, offering a deference that is usually not seen.
“People have been extremely gracious in moving off the roadway to give emergency vehicles a chance to cross,” Newsham said.
As word of the attacks spread, Newsham said it was as if a “strange calm fell over the city”.
Police officials were concerned about an attack on the White House, or possibly the United States Capitol. No one was sure how many planes had been hijacked or what would be hit next.
Once it was learned that the thefts had been grounded and the threat had passed, MPD focused on making the police visible in the community as everyone worked in shock.
Over the next year, Newsham said there was a sense of instability throughout the city.
“It wasn’t like you could even imagine something like this could happen,” he said.
Looking at the long-term impact on law enforcement, Newsham sees a lasting improvement in coordination.
“Law enforcement has become less siled and more cooperative,” he said. “The relationship between federal and local law enforcement has improved dramatically, and law enforcement is doing a much better job of gathering intelligence and assessing threats.”
Watching the World Trade Center burn and collapse, the smoke rising from the Pentagon and the drivers leading the way for law enforcement are etched in Newsham’s memory.
“These are the types of memories you will never forget,” he said. “It was almost inconceivable that this was happening in our country.”