It was a relatively quiet Tuesday morning in the Bemidji Pioneer newsroom. The next day’s paper would not be printed until late in the evening, and the only staffer in the room was Jim Carrington, our venerable former sports editor.
But things changed in a heartbeat when news of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks broke. Things changed for everyone in America that morning. Twenty years later, some memories of that fateful day are still vivid.
I had taken the job as publisher of the Pioneer only three months earlier. Our news team led by Editor Kelly Boldan also included Opinion page editor Brad Swenson, reporters Molly Miron, Devlyn Brooks and Robby Robinson, and photographer Monte Draper. They spent the next few days covering local angles to this historic attack.
Miron and Brooks spent most of that Tuesday contacting people for a localized front-page story. The Bemidji airport was shut down. The Federal Building downtown was locked down. The Bemidji FBI office was on alert. Area churches scheduled prayer services. School activities were postponed as teachers tried to keep their students calm in the wake of the attacks.
Miron also wrote about fears of a gas-price jump after reports surfaced of stations charging $5 per gallon in some parts of the country. A Holiday station clerk in Bemidji told Molly that gas was $4.80 per gallon in Duluth. Miron’s follow-up story the next day said the scare was unfounded, and prices remained around $1.79 per gallon in the Bemidji area.
There were plenty of other local stories as the week went on. Draper was out and about taking photographs at gas stations, schools and businesses. Robinson wrote about how Bemidji High School teachers used the attacks as a learning tool in their classrooms. Miron talked to travelers whose trips were canceled or changed. She also had stories about Bemidji State University’s response, plans for a local Red Cross disaster team heading to New York and Washington, and covered some of the prayer services.
“Bemidji struggles to return to routine” was the headline on a story Brooks wrote for Thursday’s paper. He reported that the lines of vehicles waiting for gas were gone, and businesses and schools were open again. But of course, life was not going to be the same as it was before the attacks.
Swenson wrote an editorial for Wednesday’s Pioneer headlined “No act of terrorism to be tolerated.” His final paragraph summed it up: “If the United States learned one thing Tuesday, it is that national security at home cannot be taken for granted. We must pull together, pray for swift justice and pray that we suffer no more Pearl Harbors.”