9/11 trauma remembered in Surprise 18 years later

The Luke Air Force Base Color Guard presented the colors before the OUAZ home football opener, Sept. 7, 2019, at Spirit Field in Surprise. [Jason Stone/Independent Newsmedia]


When Surprise residents woke up on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the top news stories included the impending opening of the city’s first main post office.

The 32,000-square-foot facility on Parkview Place and Bell Road was days away from opening its doors to the public for the first time, giving Surprise residents a convenient place to send and pick up mail after years of traveling to the Sun Cities, Peoria and Glendale for those services.

Residents also learned they would soon be getting their second library as the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors the week before voted to fund what would become the Northwest Regional Library, 16089 N. Bullard Ave., across from Surprise Stadium, 15850 N. Bullard Ave.

But that all changed at 5:46 a.m. Surprise time.

When the first plane that was hijacked by terrorists slammed into New York’s World Trade Center, it may as well have happened here judging by its impact as Luke Air Force Base went on high alert, the government virtually stopped and sporting events no longer seemed to matter.

Immediately after the initial reports of the attacks, Luke increased its security measures as a precaution. Access to the base was restricted with all customer service functions, shopping facilities and non-emergency medical appointments closed or cancelled.

The base launched F-16s from the 56th Fighter Wing to patrol the skies over the Valley just to be on the safe side.

Official city events for the week were cancelled over.

A Planning and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for that night was the first to be nixed.

The city also postponed a City Council meeting set for two days later where an agenda item included a public hearing on a major amendment to the city’s 2020 general plan.

Dysart High School, which was the only high school in the Dysart Unified School District at the time, was forced to cancel games in Prescott for its golf and girls volleyball teams.

The major cancellation that affected residents the most was the annual Fiestas Patrias party that was scheduled for the weekend right after the attacks.

It was supposed to be the first Fiestas Patrias with a liquor license – a controversial issue at the time.

Local travel agencies – remember them? – also suffered in the weeks that followed. People simply didn’t feel safe to travel anywhere and that hit some Surprise businesses hard, according to media reports at the time.

Slowly as the week, progressed, however, the city began to rally support.

Three days after the attacks – on a day President George W. Bush designated as a National Day of Prayer — elected officials and city employees canvassed the city to pass out ribbons and collect donations for the Red Cross.

One hair salon, Hair 2000 Plus on Grand Avenue, even offered free haircuts to anybody who donated.

The Surprise Independent reported local churches were seeing a big increase in attendance in the immediate days following the tragedy.

Along with the rest of the nation for today’s Patriot Day, Surprise residents will remember the lives lost in the attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and over the skies of Pennsylvania – although there is no official event planned is planned.

“However, we do have a 9/11 Memorial that is displayed in the lobby of City Hall, which the public is invited to view,” said Surprise spokeswoman Virginia Mungovan. “The 360-degree memorial features actual twisted steel from the World Trade Center encased in glass. Etched in the glass are the words “We will never forget” and the names all public safety personnel killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Flags will also be at half-staff across the city this week.

“Although this is not a federal holiday, I hope you take a few moments of your day to honor and remember,” City Councilwoman Nancy Hayden wrote in a newsletter last week. “We will never forget.”

Editor’s note: Jason Stone can be reached at 623-445-2805, on email at jstone@newszap.com or on Twitter at @thestonecave.

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