M. Terry / SFVS

Caesar Albizures

Steve Franklin, 43 is a history and student leadership instructor at the Sun Valley Magnet School. Like many Americans, he can clearly remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001 — the day terrorists crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing thousands.

“I had a friend who worked at the Pentagon; that’s how I found out about it,” Franklin said. “He wasn’t at work yet, but he called on the phone and said ‘turn on your television.’”

Paulina Fernandez, 14, is a high school freshman at Sun Valley Magnet School (which has grades K-12). Like others in her freshman class, she was not born when the attack occurred. Her knowledge comes from history lessons.

“Just knowing that the hatred…from those whose religion is different from us, and because of that hatred it turned into the killing of innocent people — it’s still alive for me,” she said

Fernandez, along with two dozen other Sun Valley students, have built a memorial of 9/11 that opened in the school auditorium on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and will be available for viewing through Friday, Sept. 9.

“For me it’s still very important. It’s a sign that our country still is strong, and got stronger because of this incident,” Hernandez said.

The memorial includes exhibits re-creating a government office that was part of a terrorist attack last year in San Bernardino county that killed or wounded 36 people, and part of Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where more than 100 people were killed or wounded in June by a single gunman.

The student project workers, ages 12 to 18, have been putting the exhibits together — which include photos and newspaper accounts, and the film “Flight 93” on a television monitor —  since the second week of July, working 4-5 hours a day, five days a week.

“They’re really into it, in an artistic sense and a creative sense. But also in an educational, knowledgeable sense,” said Franklin, the project’s faculty advisor. “When we first sat and talked about this, there were all sorts of questions about the roots of terrorism, about how our country responded to it.”

The most asked question by the students was “Why,” Franklin said. “And it’s a hard answer to give. It’s a complicated answer. It can be a political answer. But what it boils down to is, that people in our world come from different cultures, different places, and have different beliefs. And some of these values and beliefs clash. And some people, to change other people’s beliefs, resort  to methods that we find repulsive as a society — and they don’t.”

Understanding The Importance

One student — Caesar Albizures, 15, a sophomore — worked on all three exhibits, but said he spent most of his time working on the San Bernardino exhibit.

That attack, and the one at Pulse, strongly resonated with him.

“I can actually remember watching the news where people were being shot in the nightclub,” Albizures said. “Imagine innocent people at a club trying to have fun and a good time that night. And it turned into a massacre.

“For 9/11, I still don’t know much; I was very young at the time. But … it still hurts a lot. Even though I didn’t have any family members who passed away, I feel my condolences should go to those families who lost a spouse, a sibling — and never got to say goodbye to them that day. I wish 9/11 would’ve never happened. Unfortunately, it did.”

Derrick Smith, 17, is part of the inaugural senior class at Sun Valley Magnet. He said he will be interested in how his fellow students react to the memorial.

“I hope they realize how sincere this is and how serious this has to be,” Smith said. “And that they take into consideration the lives the families have lost.”

The Deadly Attacks

Sunday is the 15th anniversary of the most deadly foreign attack on US soil in modern times.

On that day, Sept. 11, Al Qaeda terrorists aboard three hijacked passenger planes carried out coordinated suicide attacks against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing everyone on board the planes and nearly 3,000 people on the ground. A fourth plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field, killing all on board, after passengers and crew attempted to wrest control from the hijackers.

By the time Franklin reached the Sun Valley Magnet campus, “it was becoming clear” that this tragedy was not caused by a mechanical breakdown of the planes or pilot’s error.

“We were directed by (LAUSD) headquarters to keep radios and televisions off — the district thought the kids would be too frightened. I think we all ignored that directive, it’s safe to say,” Franklin said.

“What I remember most, actually, is the fact we’re right next door to the Burbank Airport. It had become known that all flights were ordered to land. We’d frequently hear the airplanes landing parallel to Sherman Way. At first everybody wanted to run to the door when they saw an airplane come by, because they were afraid.”

Franklin said he and other teachers were trying that day to explain to students what happened “and not being able to do a very good job of it. Because we really didn’t know what was going on. But there was a lot of chaos, a lot of franticness — more than anything, a lot of fear and confusion.”

Two more recent attacks have again shaken the American public.

Last Dec. 2, 14 people were killed and 22 were injured in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino from a mass shooting and an attempted bombing. The lead attackers, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were a married couple who led an assault on a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health training event and Christmas party for approximately 80 employees taking place in a rented banquet room.

Farook was an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent working as a health department employee. Malik was a Pakistani-born lawful permanent US resident. Both were later killed in a shootout with police after escaping in a SUV.

And on June 12 this year, 49 people were killed and another 53 injured inside the nightclub by Omar Mateen, 29, a security guard. The club was hosting a Latin Night, and most of the victims were Latino. Mateen would be shot and killed by police after a three-hour standoff at the club.

It is the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter as well as the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in United States history. And the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11.

The attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando are much fresher for Fernandez and Smith.

“I related mostly to the Orlando, because I have friends and family who are LGBTQ,” Fernandez said. “This [violence] is disrespecting them. I get really emotional toward that. And, just generally, why hurt innocent people because they’re not like you.”

“It showed in San Bernardino that you can die at work while you’re doing things. And the Pulse club shows you can have fun and still something can happen to you,” added Smith. “It’s good here the students see and know that there’s different settings where something bad can happen. You don’t have to be in just a building or at home. It can happen wherever you are.”