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Students grew up haunted by bin Laden

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Brainerd High School teacher Kathy Hegstrom had plans for Monday to have her American history class discuss the royal wedding and the tornado that devastated the South.

Little did she know that even bigger national news was going to happen late Sunday night when the world found out that Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American military personnel in Pakistan.

Hegstrom told her class that she was watching a movie, when her husband came running, yelling, “Bin Laden is dead, bin Laden is dead.” Hegstrom said she watched the news coverage until 2 a.m.

Hegstrom, who had several newspaper article clippings of national news hung up in her classroom, discussed the 9/11 attacks and bin Laden’s death with the group of sophomores. They were in first or second grade in 2001.

Sophomore Nick Murray, as well as a few other students, said at the time of 9/11 they had no idea what the word “terrorist” meant. Murray said he attended Baxter Elementary School and they didn’t tell the young students what happened on 9/11. Murray said he found out after school at day care, when his provider explained to the children what had happened.

Murray said he was working a late shift at Pizza Hut when he heard the news of the killing of bin Laden. Murray said his manager received a text message of the news from his wife. 

“We talked about it,” said Murray. “I was happy I got home just in time to hear Obama’s speech. I was really happy that it was a ground mission and I think it was cool how the American Navy Seals  went in there tearing it (compound) down.”

Classmate Alyssa Maurer heard about the killing Monday morning. She said her mother received a call from her friend, who told her the news.

“She (her mother’s friend) was very excited,” said Maurer. “She was excited because her brother gets to come home now, and lots of other soldiers get to come home because of it.”

A few of the sophomores  found out that bin Laden was killed through a text of their Facebook page and they thought it was a joke at first.

Sophomore Donovan Abbott had many thoughts about the killing of bin Laden. He questioned how the killing would affect the war in Iraq. He didn’t think it’d be worth the Americans’ time to go after bin Laden’s terrorist team. And he said what surprises him most is how many conspiracy theories there are about the terrorist attacks.

Abbott said when he first heard about the 9/11 attacks he was at school and all the teachers were crying and acting weird. He said the teachers didn’t tell the class about the news because they were too young to understand it. 

“I was mad at that time because I didn’t want to watch the news because it was boring ... I mean I was 6,” said Abbott.

Classmate Jenna Lemieux said when she was watching TV during the 9/11 attacks she recalls a news reporter, who was so shocked that the reporter stopped reporting the breaking news.

Morgan Steffen, a 10th-grader, said she went to bed Sunday night early because she had an early-bird class Monday.

“I heard it on the radio on our way to school,” said Steffen. “My dad turned it up and we all just stopped talking ... I almost forgot about it (the manhunt for bin Laden) because it has been drug out for so long.”

The Dispatch contacted several people  reporters had talked to nearly 10 years ago in the hours after the 9/11 attacks.

Martha Kuehn, Central Lakes College  psychology instructor, said her husband told her about bin Laden’s death Monday morning and she was surprised.

“I was in bed early last night (Sunday) so I missed it,” Kuehn said. “I think this news will bring us closure to the events of 9/11. People have been waiting for this news for a long time. This will help us move beyond that and to look for a less fearful future.”

Gary Payne, CLC sociology teacher and a news junkie, said he was watching CNN when the news broke of bin Laden. He stayed up until midnight watching the TV.

“I stayed up later than usual, but this is so important,” he said. “Al-Qaida’s image has been tarnished quite a bit in the last year. The peaceful demonstrations of Islamic citizens in Egypt and Tunisia have generated more hope and freedom for Muslims in a few months than Al-Qaida has in an entire decade of violence. I have traveled across several Islamic nations in northern Africa and elsewhere and I’m certain that the vast majority of Islamic people want peace as badly as we do. 

“It’s important that we not gloat over the assassination of bin Laden which would only stir up dangerous emotions on the other side. We need to look for ways to reduce tensions so we can extract ourselves as quickly as possible from these expensive wars.”

The 9/11 attacks led to an immediate grounding of virtually all air traffic, Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Manager Steve Sievek said the event changed the world of air travel security forever.

“It’s a lot more thorough and intense,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to anything less. I think people have accepted it.”

Sievek estimated the Transportation Security Administration has about four or five full-time employees and a number of part-time workers at the airport.

He said the death of bin Laden should bring comfort to people who lost family and friends on Sept. 11.

Pastor Deb Celley expressed mixed feelings regarding the death of the terrorists’ leader in an emailed response to Brainerd Dispatch questions.

“First, I felt glad for and proud of President Barack Obama, and grateful for the strike team, who put their lives on the line for us all,” she said. “Upon further reflection, I feel deep regret for the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been lost between Sept. 11, 2001, and May 1, 2011, in the War on Terror.

“I’m having a spiritual struggle: as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I must not allow myself to rejoice at anyone’s death, even the death of bin Laden, who was certainly guilty of much evil,” she said. “But I am relieved at the news of his death. I hope that bin Laden’s death will mean new life for the Middle East and southwestern Asia. And I hope that here in the United States, we will stop being so afraid.”

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, also contributed to this story. He may be reached at or 855-5860.

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.