9/11 20 years later: Grade school principal reflects on guiding kids through tragedy

9/11: 20 Years Later

(WCMH) — Vicki Nurczyk was principal of Aquinas Central Elementary in September 2001, a Catholic school in Steubenville, Ohio. By the time the 9 a.m. bell rang to start the day, America was already under attack as she quickly learned from a group of eighth-grade students who heard the news on the radio on their way to the building after taking advanced classes at a nearby high school.

“We went down to the library [to watch] on the large screen to see what was going on,” she said. “And at that time, when they came in, the first tower had only been hit, and then, in a few minutes, we actually watched the second tower get hit.”

She secured the building, talked to her teachers and staff, and called the churches affiliated with the school — a priest said he was on his way to help.

Once he arrived, they went from classroom to classroom to inform the kids.

“As we went down lower and lower to the younger grades, we basically said there was something that happened in our country, and we need to pray,” Nurczyk said. “We told them there was like an explosion in a building and, and then another building. We kind of told him as much as we could, as much as we thought they could handle. With Father Pasquanello, he was so good, what a gentle soul, he always was. And he just kind of knew exactly how to talk to the kids, too. He knew his audience.”

Nurczyk said she spoke recently to teachers who were with her on that day.

“We talked about this as teachers, and I said, ‘we think about our part, but think about being a little one,'” she said. “We went through those emotions, too, just in the last couple of days. Talking about that, and I only think back and say, ‘I just hope that I said the right things.'”

According to the NTSB, hijacked Flight 93 flew over Steubenville moments before it crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, around 100 miles to the east.

“We found that out later. And then it was … you get the chills after that, thinking ‘what if that could have been the time that they actually [made] that plane down?’ I don’t know, it’s just … God was with us,” she said. “And then, it didn’t hit anybody. I mean, it just went down where there were no buildings. God was with us in that respect. It was a day I’ll never forget.”

The most difficult thing, Nurczyk says about that day, was the little kids who were afraid they too would be attacked.

“I would say, ‘We’re going to be fine. We’re taking care of you. It’s not going to happen here. I think [the terrorists] had specific places where they were targeting. I don’t think Aquinas school in Steubenville, Ohio, is one of those targets,'” she said. “And I tried to make them feel that comfort that we weren’t going to be targeted, even though I had no idea that was true. … As far as I knew, there could have been a plane just like the one in Pennsylvania.”

In the days to come, the world change: patriotism, community, family togetherness became priorities.

“I remember the rest of the week, we had more parents for lunch duty than we ever had because I think they didn’t want to have their kids out of their sight.”

You can watch the full, unedited interview with Vicki Nurczyk in the video below.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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