The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, claimed the lives of 2,977 people. Of that number, 412 first responders perished that day. They were trained to run straight into peril as others were running away from it. These heroes paid the ultimate price attempting to save as many civilians as possible.

On the 20th anniversary of those terror attacks that impacted America from that day on, it is time to show appreciation for our nation’s first responders. Every day, they put their lives on the line serving their communities. 

Buford High School wanted to show its gratitude to the first responders who serve the Buford community. Local first responders were invited to the Buford Community Center for a luncheon in their honor on Friday. Gwinnett County firefighters, police officers and EMTs, along with Buford City School System’s school resource officers were treated to a lunch catered by Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Everyone got to dive into pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, salad, cheddar biscuits and an assortment of cupcakes.

“We were talking a few weeks ago about what to do to recognize the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and we discussed not only what to do in the schools but also what to do for our local first responders,” Buford High School Principal Teresa Hagelthorn said. “We decided to feed them and recognize them in that way.”

Hagelthorn can recall where she was the moment she learned of the terror attacks on 9/11, as can many Americans alive that day. 

“I remember that day in my classroom at Central Gwinnett High School. I remember that day vividly. Not a lot of math learning was going on that day,” she said. “It was just focusing on helping the students get through those traumatic events — for several days afterward.” 

While the air of the luncheon was upbeat as co-workers got a chance to relax, catch up with friends and, the events of 20 years ago were never far from their minds. As with Hagelthorn, the first responders could instantly recall where they were and what their emotions were on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was traveling home from work listening to WSB when the first plane hit. I was like, ‘Wow.’ Then I knew the second plane hit,” firefighter Dave Layton said. “I had then just came back from New York two months before and then I watched all the guys I had met in New York die.”

Buford City Schools school resource officer Humberto Garcia said at the time of the terror attacks he was working as a chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami, Florida. The area the hotel is located in is full of high-rise buildings. 

“Twenty minutes after the first plane hit the tower, they started evacuating all of the buildings that were 30 stories or higher,” Garcia said. “That whole area was big chaos. Eventually, they all rushed us down to the basement of the hotel that we worked at and kept us down there until we got further notice of what went on.”

As the luncheon wound down, the first responders finished their meals and returned to their firetrucks, ambulances or patrol cars to resume their day. Hopefully, with a full stomach, as well as the feeling that they are supported and appreciated.

“This is great,” said Buford City Schools school resource officer Aaren Dieffenbacher. “This is a great way to say thanks to the folks who sacrifice their time to come out here and assist the community.” 


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