Originally Published: September 12, 2012 12:01 a.m.
As Prescott High School's 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony began on the front lawn of the school, emergency sirens went off throughout the city to mark when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
Air Force Junior ROTC cadets raised the flag, the choir sang "The Star Spangled Banner," and student Levi Rosdahl asked those attending the ceremony to reflect on that day 11 years ago.
"I know a lot of the students here were young when Sept. 11 hit, but think back to your emotions when you first saw the plane hit the tower, when you saw the plane crash into the Pentagon and we heard about the plane that crashed into the field in Pennsylvania," said Rosdahl, student body president.
More than 200 people gathered for the ceremony organized by PHS student council members and Air Force Junior ROTC cadets.
"Recall your emotions, then look at the flags on the ground, and put a face on each one of those flags," Rosdahl said, gesturing toward the 3,000 small flags encircling the flagpole. "Because each one of these flags represents a person who died in some way on Sept. 11."
Katie Bendor, who attended the ceremony with her husband Roy, watched their son Jaimy raise the flag. Katie said he was just 3 years old on 9/11, and the family was heading to the Seattle airport to fly back home.
"They wouldn't let us off the ferry. Everything shut down. There were no airplanes in the sky," Katie said. "We couldn't believe what had happened. We were stranded for days."
Prescott Police Sgt. Georgia Davies said she was in a class that was almost cancelled when she heard about what happened, but televisions were brought in instead.
People were stunned as this incomprehensible event unfolded before their eyes, Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Dave Smucker said.
"It seemed like the whole nation was crying," Smucker said. "This is one of those moments a person always remembers for the rest of their lives."
Prescott Police Officer Dave Fuller said he'd just gotten off work, when his mother called to tell him about it.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill DeKemper, a PHS history teacher, was an ROTC instructor teaching a class at Indiana University on 9/11 when he said a sergeant who worked for him burst through the door and said, "You really have to see this, Colonel."
After watching the World Trade Center towers go down, De Kemper said he thought, "Are we going to war? Who has done this? And our world changed overnight."
"I can't tell you how many people I knew who served in Afghanistan and Iraq who never came back," DeKemper said, stepping away from the podium for a moment to compose himself.
"The anger and the frustration that we experienced that day was tempered shortly thereafter by the brave police and fire personnel who serve their country day in and day out in very difficult circumstances," De Kemper said. "And for them I have to give them a salute, because they deserve it."
Prescott Police Chief Mike Kabbel and several police officers stood side by side with Prescott Firefighters, Life Line Ambulance personnel, Air Force Junior ROTC cadets and students during the ceremony.
The terrorists were trying to instill fear and change our way of life, De Kemper said.
"We will win this fight as long as we continue to live free," DeKemper said. "Don't give in to fear. I would tell you if you're not willing to stand up for those freedoms, then you don't deserve them."
Miss Arizona Piper Stoeckel, a former PHS student, said more than 43,000 people have died since the events of 9/11 due to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, "so there are even more faces than this we need to remember."
"I may be a pageant girl in sparkles right now, but I also have a brother who is serving in Afghanistan," Stoeckel said. "And that really means something extraordinary to me today, because he is selflessly serving our country and thousands of troops are still serving our country trying to fix what happened to us on September 11th."
Stoeckel reminded students that everyone can serve their community and family.
"You don't have to wear a uniform to be a hero, or a badge to be a hero," Stoeckel said. "Each and every one of you can be a hero. So go out and serve your school, serve your community, serve your homes, serve your state and serve your country."