Middletown, New Jersey —
On Sept. 11, 2001, Cristina Fox was in the seventh grade at Bayshore Middle School in Leonardo, New Jersey — part of Middletown, New Jersey, a shore town filled with commuters that lost 37 people on that tragic Tuesday morning.
Given the number of young children with parents or relatives or family friends who worked in lower Manhattan, most Middletown schools chose not to tell the students about the terror attacks. Despite not knowing what was happening, Fox knew something was wrong when they closed off one of their stairways in the school.
“Our staircases were glass, so you could see to the water,” Fox told Rare. “Bayshore Middle School is very close to the bay, so in the sixth grade staircase, you could see the smoke when the towers went down.”
Fifteen years after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Fox has gone from middle-school student to high school math teacher in the same district she was raised in.
None of Fox’s students are old enough to have first-hand memories of the terrorist attack and must rely on their teachers to tell the story of a nation in crisis and a town in mourning.
Our staircases were glass, so you could see to the water. ... You could see the smoke when the towers went down.
Fox sat in an empty classroom to talk to Rare about her experiences as a student and teacher in the district. She looked around the room and realized that the number of people lost from her hometown in the attacks would be equal to students in her classroom.
“That’s how many students would fit in this classroom,” Fox said after a long sigh. “It’s crazy to think that we had almost 40 people who died in that attack.”
Like many people in Middletown, Fox has some connection to the attack and knows how hard it is for loved ones to look back on that horrible day.
“All those people have to mourn every year,” she said. “A parent or a very close relative who is no longer here because of something so devastating and awful.”
This is part of a personal, original Rare series reflecting on a national-turned-hometown tragedy. See the complete series and find full 9/11 anniversary coverage at on.rare.us/911.
The death and life of my hometown | Reflecting on 9/11, a national-turned-hometown tragedy for Middletown, N.J.
A moment in tragedy | How this train station became an unlikely symbol of healing after the 9/11 attacks
A legacy of kindness | After her brother died on 9/11, a woman found this unique way to spread peace
“Get your aircraft to the ground” | 15 years after 9/11, this pilot remembers the day air travel came to a grinding halt
A legacy of bravery, sacrifice | As the towers started to burn on 9/11, this officer rushed from his post to save as many lives as possible
Life’s greatest gift amid heartbreak | With tears in her eyes, she remembers a new mom whose husband didn’t come home on 9/11
A sobering connection | This teacher’s perspective on how many people from her town died on 9/11 will bring you to tears