Originally created 01/01/02

Terrorism attacks hit home for area teens



On Sept. 11, lives were changed forever.

The United States was hit with brutal attacks - not on military targets, but on civilians. Thousands were killed or injured when hijackers flew commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Months later, teens still feel the impact of the events. Members of the Xtreme Teen Board talked to some other teen-agers affected by Sept. 11.

SANGINI PATEL, 17

After the Sept. 11 tragedy, there were more attacks - and this time they weren't made by the enemy, but by next-door neighbors.

Muslim Americans had to deal with threats even though they felt the same sadness and loss as those who were threatening them. Sangini Patel, a senior at Lincoln County High School, faced some of that derision, not because she's Muslim - her family is Hindu - but because she's Indian. Because her skin is dark, people assumed she was like those accused of the attacks .

She clearly remembers the first incident. On Sept. 11, as her government economics teacher discussed potential attacks on the White House, another student said "Don't give Sangini any ideas." In addition, rocks were thrown through the windows of her family's business.

Her parents have been a solid source of support throughout. She learned from them to ignore the comments. Friends stood up for her when people were rude. Even strangers came to her family's hotel with words of encouragement and hope.

"These people did not know us - yet they still saw that we cared, like them, and wanted to offer their condolences for the hurt we all shared," she said.

- Chelsey Willis

AMELIA RODRIGUEZ, 17

Amelia Rodriguez decided to pursue a career in the armed forces because her father is in the Army.

"My dad was a major influence on me," said the Hephzibah High School senior. "After I graduate, I'm going to join the Air Force Reserves."

After the attacks on Sept. 11, Amelia felt her sense of patriotism swell - and she credits the training she has received during her four years as a cadet in Hephzibah's Army Junior ROTC.

"Being in ROTC helps to develop such feelings of patriotism in one's country," she said. "I also learned great discipline and leadership skills that I use every day to cope with school and such."

She isn't the only one in her family to participate in ROTC. An older sister was in the cadet corps, and a younger sister, now a junior, is a company commander.

"There's a strong sense of patriotism in the area, and the teen-agers get that from their parents," said Lt. Col. Boyd Long, who directs the program.

- Jay James

ELISE NICOLE CASELLA, 15

Christmas was a blow for Elise Casella.

U.S. military activity in the Middle East meant that she and her family had to spend the holiday without her father. Army Lt. Col. Raymond Casella is in an undisclosed location, his mission kept secret.

The family - Elise, her mom and her teen-age sister - are faced with all the tasks her dad once took care of around the house, and her mother has to take care of the girls on her own. The changes are not unusual in the Augusta area, where many families have some connection to the military.

"There's never one moment that we aren't thinking about him," said Elise, a freshman at Greenbrier High School. "Especially during the holidays - it's the first time we haven't had our father with us to share this time. It adds a whole new meaning to spending time with your families during the holidays. Cherish the time you have, when you have it, because you never know when it could be taken away."

Her chances to talk to him are limited, but if she could tell him anything it would be that the family is waiting for him to come home and brighten their days with his bad humor and childish fun, she said.

-- Alisa DeMao and Shannon Kelley

Reach Alisa DeMao or members of the Xtreme Teen Board at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com