Parents spend tense hours reaching children in N.Y.


September 19, 2001|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ON SEPT. 11, Janet and Bill Epstein were listening to their car radio as they drove to New York to surprise their son, Lee, on his 25th birthday.

"We always listen to talk radio, and at first we thought they were repeating information about the bombing of the World Trade Center a few years ago," Janet Epstein said. "When we figured out what they were really saying, we turned the car around and came right home to try to get in touch with our kids."

Lee Epstein, a graduate of Wilde Lake High School, is a free-lance writer living in lower Manhattan. The Epsteins' daughter, Holly Epstein Ojalvo, also lives in the city and teaches at Stuyvesant High School, two blocks from the World Trade Center.

"Holly was at school when it happened," Janet Epstein said. "Her classroom is on the 10th floor. You can see the World Trade Center from her classroom. Her students watched as the planes hit the buildings, and [the students] saw the people jumping."

The Epsteins spent the next few hours after the attacks trying to contact their children.

"It had been hours since the attack, and we still hadn't heard from them," Janet Epstein said, choking back tears. "We just kept hitting redial. Finally, Holly got through. She was yelling into her cell phone, `Daddy, Daddy, I'm OK. I'm walking my students across the Manhattan Bridge.'"

Lee Epstein didn't know what had happened until his parents told him over the phone.

"He was writing and didn't have the television or radio turned on," his mother said. "I told him, `Get out of there.' But my son said, `The city is alive and so are we.' My daughter said, `I'm a teacher. I have students to take care of. I'm staying.' But I'm a mother. I want them home."

The Epsteins are staying in contact with their children mainly via e-mail because telephone service is spotty. On Sunday, Ojalvo wrote: "We're very emotional and shaken, but definitely OK. I'm looking forward to channeling my energy and love into the kids. It's a unique opportunity to have some positive impact and to witness the transformation, in many ways, not all positive, of the outlook of this generation. The students are amazing. Their courage and resiliency is our future."

Candlelight services

At 10:30 p.m. Thursday, the Epsteins and about 30 of their neighbors gathered to light candles in a show of solidarity. Wilde Lake resident Marcia Heaton got the idea from an e-mail she received.

Bob Buchmeier, property manager of the Faulkner Station Community Association, distributed fliers announcing the service. .

"A whole bunch of us showed up - kids, parents, people of all ages," said Janet Henry, president of the association. "It was just great. We strung out in a long line along Jason Lane and Twin Rivers Road, and sang a few hymns and said a couple of prayers. Everyone had a wonderful feeling."

On the other side of town, in east Columbia, nearly 150 people attended a candlelight vigil Friday at Thunder Hill Elementary School. "This [was] an opportunity for families to get together in our intimate community and share something nationwide," said Sandra Clarke, PTA president.

"We have such a strong community in Thunder Hill, and I want to feel the support of my community and offer mine," said Kathy Lilly of Thunder Hill. "I think we need to share our grief."

`A very confusing time'

At Bryant Woods Elementary School, Principal Jason McCoy praised his staff for putting pupils' needs above their own in the days after the attack.

"Our teachers have that extra antenna up, watching out for the kids," McCoy said. "They did a great job of keeping it together and helping the children have, as best we could, a regular school day on Tuesday. A first-grader told one of our staff members, `I'm scared of the tourists.' He doesn't understand the word terrorists so he substituted tourists. It just shows that this is a very confusing time for our children."

Rosemary Mortimer, PTSA president at Atholton High School, said that at Thursday's back-to-school meeting, Principal Connie Lewis began with a moment of silence, which was followed by teachers and students singing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Standing together

Judith Siegel, wife of Rabbi Martin Siegel of Harper's Choice, died from complications of kidney disease Sept. 9. Her funeral was held the afternoon of Sept. 11 at The Meeting House in Oakland Mills.

"I was amazed how many people made it," said Rabbi Siegel, who estimated that nearly 500 people attended the service. "It was such a crazy day. Roads were blocked. It was like somebody pulled the rug out from civilization. It was very comforting that people cared to honor my wife's memory and to comfort me. In the midst of this great tragedy, the people were not deterred from acting on their essential good instincts. That is the ultimate triumph."

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