College students recall experiencing 9/11 as children

Evan Axelbank reports

- Do you remember where you were on 9/11? Can you imagine one of your first memories being the Twin Towers coming down?

FOX 13 invited six college students, who were in their early childhood years during 9/11, to share their memories of that day, 15 years ago.

"I was boarding the bus for kindergarten," said Christi Breinlinger, 20, now a junior at the University of Tampa.

"I remember it clear as day because smoke started coming into the classroom," said 22-year-old Nadine Young, who grew up in New York and is now a senior at the University of South Florida.

"My teacher at the time, her brother actually worked at the Pentagon, so she was called out of the room," said Jessica Figueredo, 25, who was 10 on 9/11.

9/11 is the first news event they can recall. Y2K, Columbine, Oklahoma City, OJ - all only history lessons for these young adults.

USF Sr. Alyssa Clementi was 7 in 2001, and remembers her teachers in St. Pete seemed to not want to talk about the news.

"Why, if it is happening in New York City, why is everybody reacting this way in Florida?" 

UT Jr. Chante Pleak, now 20, was 5 on 9/11 and on a base in Japan.

"A month prior to 9/11, we had just had an earthquake where buildings did fall, there were cracks in the road, so being 5, I thought, 'oh, that's just another earthquake.'"

But she soon realized this was very different. 

My dad had this strange look on his face, like something was wrong. He went into his room for about an hour, he came back all geared up."

Pleak continued, "My mom said, 'where are you going?' He said, 'I can't tell you.' [She asked], 'how long are you going to be gone?' [He replied] 'can't tell you.' Hugged my mom, my sister and I, left for the elevator and we didn't see him for a month and a half."

Nadine Young grew up in Brooklyn, and says terror poisoned her friends and family, and made mere survival seem like an achievement.

"When we went on a plane, when we landed, everyone was clapping, everyone had this sigh of relief," said Young.

Christi Breinlinger says it had a tremendous impact on her mentality, as she came to understand what it all meant.

"It makes me scared to go out in places," she said. "People can leave their house in the morning, say goodbye to their kids and they won't see them again because people are attacking."

It has impacted their careers.

After seeing the way 9/11 has shaped the world, with its ensuing wars and political battles, Clementi wants to be a reporter.

When I was 11, that's when I got it, that's when it really clicked for me. There are a lot of different areas you can go into with journalism, but I specifically like political journalism."

And Breinlinger says she plans to be a teacher - molding the minds of children now the age she was when 9/11 happened.

To become humble people, to have kindness, because what it comes down to, the root of it comes from negativity, it comes from the way you were raised."

Is there hope of living in a post-post-9/11 world?

James Scudero was 6-years-old on 9/11 and from Long Island. Today, he is the UT student body president.

Look at wars of the past, WWI, WWII, those have subsided too, and those were on larger scales. It is all about how we deal with the problem."

"I absolutely think, at one point, we will get to a place that is better. I don't think we will get to a pre-9/11 state. I think us, as a generation, will pass on to the next generation what happened to us," said Jessica Figueredo.

"Our parents knew a time before. We only knew this," said Young. "We are trying to go for better. We are trying to make life better for our kids and grandkids so they don't have the same fears we do."

"There has to be hope, if not, what were all those deployments for? All the tears my mom had, all the friends my dad has lost, there has to be hope," said Pleak.

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