Special Reports

Students find their own way with honor, song, mural, hope

In 30 years as a firefighter, Tacoma fire Capt. Dan Barron said, he'd never experienced anything like it.

He hugged a cake box filled with goodies as Visitation Catholic Elementary and Middle School students presented him and other firefighters with more cookies, popcorn, cards and a banner proclaiming, "Thank you for all you do."

"Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts," Barron said to the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders gathered at Station 7 in South Tacoma.

The Tacoma parochial school's gesture was among the myriad ways students observed Sept. 11. They watched videos, read victims' names, sang the national anthem or simply bowed their heads in silence as the nation commemorated last year's terrorist attacks.

At Saghalie Junior High in Federal Way, students planted a dogwood tree to commemorate the victims and heroes of Sept. 11. Jhonallyn Cajocson read a poem as her fellow ninth-graders circled the dogwood.

"It means a lot to me," Cajocson said of the ceremony. "It brings back last year, when I was really scared."

Ninth-grader Ashley Cook tied a symbolic ribbon to the tree, as did representatives of the seventh- and eighth-grade classes. Cook has family in both New York City and Washington, D.C.

"We still remember," she said, "even though we're 3,000 miles away."

At 10 a.m., Saghalie Principal Tim Mackey read a brief statement over the school intercom. He asked students to keep victims, rescue workers, families, soldiers and global leaders in their thoughts.

When he was finished, 22 members of the ninth-grade choir - crowded into Mackey's office - sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem over the intercom. Though Mackey didn't want "a weeping ceremony," he wiped a tear from his eye as the choir finished.

At Spanaway's Bethel High School, last year's graduates spent part of their summer in the gym painting a memorial mural they unveiled in a school stairwell Wednesday.

The mural has familiar scenes of an airliner crashing into an office tower and the resulting flames. The students used house paint and plywood to construct a mural that depicts a torn U.S. flag on which each of the stripes has symbolic meaning. One stripe, for example, is painted as a red chain.

"We hoped the chain would symbolize our unity, of bringing our country together after the attacks," said Krystal Rasmussen, one of the artists, who will attend Green River Community College this year. "We wanted the mural to be a symbol of hope to students."

Another stripe in the mural is composed of painted roses.

"Flowers, we thought, are a symbol of love and friendship that have been important the past year," Rasmussen said.

The school observed a 40-second silent period before classes began. Besides Rasmussen, Bethel graduates Matthew Glidewell, Joey Gardner, Greta Hanson, Jayden Feagins, Brian Jennings and Dusty Jones worked on the mural.

"I wanted to decorate the hallways because the walls in this school are pretty bare," Rasmussen said.

She and her fellow artists accomplished more.

"We left a mark on a school we love," Rasmussen said.

The fire station visit clearly left a mark on Visitation students such as fifth-grader Lexie Rebar, who baked oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies for the firefighters.

"We should pray a lot for the people who died," she said.

Third-grader Logan Loughridge added, "It made me sad when it happened, so I'm glad we came here today to say thank you to the firemen."

The firefighters were gratified with the students' generosity and their gesture in remembrance of fallen colleagues.