Austin Richey was just 9 months old on Sept. 11, 2001.
He has no memories of that tragic day, only what his parents have told him over the years and the images he’s seen on TV and social media.
Even still, for as long as he can remember, he’s had a passion for finding out as much as he could about the terrorists attacks — the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the 3,000 lives lost.
He remembers a handful of history lessons while in high school about Sept. 11, but later, he realized it was missing from the curriculum altogether.
“So I set out to do my own research,” the 20-year-old said.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Richey, now a student in Vincennes University’s Homeland Security program, put together a presentation, one titled “Remembering 9/11 from 8:46 a.m. to the Present” for his fellow students as well as area high school students, faculty and members of the public.
Richey took visitors to the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center Friday morning through the events of Sept. 11, from the moment the first plane hit the North Tower to their subsequent collapse and rescue and cleanup efforts in the days that followed. He told the stories of the souls lost on the planes, the heroes of Flight 93, as well as the investigation into the hijackers, later finding and killing Osama Bin Laden and the 20-year war that followed it all.
Images of people running from a plume of dust and smoke; victims sitting curbside, blood dripping from their terror-struck faces; and first-responders carrying out the deceased flashed through the performing arts center, sending a chill throughout the entire space.
Sept. 11, Richey said, remains “embedded in the minds of those who lived it, where they were and what they were doing that day.”
But for those now with no memory of the attacks at all, lectures and experiences like these are vital to making sure history doesn’t repeat itself — and to memorialize the lives of those lost, he said.
The attacks represent the most “heroic, courageous, patriotic events in U.S. history,” he said, but also the most “tragic and horrific.”
“It’s an incident that is not only interesting but crazy to think that it unfolded the way that it did,” he said. “Before it, no one thought you could use aircraft as a weapon. It’s insane.”
And so much, he said, has changed in the 20 years since, including the creation of the very program in which he is finding his chosen career, Homeland Security.
Richey said he put together the lecture to take his fellow students through the events, moment by moment, to make sure they understand the impact it had on the last 20 years.
“I wanted to give them details, in-depth details, about what happened, how it occurred, the individuals affected,” he said. “A lot of times we look at 9/11 as a whole, but there were people — real people — who never saw their families again.”
Lou Caprino, chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security program, called Richey’s presentation a “powerful tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11.”
“I know he worked extremely hard,” Caprino said. “And I think he really captured the essence of what that day meant to all of us.”
Making sure the stories from Sept. 11, he said, are passed down now to those who weren’t alive when they occurred is vital.
“Guns can kill terrorists,” he said. “But education can kill terrorism.
“I think the need for Homeland Security professionals now is as great as it’s ever been.”
Susan Brocksmith, dean of VU’s College of Business and Public Service, said she, too, thought it imperative that students, especially those who now have no memory of 9/11, understand the events of that day.
“And not only the timeline but the emotion of it all, how quickly it all happened, the people that were involved and the heartache that just kept coming,” she said.
“It changed us forever.”