Sept. 11: Remembering 3 Lives Lost

Ten years later, a writer pays tribute to friends who died on American Airlines Flight 77 and in the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

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Sarah Clark, Michael Richards and Peggie Hurt all died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On the night of Sept. 10, 2001, in Columbia, Md., middle-school teacher Sarah Clark and her fiancé, John Milton Wesley, discussed places: where they'd hold their impending wedding reception, his next-day meeting to secure locations for the HBO series The Wire and her early-morning flight to a lovely California locale.

Nearby, in northern Virginia, Peggie Hurt, a civilian accountant for the U.S. Army, treated her godmother, affectionately called "Dunc," to an 86th-birthday dinner. Some 200 miles away in Manhattan, with flashes of lightning illuminating his sky-high studio on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, sculptor Michael Richards watched the Giants-Broncos game and bade fellow artist Monika Bravo -- who left that day with a videotape of their breathtaking view -- goodnight before returning to work on his bronze sculptures. Over the bridge, at Brooklyn's Tavern on Dean, I had a relaxed dinner meeting with a friend.

By the time I lazily awoke the next morning, bride-to-be Sarah had boarded American Airlines Flight 77 to chaperone students at National Geographic's Sustainable Seas Expedition in the Channel Islands of Santa Barbara, Calif.; Peggie had placed a wake-up call to her friend Phyllis and already made her way to work, a Pentagon post that the small-town girl had held for only two weeks; and Michael, after having worked through the waning darkness and slept in his studio rather than make the long trek home to Rosedale, Queens, likely readied himself for an art handler's gig.

I flipped on the TV at about 9 a.m., saw the live coverage of the burning Tower 1 and watched just seconds later as United Flight 175 slammed into Tower 2. Stunned, I phoned my then-husband, who was working in Manhattan, thankfully away from what would become ground zero. Our thoughts turned to those we knew who might have been in harm's way. I frequently checked my two-way pager, hoping for a response to a message I had sent to my friend Michael: "You must be swamped with messages, but please let me know you're safe."

When I learned of the Flight 77 plunge into the Pentagon, I had concerns for my mama, those in my native D.C. and the threat of a nation under siege. It would be a day or two before I learned that my beloved sixth-grade math teacher, Sarah Clark, and Peggie Hurt, a family friend from my father's tiny Southside Virginia hometown of Kenbridge, had been killed in a fiery collision. Shortly after that, I got the news that Michael had died that same morning in the World Trade Center.

Sarah Miller Clark (April 6, 1936, to Sept. 11, 2001)

I entered sixth grade at Keene Elementary hoping that, like my sister Michele three years earlier, I would be placed in Sarah Clark's homeroom class. A friend and fellow classmate, Carla Garnett, reminisced about her in a September 2009 blog post: "Sarah Clark was the teacher every kid wanted for sixth grade -- just strict enough that the classroom never fell into free-for-all, just cool enough so that class time was never too predictable."

Both Carla and I landed in her math class and feel privileged to have been taught by her. She was patient, kind and deeply skilled at finding the workable paths between curricula and individual student understanding. It is no surprise that the excellent, committed teacher maintained her dedication to educating the children of D.C. well into her 60s.

As my sister says, "Miss Clark was born to teach. It wasn't just a job, but a calling." The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister was smart and elegant, with glinting eyes and an easy smile. It is her smile I see when I recall her joy in recognizing when we, her students, "got it."

Peggie Maxine Hurt  (Feb. 27, 1965, to Sept. 11, 2001)

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