Five years after the attacks

Local residents share experiences of Sept. 11

Local residents share experiences of Sept. 11

September 11, 2006

Brittani Eichelberger

With her nut-brown skin and oil-black hair, Brittani Love Eichelberger looks nothing like the adoptive parents who saved her from the streets of Calcutta, India, as an infant.

Her husband more readily passes for her mother's child than she does, and her 3-year-old son, Slate, once asked why her skin is different.

But Eichelberger, 22, of Hagerstown, said she never realized others thought she was different until hijacked planes struck at the heart of the country's fiscal and military centers.


On Sept. 11, 2001, Eichelberger was a 17-year-old North Hagerstown High School senior out of class with her mother, Jan Love Wehrle, for a morning to pick up a prescription for an eye infection.

The pharmacist was crying when they arrived that morning, and he asked for a moment. Then, he launched into a tirade that Eichelberger said she contemplates when she looks at her two little boys.

"And, all of a sudden, he just said, 'I don't know where you're from, but when you're in America, you need to act like an American,'" Eichelberger said. "And I am an American."

Eichelberger held her 8-month-old son, Teague, during part of an interview Thursday. He wore a bib proclaiming, "Born in the U.S.A."

The boys are lighter-skinned than Eichelberger. Her husband, Eric, is white.

Wehrle said when she and her husband, Dennis, first adopted their daughter, she heard people make comments about the family. One person even said they looked alike, apparently to be kind, Wehrle said.

"We're colorblind. She's my child," Wehrle said.

According to Eichelberger, the pharmacist was the only person who ever turned her skin color against her.

"I guess it makes you realize that there are people in the world who think that way - that just because you look different than they do, you are different," Eichelberger said.

Eichelberger said she has no desire to travel to India. Home - and her family, including sister Tiffani Wehrle, 25, of Hagerstown - are here.

Besides, she said, she does not like to fly.

- Karen Hanna

John Shaw

Not only was John Shaw heading into Washington after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he was probably one of the few people in the city or elsewhere who expected to be airborne.

A flight nurse who works aboard helicopters for MedSTAR Medevac at Washington Hospital Center, Shaw was off that day. He and his wife, Arby, found themselves at Robinwood Medical Center, where a sonogram was scheduled to examine the baby Arby Shaw was carrying.

When they left the medical center with photographs from the sonogram in hand, the couple had no idea what had happened in New York.

They stopped at a neighbor's house to pick up their son, Ryan, who had broken his arm a few days earlier after falling out of a tree.

Their neighbor looked at the sonogram photos, but it was clear something was wrong, Shaw said.

The neighbor asked the Shaws if they had heard what had happened. Not having heard, they watched television there for a while before heading home.

An answering machine message from a hospital official awaited Shaw, asking when he could come into work.

He says now that he probably could have pretended he did not get the message, but his thoughts that day were different.

"I don't remember you ever saying you wouldn't go in. I think you felt you had to go in," Arby Shaw said to her husband recently as they sat together at home.

Even with rumors of other planes heading toward the city and worried about the possibility of chemical warfare, Shaw kissed his wife and son at home good-bye. He then stopped by Paramount Elementary School to say good-bye to his daughter, Renee, who at the time was a fourth-grader.

The highway heading into Washington was almost devoid of traffic and Shaw said that for miles he might see just four or five cars.

"A lot of them were government vehicles and it would appear speed wasn't a concern," Shaw said.

He arrived at Washington Hospital Center, where a mass casualty plan had been implemented.

The patients, though, never arrived.

"We were ramped up to take scores of patients, which never really materialized," Shaw said.

Minus a few exceptions, most of those who were in the Pentagon at the time of the attack were either uninjured or dead. Shaw said he stayed at the hospital all day and assisted one burn victim.

He remembers the hospital received a phone call asking how many body bags it could provide.

For most of the day, Shaw said, he and others had little to do. They watched television and stood on a helicopter landing pad, watching the plume of smoke rise from the Pentagon.

Rachel, the baby whose sonogram John and Arby Shaw saw for the first time that morning, is now 4 years old.

- Candice Bosely

Marie Ebersole

Five years ago, Marie Ebersole was working at the Arc of Washington County and actively pursuing her bachelor's degree in elementary education.

But something happened to her after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Her life took a turn that was totally unexpected and directly related to the attacks.

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