The first one happened when Annie Thoms was a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City in 1993. A bomb exploded in the parking garage underneath the World Trade Center, leaving six dead and injuring more than 1,000. Thoms remembers watching from her school as the West Side Highway filled up with emergency vehicles.
The second one was the scariest. Four days into her second year of teaching, on Sept. 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people. She was just 25 years old, only blocks from the attack and responsible for the lives of her students. Thoms remembers feeling like she had witnessed something that would change the world forever.
The third one happened Tuesday. A man drove a truck into a bike path on the West Side Highway, then hit a Stuyvesant High School bus. The attack, believed to be an act of terrorism, has left at least eight dead and 11 injured.
This time, it didn’t feel like the world was changing. The incident was frightening and disturbing, but not shocking.
“Unfortunately, when something like today’s incident happens, it does not feel like a change. It feels like more of the same. Another event of the steady march of horrible, violent events,” Thoms told HuffPost over the phone Tuesday evening.
Thoms has been blocks away from three separate terrorist attacks at three different stages of her life at the same school. On Tuesday, she stayed with her students for over three hours while police outside secured the area.
The incident, the deadliest attack in New York City since 9/11, injured two New York City schools staff members and two students. But Thom’s students remained calm: playing games, singing songs, doing homework. Unlike the last time she witnessed a mass killing from inside Stuyvesant’s walls, or the time before that when she was a teen, technology gave students and staff members a window into the outside world. Students were able to quickly call or contact family and friends to reassure them of their safety.
After 9/11, Thoms helped her high schoolers deal with the trauma of the attack through theater. As the theater community faculty advisor at the time, Thoms helped students collect interviews with community members about the terrorist attack. They later performed these interviews in a monologue-based play.
“We really tried to get a sense of different perspectives in the community,” Thoms told the New York Daily News years ago.
Tuesday was far less chaotic for Thoms and her students than 9/11. But she hopes she doesn’t have to deal with something of this magnitude again.
“I’d be happy if this were the last time.”