VITAL POLICY – Arthur Bohanan Reflects on 911 Terror Attack, Advises Vigilance

We are not dismissing school early today. Despite the events unfolding in Washington D.C., New York, and Pennsylvania, we are not canceling class. We are not changing our schedule or yielding to those who are doing evil”, words spoken to Jefferson County High School students and staff via intercom by Assistant Principal Louie Vesser at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2001. The steel blue sky that morning would soon be absent commercial aircraft. All who witnessed the terror attack on live TV, and lived through it, would never be the same.

Many students did not know it at the time, but Vesser was reassuring everyone that terrorists were not going to dictate any terms to America. This sentiment was later reflected in the Night of the Patriots 2001 performance as students presented a special tribute to the lives lost in the attacks and to those who rescued living victims and recovered the dead. The 2001 performance turned out to be one of the most meaningful in the history of the show.

With the twentieth anniversary of the 911 attacks approaching, forensic scientist and Jefferson County resident Arthur Bohanan reflected on his role in the aftermath of 911 in a presentation made at Parrott-Wood Memorial library on September 3, 2021. “Everyone remembers where they were at the time the second plane hit the World Trade Center”, equating it to his memory of where he was when President Kennedy was assassinated. Presenting still pictures of the recovery and rescue effort, he gave accounts of how he traveled on Interstate 81 on September 12, 2001, under orders to drive North in a 16-passenger van with a team of his fellow forensic scientists, all of which had no idea what they would face, where they would be assigned to work, or if they would ever make it home alive. They all knew that terrorists sometimes targeted rescue and recovery operations. He spent the night on an Air Force base with 800 other experts that would soon be assigned the grim task of recovering and identifying the remains of victims at Ground Zero in New York City.

Photo from the 2001 Night of the Patriots, Janie Slaton

Rescue and recovery personnel working at Ground Zero quickly became covered with a grey powdered substance that was created from the collapse of the World Trade Center. “It contained all manner of toxins and heavy metals”, laser pointing to a chart of the toxins and pictures of his co-workers, many of which died from cancer and lung disease long after their recovery work. An unnamed firefighter, in the process of recovering a fallen colleague, had rendered a salute before extracting the body from the rubble, tears streaming down his face and rinsing streaks in the grey powder. Bohanan asked that we not forget the attacks of the past, the sacrifice made to rescue and recover victims, and to remain vigilant.

We will be attacked again” he assured his audience.

Identifying human remains and inventing procedures for lifting latent fingerprints are just a few of the things that Bohanan contributed to forensic science during his career with the Knoxville Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies. Hurricane Katrina and the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster are among the tragedies that he was called upon to work as a forensic scientist. His new book, Prints of a Man, tell his life story and highlight his life’s work.

Bohanan’s presentation was organized by Parrott-Wood Librarian Donna Phillips and her staff, supported by library volunteers.

Source: David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.