A Day Given Way to Reflection

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Bells tolled and bagpipes wailed as people throughout Ventura County paused Wednesday to remember those who died in the terrorist attacks on the United States one year earlier.

At schools, city halls and places of worship, residents paid tribute to the fallen as they reflected on the troubling changes that had swept through their lives since the carnage.

People gathered at institutions that were touched by the attacks both directly and indirectly.


At Amgen, the Thousand Oaks biotech firm, hundreds of employees fondly recalled Dora Menchaca, a company research scientist who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. At an Oxnard middle school, students mourned passengers--youngsters who had been excitedly anticipating a science field trip to Channel Islands National Park--they had never met who were on the same jet with Menchaca.

Top county fire and law enforcement officials honored their counterparts in New York with an observance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum near Simi Valley. And in Ojai, a memorial was held at an organization that provided 13 of the rescue dogs that sniffed through the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center.

In an outdoor ceremony at Amgen’s headquarters in Newbury Park, Chief Executive Kevin Sharer recounted to a throng of somber employees the steps their company had taken to honor Menchaca, who died at 45.

Amgen is matching contributions to a college scholarship fund for Menchaca’s 5-year-old son, Jaryd. It has also donated $3 million to a UCLA Medical Center oncology wing that will be named for Menchaca, who earned her doctorate in epidemiology at the school.

On Amgen’s sprawling campus, a simple “area of reflection” was unveiled--a grassy oval with a crepe myrtle tree, white iceberg roses and a marker inscribed: “Dora Menchaca--scientist, mother, wife, colleague, friend. Much admired, greatly missed.”

In December the space shuttle Endeavor flew 4.8 million miles with an Amgen experiment, a tattered flag from the World Trade Center and a medal Menchaca had won in the Los Angeles Marathon. Clad in his blue NASA jumpsuit, astronaut Dom Gorie choked back tears as he recalled that flight and spoke of Sept. 11.


“I can’t even compare what we suffered with what Earl must feel a year after the fact,” he said, glancing at Menchaca’s husband, Earl Dorsey.

A Santa Monica attorney, Dorsey thanked his wife’s co-workers for their support. He exhorted them to follow her example of “packing as much as possible into every minute of every day.”

At Frank Intermediate School in Oxnard, students bearing flowers trooped to a pair of 4-foot-high black, stone “towers” that had been planted on campus as a memorial. One by one, the youngsters dropped off a single rose, daisies picked on the way to school, a handful of carnations dyed red, white and blue.

On Sept. 11, 2001, three Washington, D.C., middle school students, three teachers and two staff members from the National Geographic Society were flying west to join students from Frank and other schools on a science expedition to Santa Cruz Island.

Their deaths jolted the campus. Students raised $1,000--one boy donated his birthday money--and local businesses chipped in for the stone towers and benches placed around them in the shape of a pentagon.

Eighth-grader Veronica Ayala, 13, remembers crying as she watched television interviews with the dead children’s parents.


“Even though I didn’t know them, they’re still people just like us,” she said. “It just feels sad.”

In the packed courtyard of the Reagan library, nearly 650 people applauded as a Ventura County sheriff’s helicopter flew low, displaying a big American flag.

The county’s top public safety officers--including Sheriff Bob Brooks, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and county Fire Chief Bob Roper--read from speeches by Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

Their words comforted Kris Chatari, 46, a legal secretary from Newbury Park.

“We have never, ever forgotten what our country is about--and that’s freedom,” she said. “We’re going to face more trouble, but we have to be united and stand tall.”

Ventura County Fire Chaplain Larry Modungo sounded the same theme.

“Before 9/11 our nation was divided over a presidential election,” he told the crowd. “On Sept. 11 our nation was attacked. Our feeling of safety was destroyed....We became a nation united.”

In a memorial at the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in Ojai, tears mixed with barks and yelps as staff members struggled to discover meaning in the attacks.


“What matters to me most is that we find the good that comes out of it,” Wilma Melville, the group’s director, said. “If we can’t, we have to make the good that comes out of it.”

Sitting around a table with black Labradors and golden retrievers lolling at their feet, staff members recalled the day and its aftermath.

So many calls poured in from people eager to donate money, time or their own animals that four new phone lines were installed.

Debra Tosch, executive director of the foundation, tearfully recalled all activity at ground zero ceasing whenever a body was found. She remembered a firefighter breaking down as he hugged her black lab Abby.

“I remember just seeing that pain on their faces,” she said.


Staff writers Gregory W. Griggs, David Kelly and Jenifer Ragland contributed to this report.