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Aftershock: Fascination and fear grip 10-year-old in equal parts

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

By Lillian Thomas, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

D.J. Robinson was the first in the family to know that the United States had started bombing Afghanistan. "He's on top of it all," said Keara Arnold of her son. "He's paying attention to everything."

D.J. Robinson at Knoxville Elementary School -- Riveted by the images from TV news reports. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

D.J., 10, is driven by the same mix of fear and fascination felt by many in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Even though the images of planes crashing into buildings scare him, he wants to see them again.

He wants to keep learning details of what happened, but he's scared they'll scare him more. He says the attacks have made him feel proud to be an American, but they also have made him think more about people in other countries. He understands a lot of what's happened but isn't sure what it should tell him about how he should act now.

On Sept. 11, Dennis Y. Robinson Jr. (D.J. stands for Dennis Jr.) knew something was up when his mother showed up after fifth period to take him and his sister, Kyonna, 7, home from Knoxville Elementary School. Other parents were doing the same thing.

On the walk home, his mother told him a couple of planes had crashed because of terrorists.

"My mom was scared, kind of. I think she was. I tried to cheer her up a little."

Hysterical was more like it, Arnold would later say, but she tried to keep a lid on her emotions. At home, she told D.J. more about what had happened as they watched the news reports on television.

"I just cried a lot," said D.J. "I was real worried. I thought maybe it could happen to someone [in his family] in Maryland. They were shutting down Downtown, that made me think they were coming toward us. And they crashed a plane like 80 miles away, and that's close."

How Lives Have Changed

One in an occasional series on how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have affected ordinary Americans.

Previous Installments

Kurt Angle embraces role as U.S. icon

He leaves his adopted country after ugly encounters

A volunteer confronts the pain at WTC

US Airways' mechanic escapes 'certain' layoff, but reprieve only prolongs uncertainty


He and his mother called relatives in Maryland, McKeesport, Monroeville and Ohio. All were safe. That eased some of his anxieties. So did the president.

"I was happy when President Bush said he was going to take care of it, when he sent the military up, the Air Force up. That made me less scared."

D.J. was riveted by the images from TV news reports.

"I did see that picture of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center, then the second plane crashing. That was kind of ... interesting. It was kind of cool, weird but cool. I felt like -- I want to see it again."

He also was struck by the images of the aftermath in New York.

"To tell you the truth, it looked like some of the other countries that don't have a lot of things like us, like poor countries where people always are bombing them. Like you see on commercials where they ask you to donate 80 cents a day for people. I think it teaches us a lesson, what it's like for those people."

Kyonna was scared, too, he thinks. "But she didn't cry or nothing. I don't think she's scared anymore -- maybe she's braver than me. Or maybe she doesn't know as much. I think she's all right."

Looking for a reason

D.J. lives just down the street from Knoxville Elementary. He was born in McKeesport and moved to the slightly careworn city neighborhood of tightly spaced bungalows three years ago. His father and three younger siblings still live in McKeesport. His mother works as a temp and at Burger King.

He sings and plays cello. He plans to audition for Rodgers School for the Creative and Performing Arts for middle school. He wants to be a teacher when he grows up. He looks you right in the eye when he talks.

Sitting in the principal's office, D.J. shifted to a chair closer to his interviewer after the conversation got under way. His slender hands were clasped in his lap as he searched for words.

"I wanted to know most of the details, but all of them was probably going to be too much ... There is something I want to say but I don't know how to say it. When I didn't know who did it, I really wanted to know. When they found out it was Osama bin Laden, I didn't know what to say. I had heard the name, but I didn't know exactly who he was, except he was in Afghanistan."

He's trying to sort out why the hijackers might have done what they did.

"They might have did it for money."

But why would they want money if they knew they were going to die?

"I think they could have given them the money and they spent it and then they died. Or they might have did it because they were jealous."

His mother told him more about the attacks the first weekend. "She told me how many people died, that President Bush was going to take care of it and everything, but I was scared still. I am scared still. I can't say I'm not."

D.J. has kept up with the news ever since the first day. He understands much about what's happened, though not everything. Maybe that's inevitable.

"Under the rubble and stuff, there's still people left," D.J. said. "They have holes to breathe. I don't think we should give up. We should keep looking for them."

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