Updated September 10, 2021 - 6:39 am
Below, in their own words, how the deadliest foreign attack on American soil two decades ago reshaped members of law enforcement in Southern Nevada:
Henderson police Sgt. Jeb Bozarth
As 9/11 unfolded on his TV screen, Bozarth, now 49, decided to re-enlist with the U.S. Navy. The next day, his second child was born.
“This caused a lot of strife in my marriage at the time. What brand new mom would want her husband to go off to war?”
“But I was so compelled by this heinous act. I felt a lot of anger, and I think to my detriment, that translated into my marriage. I accept full responsibility, but it was that monumental to me that something had to be done.”
By 2002, his marriage had fallen apart. He remarried two years later, shortly before his deployment to Najaf, Iraq.
There, Bozarth made a deal with God: “If I do good here, and if I get home safe, I’ll be the best husband I can possibly be and continue to serve.”
“God got me home safe and into my wife’s arms. And thus began the second part of my journey, which was pursuing law enforcement.”
“If not for 9/11 I would not be an officer. My daughters, Ireland and Olivia, probably wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have known and grown to love and be married to a wonderful woman for 17 years.”
“I wish that it had never happened, but as a result of that tragedy, for my family, we’ve had a lot of joyful times.”
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Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas FBI division
Rouse, now 51, was working as an agent in Washington, D.C., at the time.
“I ended up going out with everyone to cover leads about the movements of the terrorists going through Dulles International Airport.”
“We were just working 24/7. When you’re involved in something like that, you don’t really realize how long the days are. You’re operating on necessity.”
After the attacks, Rouse said he looked at the world differently.
“That is the biggest lesson of 9/11,” he said. “Not just what you can do to help yourself out, but what can you do to advance the overall mission?”
We were just working 24/7. When you’re involved in something like that, you don’t really realize how long the days are. You’re operating on necessity.
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Sarah Alwine, FBI cyber squad supervisor
“I was actually 17 and a senior in high school. I was old enough to understand.”
Alwine, now 37, and her younger brother, an eighth grader at the time, couldn’t stop thinking about United Flight 93.
“Are you going to be someone sitting in your seat watching something happening, or are you going to get up and fight?”
“Even as kids, we knew we would have gotten up. We both made a pact that day that we would become FBI agents. Two small-town Iowa kids, but we did it. We joined the bureau around the same time.”
“We made a pact that we were going to do something, to make a change, to be the next generation to have an impact on the community and the world at large.
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FBI Special Agent Tracy Dockery
At least four of the 9/11 terrorists visited Las Vegas prior to the attacks. But why? Dockery, now 52, was part of a team tasked with answering that question.
During the investigation, her mind would sometimes wander to dark places. What if an attack happened at home in Las Vegas?
“It’s a place you don’t want your mind to go,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “It upsets me just talking about it.”
After a long and intense investigation, they were unable to definitively say why the terrorists came to Las Vegas.
“It was troubling to me that we never could figure it out. It still bothers me that we don’t know why they were here.”
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FBI Special Agent Chris LaManna
As the planes struck the World Trade Center, LaManna, now 51, was on his way to bury his father at a cemetery on the eastern end of Long Island.
But because of the attacks, the service was canceled. There would be no honor guard service for his father, a veteran.
“There was a time to mourn, but this was a time for service. My dad, being in the military and loving this country so much, would have expected nothing less.”
“That night, I went to ground zero. I remember the smell. I remember seeing the firemen and the police working the pile. They looked exhausted and they weren’t going to stop.”
One of his squadmates was at ground zero, too. “We ultimately got married. At the time we were just partners.”
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FBI Special Agent Daniel Leon
In 2004, the FBI sent Leon, now 57, to Afghanistan. It would mark the first of several trips to the country.
“A group of folks had the honor and the opportunity to basically be embedded with the special forces. We would go out and do combat operations.”
“My dad’s an immigrant, came over here to the U.S. He showed us hard work and how to appreciate this country.”
“So I just wanted to do my part as an American. I already served in the FBI, but this was something more. This was something bigger than everybody.”
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Cynthia Santana, FBI assistant special agent in charge
“I was getting ready to enter the FBI academy in a few weeks. I was being kind of selfish at the time, you know, wondering if the academy was still going to happen.”
Santana, now 51, is the youngest of six siblings. Her parents, who were born and raised in Mexico, didn’t quite understand why she wanted to work in law enforcement.
But Santana remembers this about Sept. 11, 2001: feeling a strong desire to get to work as soon as possible, and knowing she chose the right career path.
“We were told on the first day of the academy that they were going to be looking at changing some of the coursework to add more of an emphasis on terrorism in general.”
“I never really thought I would be working terrorism. But looking back, I am so fortunate to have the experience to be working in terrorism.”
Today, Santana heads the Las Vegas FBI division’s domestic and international terrorism units.
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Shawn Martin, FBI intelligence analyst
“In elementary school, we had nuclear raid drills. There was always this far-off, distant enemy, but there was never anybody who meant us harm that we could take seriously.”
“Now there’s families out there right now counting on people like me to keep the bad guys at bay so they don’t attack us again. I never felt that way until after 9/11.”
In 2001, his time in the Marine Corps was coming to an end after about six years of service. Martin, now 46, was set to start a new job as a police officer in Orange County.
“But once we were attacked, and we were at war, I re-enlisted and stayed for another 14 years.”
“I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once. At first it was a little bit disorienting.”
His re-enlistment would lead him to the FBI in January 2015. “I feel an obligation to keep people safe.”
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Ray Johnson, FBI assistant special agent in charge
In September 2001, Johnson, now 49, was living and working in Ohio as an international police mountain bike instructor.
“It was a beautiful day out. It was the summer. There were spectacular clouds but no planes, and then there was just this chill that kind of went down my spine because I knew that our world was about to change.”
“This was an attack on our people in the United States of America, and that was unprecedented.”
“It reinvigorated my desire to get into the FBI.”
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J.T. Stevens, assistant special agent in charge of the Las Vegas division of Homeland Security Investigations
Stevens, now 51, left his job as an Arizona state police officer to work in federal law enforcement after 9/11.
“All I could think was, ‘What can I do?’ I wanted to figure out how else I could serve and make a bigger impact.”
He applied for what was then the U.S. Customs Service, which later merged with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“It pushed me to the point where I was willing to take something where I could have retired 10 years later, push that to the side and say, ‘OK, I’m going to work another 25 years and start over.’”
“While that event was really done out of hated for America and what America stands for, I think what we really saw and what you continue to see today is not the hatred but the love of our country.”
“As we come up on the anniversary, I hope we can all focus on what America was built on and not what’s tearing America down right now.”
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Supervisory Special Agent Todd Rignel, Homeland Security Investigations
Rignel, now 41, was a senior in college in Portland in September 2001. He’d known from a young age he wanted to work in public service but wasn’t sure yet in what capacity.
”I wasn’t really sold on law enforcement. I didn’t really like the fire service. I was not really sure which path I wanted to take. I think what 9/11 did, there was a calling there for something bigger.”
“I was thinking at a micro-level. But when that attack on the homeland happened, I think it opened everyone’s eyes. That’s when I considered something more in the realm of federal law enforcement or national security.”
“It’s hard for me to recall what my feeling was that day, but when you look at the totality of it, the impact has continued on for a long time past that point.”
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North Las Vegas police Chief Pam Ojeda
Ojeda, now 53, was just four years into her law enforcement career when the attacks took place.
“It reinforced that I chose the right career, and that I’m glad I did it.”
“Who would ever imagine that this would happen here on American soil? It really awakened me. Every call I go out on, you know you have to take it seriously because anything can happen.”
“With all the things currently going on, it’s like, why can’t we go back to that time when everybody put their differences aside? As horrible as that event was, I wish we had the sense of community and kindness that we had back then when it happened.”