Elida Ascencio in NYC

Elida Ascencio with her daughter during a visit to New York City that included paying their respects at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Elida Ascencio thought her parents were watching a movie when she saw the World Trade Center collapse.

Now a Mankato resident, Ascencio lived just 30 miles from New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. She was in first grade and did not understand then the gravity of that day.

“I was so young and lost in all of the chaos around me that day,” she said.

As an adult, she has gone twice to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum to pay her respects.

“Seeing all the names that are engraved on the stones of those who lost their life that day was very emotional,” Ascencio said.

Whenever she thinks of the nearly 3,000 lives lost in New York City; Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and Alexandria, Virginia, she is reminded to treasure every day — even the hard days and the mundane days.

“A day of simply doing your everyday routine of waking up and going to work or school could be the last day you’ll be close to the people and things you love,” she said.

The Free Press sent out a social media invitation for readers to share their memories of 9/11. Ascencio was among multiple respondents who said they initially thought the horrific scenes they saw on television had to be fiction.

Jennifer Avery’s son, then a toddler, was watching his morning cartoons.

“I can vividly remember the station cutting to the first tower on fire,” the Mankato woman wrote. “For a few minutes I thought it was a trailer for a movie. Then I flipped to another channel and another channel and realized it was real.”

Several commenters remembered watching the events unfold on television in stunned silence for hours.

Jessica Johnson, of Madelia, recalled watching with her sister after they had gotten into an argument the night before.

“We sat next to each other in shock and when we looked down we were holding hands and crying together because we both realized that our fight was nothing and at that moment had each other,” she wrote. “We sat the rest of the day just watching in horror and thankful we had each other.”

Other locals were not in front of their televisions that morning 20 years ago.

Wes Schuck was on a flight back to Minnesota from New York City. Kristi Schuck, of Mankato, recalled that her husband, who later died of cancer, was running late to the airport. He narrowly made his flight, which took off about two hours before other planes were hijacked.

“He made the flight home to Minnesota — one of what must have been the very last flights to ever fly past the World Trade towers in their glory, that morning before chaos and destruction ripped a new reality into the world we had just begin to raise a family in,” she wrote.

Nicole Hendley, from Mankato, was a fifth grader and did not know it was happening but still remembers a moment with her teacher.

“I walked over to ask my teacher a question and he looked at me with tears in his eyes,” she wrote. “Then he bent down and hugged me. I had no clue.”

When she got home, her parents “tried to explain it to us but all I knew was some bad people hurt a lot of innocent people.”

Multiple people remembered long lines at area gas stations over worry that gas prices would spike.

“The line at the Food and Fuel in Minnesota Lake was over a mile long,” recalled Kyle Lindblom.

Eddie Snow, of Mankato, was doing an internship at Walt Disney World. All of the parks closed “just in case they were a target because no one knew what was going to happen next,” he wrote.

His manager called and told him not to come to work and instead he volunteered at a resort to help “keep the guests’ minds off of what was happening.”

Tom Barna, of Eagle Lake, remembers he “watched in horror like everyone else.”

But his life changed quickly thereafter.

“I was called back to active duty in the Marine Corps within weeks and returned to the sands of the Middle East for the second time. Most of me came back after almost a year,” he wrote. “My heart goes to the families of those who gave their all.”

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