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Staff photo by Don Himsel

Chris Terrio, a student at Nashua High School South, will become a soldier in the U.S. Army after leaving school.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Monday lessons for students focused on the demise of terrorist

Relief and fear.

Those were the emotions that filled Chris Terrio after learning Sunday that U.S. military forces killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

The relief, said the Nashua High School South senior, was from the closure bin Laden’s death meant for friends and loved ones of those who lost their lives during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

That tragic day, along with his family’s history of military service, led to Terrio’s decision to join the service after graduating high school. He leaves for training in Fort Bennington, Ga., in June.

“It made my passion for the service even stronger,” said Terrio, sitting with friends during lunch at Nashua High School South on Monday.

But there was a prevailing sense of fear and nervousness about what bin Laden’s death meant for the future, Terrio said. He has friends serving in Afghanistan. He was worried about what type of retaliation there might be against soldier convoys.

Terrio’s mixed feelings were a common reaction among his peers at the high school, where most students were in the early years of elementary school when nearly 3,000 Americans died in the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Many students said they were concerned about what the next step will be.

“I’m worried about retaliation,” said senior John Ryan.

Senior Keith Guilbeault hoped bin Laden’s death would have a significant effect on disorganizing the efforts of Al Qaeda.

News of bin Laden’s death dominated discussion in the contemporary global issues class at South on Monday, but this wasn’t the first time covering the terrorist leader. About a month ago, the class watched the Morgen Spurlock 2008 documentary, “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?”

Teacher James Gaj said the course goes into bin Laden’s history and his role in Al Qaeda. Gaj, whose father was a New York City police officer when the Sept. 11 attack occurred, said bin Laden was almost a mythical figure to many students, someone who they had read about but never saw in person.

“He was almost like a ghost,” he said.

Students spent part of the class Monday analyzing the news coverage from outlets such as the BBC, Fox News, and Al Jazeera to look for different angles and analysis. One of the topics students debated was whether bin Laden should have been kept alive.

Senior Jesse Walker, a student in Gaj’s class, felt it was best bin Laden died in the raid.

“It would have been juvenile to keep him alive and just kick him around,” he said.

Gaj said there was some skepticism among students about whether bin Laden had actually been killed. There was also debate about whether the U.S. government should release photos of bin Laden’s body. While that may appease some of the doubters, Walker said it might also inflame what is an already impassioned base of bin Laden supporters.

The students also discussed whether bin Laden’s death would have any impact on ending terrorism. Gaj said students were split on whether there would be any effect.

Sophomore Quinn Kinsella, another student in Gaj’s class, said he watched some of the news coverage Sunday night. His immediate concern after learning the announcement about bin Laden was the threat of another terrorist attack.

Many students didn’t hear the news until Monday morning. Several students said they first heard about it through online social media. Senior David Boucher said he found out Monday morning when he checked Facebook. Boucher said his news feed was filled with posts about bin Laden’s death.

Listening to the president’s speech late Sunday evening, senior Mark Kilgore said he was struck by the level of detail from President Barack Obama, describing each step of the operation that led to bin Laden’s death.

The students said they remembered little about the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, other than teachers and parents being upset. Most were in second or third grade at the time.

Senior Jenny Nguyen watched the speech at her home late Sunday night. She admits it was somewhat of a surprise because she assumed he had already been caught or killed.

Her first reaction was one of anger that bin Laden had been living such a normal life all these years, rather than being on the run, hiding in caves.

“He was living a happy life, living in a mansion, after all the misery he caused everyone else,” she said.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.