After latest attacks, Americans plod forward in 'new normal'
Associated Press | .
published: September 20, 2016
NEW YORK — After a round of frightening domestic attacks, Americans plodded on in the comfort of routine Monday, either resilient in the face of terror or numbed by their battle scars.
Fresh off a weekend in which blasts shook a New York neighborhood and a New Jersey shore town, pipe bombs were found in a suburban railroad station and a Minnesota mall became the scene of a string of stabbings, the country started the week wondering whether it was all part of a new normal.
"I think that this is part of life now," said Craig Filiberto, a 56-year-old accountant enjoying a pack of peanut M&Ms across from Penn Station in New York, where police and military vehicles were parked outside and officers stood guard.
He had an office with a view of the World Trade Center when it was leveled and finds himself more conscious of where exits are wherever he goes. But the latest attacks didn't make him fearful, because it just seems a part of life here.
"You know that we're always a target," he said.
On the other end of an outdoor plaza, 25-year-old Susan Rosello said she always feels a bit more on edge in midtown Manhattan versus her home in the Bronx. She has made minor adjustments to be sure she's aware of her surroundings, like lowering the music on her headphones. Still, events like the explosion Saturday that hurt 29 people make her feel somewhat uneasy but not scared, said the administrative assistant and costume designer.
"When you're inundated with this stuff all the time, you're sort of just desensitized to these things," she said. "Otherwise, you'd hide in a hole."
And so, life went on in this city and around the country. On an Amtrak train stalled for hours in New Jersey on Sunday night as police investigated five explosive devices in a train station garbage can, passengers stayed calm as they read news of the developments. Around New York early Monday, cellphones buzzed with an emergency alert to be on the lookout for a suspect, even as commuters emerged from subway tunnels with potential targets like the Freedom Tower looming against cloudy skies. President Barack Obama urged vigilance while insisting people shouldn't succumb to fear.
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," said Mike Mastrangelo, who was awaiting a train to New York from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, on Monday.
Although it's clear the drumbeat of scary headlines has gotten people's attention, it's too soon to assess whether they are simply numb to it all or stricken with fear, said Charles Figley, who heads Tulane University's Traumatology Institute and is a founding editor of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
"All these events send them such an overwhelming amount of data that they just want to duck their head," he said. "We're primed for it, but we're also adapting to it."
Sometimes, Figley said, these events can produce more anxiety among those farther removed from them. Those close to the action have a clearer sense of what happened. Those who aren't sometimes associate one traumatic event with another in their own life. The result can ripple across the country.
"The country is throbbing with anxiety," he said.
In Boston, where bombings at the city's marathon three years ago left three dead and scores injured, Mary Ellen Monico's first reaction when she heard of the explosion was: "Here we go again." On the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, Monico's daughter had attended a Red Sox game in Boston and planned to watch runners cross the finish line. Two bombs went off before she could get there and it was 30 minutes before a worried Monico learned her daughter was safe. Years earlier, Monico, 69, a retired preschool teacher from Meredith, New Hampshire, had a student whose father was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Still, she refuses to consider terror attacks part of everyday life. Waiting at South Station to pick up friends, she said she feels uncomfortable in large crowds and is sure to look for exits. She maintains a sense of normalcy, though, and hopes her grandchildren won't live in a world as chaotic as this.
"I don't want to accept it as part of my life," she said.
Outside, on a platform awaiting a commuter train, Erin Murphy a 49-year-old accountant and data analyst from Marshfield, Massachusetts, said though life goes on as usual after terror attacks, she thinks that, taken together, they have an impact. The sense of safety she felt as a child has disappeared, and a new feeling of awareness has emerged.
"The new normal is not appealing," she said.
In Orlando, Florida, where an attack at a gay nightclub earlier this summer left 49 dead, Maureen Brown said the shooting had already made her wary of being in big crowds. Now, she's thinking twice about her annual trip to New York with her husband to see some shows and dine out at great restaurants.
"It's getting pretty scary as to whether or not we want to continue doing that," she said.
In St. Cloud, Minnesota, where a Saturday attack at Crossroads Center Mall left nine people recovering from stab wounds and authorities investigating the attacker's possible ties to the Islamic State group, a reinforced staff of private security guards maintained a notable presence, with walkie-talkies and handcuffs hanging from their belts.
Jaci Schindler, 53, of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, had qualms about coming to the mall Monday but needed a new pair of shoes for a trip. She had her husband drop her off at J.C. Penney and planned to leave as soon as possible. She never expected to hear of such violence so close to home.
"It's scary," she said. "I just wanted to get the shoes and go."
Sitting in the food court with her husband, 51-year-old Jodi Gilbertson, of East Bethel, Minnesota, marveled at the mall's emptiness. Though the attacks were never far from her mind, she said she had no trepidation about going to the mall. Already, she said, terrorist threats have shifted what people view as normal when they go to concerts and sporting events. Maybe, her husband, Corey Gilbertson, thought, metal detectors might be part of a new normal at shopping malls too.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Wayne Perry in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Steve Karnowski in St. Cloud, Minnesota; and Denise Lavoie in Boston.