Grace Mason wasn’t born when terrorists flew jetliners into the World Trade Center buildings. She didn’t witness people fleeing from the site in panic, jumping to their deaths, or emergency workers running toward the flames only to die a few hours later.

But Mason was one among hundreds of Citrus County students Wednesday who wanted to better understand Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, the attack on the Pentagon in Virginia, and the jetliner crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania — the day when nearly 3,000 people died.

To that end, she and other county students attended the annual 9/11 display at the Valarie Theatre in downtown Inverness, where hundreds of artifacts from the crash sites were available to view, along with hundreds of publications in the building’s second floor.

“I wasn’t alive for 9/11, so other people have memories of where they were,” Mason told the Chronicle seeing the artifacts. “I wanted to come here and see the emotional state of everyone involved. You can read about it online ... but it’s not the same.”

“This makes it real,” said the 17-year-old Crystal River High School student.

“That’s something we didn’t get to feel,” she said. “But coming here, you get a sense of what happened.”

Gary Gersitz, a Port Authority policeman in 2001, and now retired, rushed to the World Trade Center 18 years ago and after the attacks. He also helped set up the displays. Artifacts from the World Trade Center and other attack included pieces from the destroyed buildings, parts of vehicles, cloths worn by first responders at the horrific event, and charred pieces of office equipment.

The display also includes a mangled piece of The Sphere that was displayed in the World Trade Center’s courtyard.

“It’s important for them (students and visitors throughout the day) to see it; the items they didn’t even know about,” Gersitz said.

Organizers also hosted a march around the downtown area in commemoration of the victims of the horrific attacks.

Matt Garlock, a U.S. History teacher at Crystal River High School, said the day is important for students and the public to learn about.

“To see things that were there on that day, that obviously are now part of history,” he said. “Every student should know and remember about (the event) that changed their lives in ways they don’t even know about.”

“And that first hand, primary source (of artifacts) gives them a hands-on feeling,” he said.

Citrus County School board member Douglas Dodd also came to the event as students came on school buses.

“We want them to experience the reality of what took place; to see and hold those items that were the result of a terrorist attack on our nation,” he said. “They should remember it and never forget our fight against terrorism in our country.”

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Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

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