2001: A world of change
Patrick Ortlepp of the 186th Air Refueling Wing filled his little girl's Christmas order on Dec. 10, when he delivered himself for the holidays. Eight-year-old Mackenzie was delighted. Photo by Marianne Todd / The Meridian Star
Stories of the year
Jan. 1, 2002
Editor's note: As 2001 passes into history, The Meridian Star is pleased to present our selections of the top local stories of the year. We have tried to identify significant stories that made an impact on our community. There are happy stories, tragic stories and a variety of others that helped define the news in 2001. We present these stories today in the newspaper's redesigned format and, having reported all there is of 2001, we eagerly await the 364 more opportunities we have to report the news in 2002 … and the thousands more opportunities to serve our readers in the years ahead.
Buddy Bynum, Editor
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People shared their grief and searched for answers at church and community sponsored prayer services.
They showed their sense of patriotism by wearing American flag pins and decorating their homes in red white and blue.
And they watched as their husbands, wives, sons and daughters shipped off to Turkey as members of the Mississippi Air National Guard joined the hunt for terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Any way you look at it, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington had a profound and lasting effect on East Central Mississippi and West Central Alabama so much so that it tops the list as the No. 1 local news story of 2001.
In Meridian and surrounding communities, residents showed immediate, massive support and sympathy for the terrorists' victims. Churches opened for prayer minutes after the tragedy.
Then, as an added precaution, air traffic was halted nationwide and at the local airport. Travel on Amtrak and Greyhound, both of which use Union Station on Front Street, was delayed.
Within days of the attacks, residents organized prayer services including an interdenominational service at the Lauderdale County Agri-Center that attracted more than 1,000 people.
Some residents even considered enlisting in the armed forces, including a few local veterans from every American conflict since World War II. Military recruiters were overwhelmed.
Children got into the act.
They opened their piggy banks and emptied their pockets to contribute to the ongoing relief effort. They talked with their parents and teachers and discussed what might happen next.
Then, in mid-October, something people feared would happen finally did: About 100 members of the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard were activated as a result of the terrorist attacks.
Some guardsmen return
It would be nearly two months before some of the members of the 186th returned home. And when they did, they returned to hugs, kisses and yellow ribbons in yards and on mailboxes.
One 8-year-old, Mackenzie Ortlepp, took her plans to a higher authority: Santa Claus. She wrote Santa and asked him to bring her dad, Patrick Ortlepp, home for the holidays.
In between the deployment and return of some National Guardsmen, a delegation from the Meridian Fire Department trekked to New York in early November to share their support with that city's firefighters.
Fire Chief Bunky Partridge, firefighter Gerald Mabry and public relations officer Jimmy Hoffer gave New York's Rescue 1 a check for $15,000 money donated by Meridian and Lauderdale County residents.
Rescue 1 lost 11 men when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.
Partridge and Mabry also hung two flags along a barricade at Ground Zero in New York including one made by handprints from students at West Lauderdale Elementary.