Head of St. Andrew's Priory recalls witnessing 9/11 in New York

Sandy Theunick
Sandy Theunick

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A woman who headed an elite school for girls in New York on 9/11 is now in charge of school in Honolulu.

Since 2005, Sandy Theunick has been Head of School at St. Andrew's Priory, the private school for girls in downtown Honolulu. That's ten years and nearly five thousand miles away from 9/11, when she held a similar position at The Chapin School.

"We were on the Upper East Side of New York, a school of about 600 girls, directly across the street from the mayor's residence," Theunick recalled.

"It was the first morning of school, first full day of school," she said. "And about 8:45 in the morning, my phone rang and I went to the TV after somebody said 'go look at the TV.' And we thought it was an accident. And when the plane went into the second tower, we knew it wasn't an accident."

Ground Zero was about five miles away, but there were still fears because many students had family in the financial services industry. And there was uncertainty and fear, both in the city and in the school.

"No emergency drill prepared us for that event," said Theunick. "It wasn't a prowler, it wasn't a fire, it wasn't anything that we would have prepared for in an emergency drill. We just had to work together to keep those children safe and to keeping them feeling safe."

The twin towers of the World Trade Center were not visible from the school, but the smoke was. And the smoke and the smell spread to the school after the towers collapsed.

"It was all so eerie," Theunick said. "It was a very unusual time. To know what the smell was from. To know that you were smelling something several miles away from you the day before, and many, many people had perished."

Theunick said being in New York on 9/11 as the head of a school taught her something about students.

"I continue to marvel at the resiliency of children, and the resiliency of everybody, but particularly the resilience of children in a situation like that," she said. "They want to do the right thing. They want to step up to the plate, and they do, again and again and again."

Special Section: 9/11 Ten Years Later

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