Kelsey Rico’s eighth birthday was a day of national horror

'At first, I might have resented the fact that it happened on my birthday,' said Kelsey Rico, a senior at Central Kitsap High School, recalling the 9/11 attacks on her eighth birthday. 'When you're a little kid, your birthday is your day.'
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Kelsey Rico will turn 18 on Sept. 11. “That’s why I remember it so well,” she said.

While many of her peers may have faded memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center because they were in the second grade at the time, Rico remembers. Sundays were usually a day to relax and recuperate from a day of playing soccer on Saturdays. Rico said two days before 9/11, she was finishing homework and spending time with her family.

She woke up early the morning of the 11th because it was her birthday and she wanted to have time to open a few presents before going to school. Her father, who was on his way to work, then called the family and told them to turn on the TV.

Rico, her mother and one of her two brothers — the other one was already at school — turned on the TV that morning not knowing what to expect.

“I didn’t comprehend what was going on,” Rico said. “It was just something we were watching.”

The “something” she remembers watching with her family was the second twin tower collapse some time after it was struck by United Airlines Flight 175.

“I was trying to calm their fears — going into ‘mom mode’ to protect my kids,” said Becky Rico, Kelsey Rico’s mother.

She said her husband only told her that “something bad is going on in New York.” She had no idea what was happening until they turned on the TV.

Kelsey Rico went to school on time that day, but many of her classmates didn’t show up since many of them are military families, she recalled.

At the time, she was attending Cougar Valley Elementary School in the Central Kitsap School District. Many students, including some of her brothers’ friends, were stuck on base because they were not letting people enter and leave, she said.

Teachers handed out red and blue ribbons to the children at school to pin on their clothes, Kelsey Rico said.

“Their faces were shocked. It was very quiet,” she said.

Rico doesn’t remember any TVs being on in the classrooms and she can’t recall what they did in class that day.

“They probably didn’t do much — they averaged 8 kids per classroom that day,” her mother said.

Although the concept of terrorism isn’t necisarily something a second grader would know, Kelsey Rico knew that something bad had occurred.

“I knew it was a big deal. I knew a lot of people died,” she said.

That evening her soccer practice was canceled and her parents kept the TV off so as to keep the rest of her birthday “normal.” They even  went out to dinner as a distraction.

“At first, I might have resented the fact that it happened on my birthday,” Kelsey Rico said. “When you’re a little kid, your birthday is your day.”

As the years passed, Rico got used to her birthday being the anniversary of 9/11.

She also learned the importance of being informed about what is happening in the world and that more people should be educated.

Today, the Central Kitsap High School senior runs cross-country and has interests in a variety of subjects ranging from art, sciences, English and history.

When others learn of the date of her birth, she often receives similar responses.

“Their initial gut response is ‘I’m sorry,’” Becky Rico said.

Kelsey Rico doesn’t want people to be sorry for her though.

“I learned that things aren’t about you. That other things are always going on in the world and you’re not the center of it,” she said.

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