When news broke of the September 11 attacks 20 years ago, Greenville ISD Police Chief Ramon Rodriguez was a student in the district he now serves.
Like most people that Tuesday, Rodriguez was in the middle of his typical, everyday morning activities, and as a senior at Greenville High School, the first he heard of the attacks was from a group of friends at the senior lockers after first period.
“Back then, school started at 7:30 a.m. and the bell at the end of first period rang at 9 a.m., so when I got out of class, some friends were already at the lockers talking about it, but we still really didn’t know what had happened,” Rodriguez recollected. “I had never been to New York, and I had no idea what the Twin Towers or the World Trade Center were, so we didn’t really understand what was happening at first.
“Then, I went to my next class, which was FFA, and it was then that we watched the news and saw the impact of what was happening and it started to sink in that we were under attack,” Rodriguez said. “Even though most of us felt pretty safe, being so far from New York, it was all we talked about for the rest of the day.”
Another thing that Rodriguez remembers well from that day was how much closer it made his family.
“One of the messages that was given a lot then was, ‘hug your loved ones,’ Rodriguez said. “One of the things I remember most is a change I saw in my dad—who, before, hadn’t been the kind of guy to be very ‘lovey dubby’—when he started actually saying, ‘I love you’ to me and my brother and sister all the time.
“We had always been a close family, but I felt a difference afterwards in how close we became,” Rodriguez said.
While Rodriguez remembers first hearing about both 9/11 during his senior year of high school and the shooting at Columbine his freshman year, he credits neither as being a direct influence on his decision to go into law enforcement. However, he does try to carry much of the community spirit felt in the weeks following 9/11 into how he does his job.
“From watching the news from New York, I remember seeing the image of people running away from the towers while first responders were running towards them, so maybe it did help move me in the direction of becoming a police officer … but, most of all, a message I give over and over again at assemblies is that we are all family, and that if a bad guy comes through the doors with a gun, then it’s all of us against them,” Rodriguez said.
“One of the things I remember from the weeks following the attacks was that it was almost like violence stopped in every community, and everyone came together … and that’s something I try to get across in GISD, is that we’re all family and that we’re in this together.”
Rodriguez has served as his department’s head since it was founded nearly five years ago. Before that, he was one of the City of Greenville Police Department’s school resource officers.