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Bluefield alum, now police officer, recounts Sept. 11 at the Pentagon

BLUEFIELD, Va. (BP)–Former Bluefield College criminal justice major Sarah Austin was back at her alma mater in October to speak as part of the school’s Alumni Guest Lecture Series about her experiences as a traffic sergeant for the Pentagon Police — and an eyewitness to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Austin, a 1996 Bluefield College graduate, addressed a group of students in a criminal justice class during a morning session on campus before later sharing her story with local media and other members of the BC family.

After graduating from Bluefield, Austin, a native of Fredericksburg, Va., attended a federal police academy before joining the Defense Protective Services of the Pentagon.

Austin, who was in charge of traffic detail when terrorists crashed a jetliner into the Pentagon, recounted, “I’ll never forget it. … It was like a dream, like a nightmare.”

Austin said she was preparing her officers to monitor a Pentagon ceremony scheduled for the morning. The jetliner crashed into the Pentagon just minutes before her officers were set to move to their posts outside on the lawn.

“It was a little too close for comfort for me,” Austin said about how close she was to the impact of the plane on the Pentagon. “I don’t remember feeling or hearing the impact, but I do remember seeing the panic on the faces of the people running from the building.”

More than 100 Pentagon employees died, while dozens of others were injured. “These were people I may not have known personally,” Austin said, “but I knew their faces. I said ‘good morning’ to them every day, and we worked side by side. It was really hard to see many of those same faces being carried away dead or injured.”

Austin said she spent the first few hours after the impact establishing a secure perimeter around the crime scene, primarily to protect evidence, “pieces of the plane and the building,” to help investigators in their subsequent search for the people responsible for the attack.

“We have to bring them to justice,” Austin said about the terrorists. “We have no choice. They’ve done a horrible thing, and we have to find them and bring them to justice. The American people are demanding it. I am demanding it.”

Austin, in her campus visit, also recalled how much she enjoyed her experiences while a student at Bluefield. Her success on the job, she said, has a lot to do with what she learned at BC.

“The Federal Police Academy was so much easier for me because of what I learned at Bluefield College,” Austin said. “I had four years of great experiences here [at BC], and because I did so well in the academy, I’ve done well on the job. I learned a lot at Bluefield College, and it’s gotten me a lot farther a lot faster.”

After joining the Defense Protective Services, Austin worked as a K-9 officer until becoming the youngest sergeant ever on the Pentagon Police earlier this year. For that honor and for her other success on the job, during her BC visit, the college presented her with the first ever Distinguished Young Alumna Award.

“I can think of no better recipient for this award,” said Kelly Walls, BC professor of criminal justice. “She has certainly made Bluefield College proud. We always knew she would distinguish herself in some way.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SARAH AUSTIN.

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  • Chris Shoemaker