BOSTON: It wasn't long after they witnessed the inconceivable scenes of commercial jetliners hitting New York's World Trade Center that Americans turned away and wondered what to tell their children.
State schools across the country remained in session even as most businesses and other government offices shut down, so that the oldest students could watch the gruesome images unfolding on television together with their teachers, while the youngest students would be shielded from them.
"The children are so young; this is a hard thing for them to understand," Chris Dunning, principal of an elementary school near St Petersburg, Florida, told the St Petersburg Times.
Washington schools also stayed open, even after another hijacked plane struck the Pentagon.
Parents, among them thousands of federal employees and military personnel who had been ordered to leave their offices, picked up their children anyway and took them home. Many schools in and around the capital were closed on Wednesday.
"All the children have found out about it from parents coming to pick up other children," said Yvonne Morse, principal of a Washington elementary school.
"Once the children found out about it, we started telling them something had happened to the WTC in New York and the Pentagon. We've been careful. We told them that there are a lot of rumours about lives being lost, and we'll listen and give them information."
In Boston, where two of the hijacked flights originated, schools were about the only places that stayed open; the financial district and government offices were evacuated and emergency workers and medical personnel went to help the rescue efforts in New York.
Some teachers were ordered not to discuss the tragedy at all, including in schools in Oklahoma City, where a federal building was blown up in 1995 in a terrorist attack.
In West Elementary school in Lancaster, Ohio, principal Paul Young personally visited each classroom to discuss the attacks with each of the 400 students there.
Other teachers and administrators also tried to help their students make sense of the tragedies.
Norm Conrad, a social studies teacher in a high school in the midwestern state of Kansas, said: "We talked about peace in the Middle East and how today might prevent this."
But many students found it hard to come to grips with the attacks. One 14-year-old at a school in Nebraska got very scared, his teacher Susan McNeil said: "I just hugged him and assured him we were safe.
"As a teacher, it's really frightening. I was scared and how do you not convey that?" www.ces.purdue.eduterrorismchildrenindex.html