College student from Boyle witnessing aftermath of terrorism in Madrid

March 17, 2004|HERB BROCK

As an art history major in college, Summer Mountjoy knows well the saying about art imitating life. Last week, the saying took on a real meaning as the young Boyle County woman saw life paint a horrifying picture in Madrid, Spain.

Mountjoy had witnessed the Spanish version of 9-11.

"It was a frenzied and frantic situation for a while," Mountjoy said today from her Madrid apartment. "It really had the feel of what it was like in the U.S. after the Twin Towers were hit in New York City."

Mountjoy, the daughter of Mark and Judy Mountjoy of the Junction City area and a 2002 graduate of Danville High School, is a sophomore at Wofford College in South Carolina, where she majors in Spanish and art history. She is in Madrid as a student in the International Education for Students program, taking a course in art history that is taught in Spanish.


The Thursday morning last week that terrorists' bombs hit Madrid's train system started like any other weekday for Mountjoy.

"I have an 8:30 a.m. class and, about 7:30, I was getting on the Metro, the underground rail system of Madrid," she said.

When she and the hundreds of other commuters aboard her subway train emerged from their ride at a street level station, they discovered that bombs had struck several above-ground trains, killing over 200 people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

"We really did not feel the impact of the bombs on the Metro, perhaps because we were a bit too far from them and couldn't hear explosions because of the train noise," said Mountjoy.

"But if I had been at my apartment when the bombs went off, I definitely would have felt the impact, because my apartment is just a 20-minute walk from one of the above-ground train stations that was hit."

When she arrived on campus for her class, news of the tragedy had triggered a feverish effort by faculty and local directors of the IES program to make sure all students were accounted for and safe.

"There are about 150 students, faculty and others involved in the program, and no one was hurt, everyone was accounted for," Mountjoy said.

She later called her parents to let them know she was OK.

"They hadn't heard of the bombings yet, so I was able to get to them before they would become concerned," Mountjoy said.

Her father was stunned and relieved when he got the call.

"There's a six-hour difference in time between here and Madrid, so she called us at 11:30 a.m. Madrid time and 5:30 a.m. our time," said Mark Mountjoy. "I was shocked to hear what had happened and very worried for her safety, but very relieved to hear her voice and say that things, at least at her school, were OK."

Meanwhile, within hours of the tragedy, Summer Mountjoy said Madrid was overtaken by mixed emotions of mourning and rage, she said. Millions took to the streets in a massive display of sorrow for the victims and their families and expression of anger toward the terrorists who did the bombing.

"One Madrid paper carried the headline, 'Todos contra el terror,' which means, 'everyone is against the terror,'" said Mountjoy.

Spainards aware of significance of 11th day of the month

And the fact that the tragedy occurred on the 11th day of the month, like the 2001 terrorist bombing in the U.S., also was not lost on Spain's capital city.

"Everyone already is calling last Thursday '11-Marzo,' or the 11th of March, and '11-M-en Madrid,' for 11 March in Mardrid," she said. "Like it was in the U.S. post-9-11, there is an incredible unity and solidarity among the people here."

Mountjoy said Madrid has pretty well gotten back to normal, but still is under an enormous cloud of sadness and anger. The anger has grown to include not just the terrorists who did the bombings, but also the current government.

The conservative government a few days ago was voted out of office, and observers say a major reason for its political demise can be traced to the feeling of many Spaniards that the government was not truthful with the public about what it knew about who was behind the bombings, and also tracked to huge opposition to Spain's involvement in the war in Iraq.

"Polls have indicated that 90 percent of the Spanish people are against the war in Iraq and many of them have been upset at their government for joining the U.S. in the war," said Mountjoy.

But she added that the strong opposition of Spaniards to the U.S. over the Iraq war has not translated into ill will toward individual Americans.

"I've seen signs of protest against President Bush, and also British Prime Minister Tony Blair, some saying, 'Your war, our people,' referring to soldiers who have died. I have heard, seen and felt the anger," said Mountjoy. "But the anger is against the U.S. government, not individual Americans.

"The people here may not like what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, but they distinguish between the American government and American people," she said. "They have been extremely friendly and hospitable to me."

Mountjoy said she feels "safe and still welcome" enough to complete her studies in Madrid, but looks forward to returning to the U.S. and her Boyle County home in mid May.

"I will miss Madrid. It is a wonderful city with great people, and it has provided an incredible setting for me to pursue my studies of art history and also to learn more about the Spanish language and how to speak it," she said.

"But I'm looking forward to coming home and spending the summer with my family," she said. "Being in Madrid has been a memorable experience, but there is one memory I know I wish I could forget but know I never will. I will always remember 11-Marzo, just like I will always remember 9-11."

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