Guts churned. Hundreds were left momentarily breathless by the shock and horror of it all.
That's how Lawrence residents responded to this morning's terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
"I'm paralyzed," said Stephen McAllister, dean of the Kansas University law school.
"I'm not absolutely sure, but I believe the wife of a very good friend of mine works in the World Trade Center. This makes everything else we had going on today seem trivial."
McAllister said he gave law school professors the option of not teaching class today.
"If they can go ahead, fine," he said. "But if they can't, that's OK, too."
McAllister said several KU law school graduates now practice with law firms based in New York and Washington. There is concern for their safety, and local residents are anxiously awaiting more news of friends and relatives.
Workers at the Lied Center of Kansas tried to get in contact with former executive director Jackie Davis this morning to make sure she was safe, but were unable to reach her by phone, according to administrative assistant Sammie Messick. Davis now is executive director of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
Nor could they reach former director of education, Lane Czaplinski, who is now program manager at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Kathy Zeller at Lawrence Battery was relieved to hear her son, Navy Capt. Randel Zeller, was OK after the attack on the Pentagon. Zeller is an aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"It's been a bad morning," she said. "I don't know exactly where he is at, but he's safe."
He contacted his wife, who called his mother.
KU political science professor Philip Schrodt was as stunned as anyone.
"I'm completely shocked," said Schrodt, an expert on international conflict. "This is something we all hoped would never occur, that we hoped would stay in the movies or in thriller novels."
Although it's unclear who was behind the attack, Schrodt predicted terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
"He's attacked the World Trade Center before, and if you follow these kinds of things, you're aware that U.S. intelligence forces have been on alert for quite a while they've been expecting a major attack but they didn't know where. They'd stopped port calls in the (Persian) Gulf.
"It looks like they were 75 percent right," he said. "They just didn't know the target or the means."
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Schrodt said, were meant to be symbolic rather than strategic.
"The choice of target symbolizes the reach of both the U.S. economy and military strength," he said. "This wasn't strategic by that I mean it wasn't intended to get the U.S. to take a particular action. This was an act of punishment."
Schrodt and McAllister predicted dramatic increases in airport security.
"I suspect we'll see our airports become much more like those in Europe and Israel guards with machine guns, strip searches in some cases, three or four waits," McAllister said. "In Israel, they don't tell you which gate you're boarding from until two or three minutes before takeoff."
Elsewhere throughout the city, the attacks brought strong, gut-churning reactions.
Members of the city's Tax Abatement Task Force were meeting this morning in City Hall when news of the attacks came.
City Manager Mike Wildgen's secretary delivered a note to him about the same time City Commissioner Jim Henry, who chairs the task force, re-entered the commission chambers to tell what had happened.
"Jesus," one of the task force members muttered.
The meeting was immediately adjourned, but Mayor Mike Rundle said there were no plans to cancel tonight's meeting of the Lawrence City Commission.
"It'll cast a sober tone over the meeting, but I think we'll go ahead," he said.
Local mental health experts were preparing to handle community grief.
A spokesperson for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center said the agency will have staff members available from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today for anyone wanting to speak to someone about today's events. The center is at 200 Maine.
David Johnson, Bert Nash executive director, said the center also has staff members in most of the schools in Douglas County and was assessing the need for additional counselors there.
Like many people in the area, Johnson expressed shock at today's events.
"I think for years we have been warned that something like this could happen. This is the kind of trauma that can have a lasting effect," he said.
Today's terrorist attacks will have a broad effect on many people, he added.
"This is the kind of thing that can really shake people's feeling of safety even if it shouldn't," he said.