Sept. 11, 2001 began as just another day of work for Denise Smith.
A former latent print examiner for the FBI was working in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. when normalcy gave way to the surreal.
"Our lab was on the 10th floor of the Hoover building," the Baraboo resident said. "We had the televisions on when we heard the World Trade Center was hit in New York. Then all of a sudden we could see flames and smoke coming from the Pentagon."
Seconds later, everyone in the building was told to evacuate.
"Some of us decided to hike up the interstate," she said. "It was about 4 to 5 miles to my house, which was past the Pentagon.
"I felt kind of numb. It was just kind of surreal to be amongst all of this. It seemed like before that day tragedies like this happened in different countries and not here in the United States."
Her father Walt Smith was in Baraboo glued to the news stations and trying to reach his daughter by telephone.
"I wanted to know where she was and if she was OK," he said. "I was worried. I wanted to hear from her, but I realize she is an adult and this is important work she does. It's for everyone's safety."
She stayed with friends and watched the horror replay on television, and was able to reach her father.
"I remember for several hours my friends and I just watched television," Smith said. "It was unreal. Simply unreal. Almost like a bad dream."
She said the sky was clear above her home, but dark above the Pentagon that fateful day 10 years ago.
The next day, Smith was back at work. And for several months, Smith examined materials linked to the terrorists.
"Once our investigators found where the terrorists were staying in the U.S., those hotel rooms or wherever they had some type of contact in, were ripped apart," she said. "Those rooms were stripped clean. We had telephone book covers, garbage and just about anything you can imagine to search for prints."
Once she found prints from known terrorists, she sent them on to her superiors.
Smith, who prior to coming to the FBI worked in a coroner's office in Nashville, Tenn., was able to disassociate her feelings from her work.
"Despite all that happened, I kept my focus on my work to help find the people involved and hopefully improve the future for everyone else," she said.
Smith worked for the FBI from August 2000 to June 2005.
In February 2006, Smith went to Iraq as a contractor working with the military.
"We want to build a database of prints so when a cache of weapons is found or pieces of improvised exploding devices are discovered, military personnel know how to collect the evidence safely without compromising the evidence," she said. "Even though it's a battlefield, we want the members of military to become police technicians in evidence handling."
Looking back on the attacks of 9/11, Smith said she doesn't want to see Americans become complacent.
"Why get upset when you have to take your shoes off at the airport? It is a minor convenience for your safety and mine. If someone doesn't want to take off his or her shoes or open his or her suitcase to be searched I want to know what they are hiding," she said. "All of us need to remember what happened that day and stay alert."
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