Ten years ago, our country was changed forever on September 11. On a beautiful cloudless day in New York City, two planes struck the World Trade Center and both towers came crumbling to the ground. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane headed to the Nation's Capital came down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Thousands of innocent lives were lost in the terrorist attacks.
On this tenth anniversary weekend of 9/11, J-14 Magazine's editors recount what we were all doing when we heard about the attacks. Please feel free to share your stories with us as well in the comments.
Rachel Sheehan (Assistant Editor): "September 11, 2001 was one of my first few days of high school. We had homeroom and then first period class, which for me was Spanish class. Our teacher was kind of a jokester, so when he told us a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, we thought he was making it up. But soon after, an announcement came over the PA system telling us to go back to our homerooms.
We sat there for a while feeling so confused until our teacher told us the Towers were hit as part of a large-scale terrorist attack and we were being sent home early. I remember borrowing someone's cell phone to call my mom. Being from Westchester County, NY, the attack was just minutes away from home and it left my then 14-year-old self shaken and deeply saddened."
Nicole Mazza (Photo Assistant): "I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I was in eighth grade and I was heading to lunch when I passed a friend in the hallway who was crying and told me she was going home because there was some type of accident in New York City. Soon after, it seemed like half the school was being called to the office to get signed out by their parents.
No one would tell us what was going on, which had rumors spreading like wildfire throughout the day -- that the president had been shot, that New York had been bombed, that we were going to war. No one knew what to believe and I remember thinking there was no way our country was going to be in an actual war. It was such a crazy concept at the time to even imagine.
As soon as I got home I turned on the TV to see the news and the haunting images that would replay over and over again for the next few weeks. My dad who was in the Air National Guard called to let us know that he was being sent there to help aid in the rescue. Thankfully no one I knew was hurt or directly affected by the attacks, but this was the first time I ever realized that there were people out there that didn't like our country."
Rachel Chang (Editor-in-Chief): "Growing up in California, I always wanted to experience life in New York City -- everyone I knew who had spent time in the city was so confident and assured about life. I was just a shy, quiet girl not really sure who I was or what I wanted. I finally decided to spend a week in the city to see if I could handle it -- and if I succeeded, I would move to New York City. So I booked a flight for September 14, 2001.
The night before 9/11, I was so excited about my trip that I couldn't sleep. I stayed up late reading the city guide, marking all the places I wanted to go. Number one on my list? The World Trade Center. I had never been there and it seemed like the perfect spot to gain some perspective about whether I should make this big cross-country move. I looked at the map -- the hotel I booked was right across the street from the WTC -- perfect! I closed the tour book and went to sleep with a smile on my face.
The next morning I was woken up by the phone ringing. My mom was urgently on the other end saying, 'Are you awake?' I replied, 'Yes, Mom.' She asked again, 'No, are you awake?!' After verifying I was fully conscious, she told me to turn on the TV. My best friend lived in the city, and she was fearful that my friend was in the Twin Towers. (Thankfully, everyone I knew was safe.)
Sitting there across the country, I couldn't make sense of what was going on. It just looked like a Hollywood blockbuster movie. In no way did it seem like this could possibly be reality.
Eventually, I rebooked my New York City trip for a few weeks later. Soot and smells still engulfed the city. As much as I can still remember the exact odor and exact feel in the air of the 9/11 rubble, what really stuck with me was how strong New Yorkers really were -- an international tragedy had struck, but they were so much braver than I ever imagined.
I found myself in Times Square one morning -- and someone asked me if I wanted to go into the Good Morning America studios. It was the first day they had reopened to the public after 9/11, so they invited me in.
Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson came down to talk to all of us in the audience. Charlie asked what I was doing in town -- and I told him I wanted to be a journalist. He spent so much time talking to me about it... and where I should go to school. Afterwards, a producer asked us to sign a big picture of New York City that already had a few signatures on it. I looked at the one I was signing next to -- George Pataki, the then-Governor of New York.
Between the spirit of the New Yorkers, the inspiration from veteran journalists, and the happenstance of finding a spot next to the New York governor, a few years later, I made the big move to the East Coast. And not a day goes by when I don't appreciate the New York City skyline and how lucky we are to be able to appreciate it -- and how its inspiration can change lives... like it changed mine."
Leigh Weingus (Editorial Assistant): "I'll never forget the sound of my dad knocking on my bedroom door on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was in my second week of my freshman year of high school, and completely overwhelmed by everything: Homework, making new friends, and especially getting along with my parents.
After flinging open the door and asking my dad what he wanted, he told me something terrible had happened 3,000 miles away from our house in California -- two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. 'Oh, it was an accident?' I asked. 'No,' my Dad said. 'Terrorists -- people who don't like the United States -- crashed into the towers on purpose.'
'The World Trade Center?' I asked. 'Why would someone crash planes into buildings?'
'Well,' my dad said. 'There were people in those buildings. Lots of people.'
The rest of the day was a blur. I went to school, and instead of being lectured on algebraic equations and To Kill a Mockingbird, I spent the day watching the same images on the televisions in each of my classrooms: Planes hitting towers, smoke, and people crying.
I was lucky enough to be far away from the attacks, and to not lose anyone close to me on 9/11. But 10 years later, it's crazy to look back at what appeared to be an ordinary September day and realize that it changed me, the country I live in, and the place I now call home -- New York City -- forever."
When we got to the meeting room, all the peer leaders sat in a big circle and one of the advisors said to us, 'A plane crashed into the Twin Towers.' Now, the thing you must know about peer camp is that it's not uncommon to be given a challenging scenario -- the whole camp is about building team unity. So hearing a crazy setting for a team building exercise was not entirely far-fetched. My friends and I looked at each other and the advisor said, 'No, I'm serious.' Our faces dropped.
Instinctually, we all started to panic. Our advisors told us that buses were already on the way to bring us home. We were in the middle of rural New Jersey with no TVs, radios, or cell phone reception. We were just miles from New York City and our parents had no idea if we were okay. As we were walking out of the meeting room to pack our stuff, I saw my friend shaking and crying by the pay phone. Her dad worked at the World Trade Center and she was frantically trying to call her mom to find out if her dad was okay. But the phone wasn't working. She had no idea if her dad was dead or alive. We all tried to calm her down, but to this day, I can't imagine what she must have been thinking. I don't really think any of us could. Luckily, her dad was okay.
At the time, it almost seemed unreal what was going on. We were only able to picture in our heads what many people were watching on live television. Maybe that was for the best. Once we were done packing our clothes and sleeping bags, we stopped and said a prayer. It didn't matter what religion you were -- we were just hoping and praying that everything was going to be okay.
Once the bus got there, we all piled on and tried to get out of camp as quickly as possible. One guy had a small portable television and he was able to get enough signal during our drive to pick up a local news station. All 40 of us hovered around this five-inch television just to get to a glimpse of what was going on. We couldn't believe our eyes.
Finally after what seemed like a four-hour drive (It was probably only two hours), we arrived at school. My high school has televisions in every room, so we all ran off the bus, into the cafeteria, and turned on the news. Everyone just stared in silence. It was one of those ominous, powerful silences where even though no one was saying a word, you knew exactly what they were thinking.
The days, weeks, and even months following September 11, you could still see the smoke coming from the skyline. I remember driving up the New Jersey Turnpike to my grandparents' house and taking a picture of the smoke in the sky. It just seemed right at the time.
Now 10 years later, every day when I drive home from the J-14 office, I pass the New York City skyline. My eyes immediately go towards where the Twin Towers used to hail, and not a day goes by where I don't remember September 11, 2001 -- hovering around that tiny television on a yellow school bus, just knowing that from that moment on, everything was going to be different."
Danielle Kepler (Photo Editor): "I was in college and my boyfriend called me on his way to class to tell me he heard on the radio that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. I turned on the TV to see it was true. I immediately called my parents' house because I thought my Dad was leaving for a business trip that day. My brother answered the phone, he wasn't sure if our Dad's flight was that morning.
We both tried calling our parents without getting an answer. So we just stayed on the phone together and watched as a plane hit the second tower, then the Pentagon, the crash in Pennsylvania, and both towers fall down. Even as we saw the towers fall, we both could not believe it was true. It turns out my Dad's flight was that morning, leaving from Newark Airport, and he was in the airport at the same time as the people who died that day. He finally called us to tell us his flight had landed safely in Florida."