It is hard to believe 12 years have passed since the terrorist attacks the morning of September 11, 2001.
Terrorists intentionally crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City.
A third plane crashed into the Pentagon.
A fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers, acting as heroes, stopped the plane from reaching its intended target in Washington, D.C.
Many remember where they when the series of coordinated attacks against New York and Washington, D.C. happened.
Members of the Local 4 family look back at where they were, and how they felt, when they heard the devastating news of the day.
That's still what amazes me about it most, that it was all pulled off by men carrying nothing more than box cutters. Well, box cutters and an eagerness to die which still seems so incomprehensible to me. Yes, sure, I remember sitting at home that morning with my wife Corey watching all of it unfold on television. (It was Corey who surmised sooner than I that we were under attack.) And I remember that sick feeling that came with watching the towers fall and guessing at how many lives were disappearing inside the collapsing steel and concrete. But if you ask me what springs to mind about 9/11, I can't seem to shake the image of a boxcutter and the first picture that emerged of one of those who wielded them, Mohamed Atta.
The leader of the group of hijackers, Mohamed Atta was born and raised in Egypt, then studied in Germany where he apparently honed his anti-western militancy. I can see that picture of him so clearly in my mind -- the short cropped hair, the square jaw, and mostly, the drooping left eyelid that seemed to suggest a dangerous imbalance. To later find that he had spent time here in the United States learning to fly in Florida struck me as ironic and confusing. The irony came in a group of bitter men using our nation's liberties and gifts against us from our liberal travel policies to our flight schools. But I was left confounded as to how someone could hang on to their original galvanizing ire and hunger for blood after spending so much time living among us. Did Atta walk through his Florida neighborhood despising all that saw? Did no outreach of common American kindness (which he surely encountered) penetrate his anger? Was his fanatacism such that he could only feel contempt for the corrosive culture that taught him to fly an airplane? And as he sat on American Airlines flight 11, did he allow himself to look at his fellow travelers? Even if he had convinced himself that the briefcase army of American businessmen were the face of a nation he deplored, how did he contort his thoughts to condemn children to die? Entire families? How does that work?
All of the tragically iconic images of 9/11 and here I am left with a boxcutter and a driver's license photo. But I resent that boxcutter not only for the lives it took but for the little freedoms it has carved out of my life. That boxcutter is why I cannot travel without the uncivilized indignity of undressing at a security checkpoint. And I perhaps I fixate on the hijacking mastermind because I just can't figure him out. We're cut from very different pieces of cloth, he and I. I lived in Oklahoma City when Timothy McVeigh blew up a truckload of fertilizer and fuel oil at the Murrah Federal Building, and McVeigh and Mohamed Atta both sit in close proximity to one another in my imagination, two men who carried far more hatred than love in their hearts. I don?t really understand them.
And for that I am extremely grateful.
I had been to the top of one of the World Trade Center towers many years before the 9-11 attacks. As I got close to the glass and looked down from one of the large windows I remarked to my friend that I'd never seen New York City from that height except when flying in a plane. It was astounding to look down and realize that I was actually standing on a floor!
On the morning of 9-11 among all the cruel images I was watching on TV, I was most upset by the sight of human beings leaping from the burning towers. Having been so near the windows myself, and remembering how far down the streets were below, I felt sick to know that people were so scared of being burned, and needing to breathe fresh air, they had decided to do the unthinkable and instead jump to their deaths.
For years after that day I dwelled on their heartwrenching choice. I would imagine myself in their dire circumstance and try to feel what they felt -- as they pushed off from one certain death plummeting to another.
In my mind I would ask God, "Where were you? Why didn't you intervene? Why didn't you save all those innocent people?" I would ask many times. I would ask at different times. I would ask in anger - often through silent tears.
About two years later as I continued to ask those questions I suddenly received an answer. It was as if someone had cut off the top of my head and poured in a benevolent stream of knowledge. These words came to me in an interior way,
I saved EVERY one.
When we are in horrible trouble and feel as though we might die, it?s not rare to hear
"Oh, my God!" or "God, help me!" or some type of utterance that addresses God and begs him to help us survive. Is that what each victim on that unfair morning thought, or screamed? And did God save each person - not their bodies but their souls?
The towers falling, the planes that crashed that day, thousands of deaths of innocent people it all adds up to what I call -- a "faith buster." That kind of destruction is more than enough to cause many of us to lose whatever faith in God we have.
That is why, I think, God caused a great miracle to happen very near where the towers once stood. A miracle, very likely, the entire world has by now seen or heard: the against- all-odds, safe landing of the US Airways jet on the Hudson River.
When you consider all of the factors that had to intersect perfectly that day: the glider training of Captain Sullenberger, the clear pathway on the water, the non-sinking of the plane though the rear cabin filled with water, God's thumbprint is all over that stunning event. Every person aboard survived - both soul -- and body. Every one.
It could be just coincidence that the plane set down so near Ground Zero. Of the three factors I mentioned that meshed -- there are many more, but they too, could be chance. I believe -- from the birds that caused the U-S Air emergency to the brightly lit location of the plane's final stop - an awesome "faith builder" played out on God's stage that day -- witnessed by millions of us who lived through the doubt and darkness of that clear September 11th.
Because mankind has free will, evil may seem to win for a while ? but it won?t triumph forever. Do not lose hope.
Do not lose faith.
Keep your eye on the prize: the love, mercy and forgiveness of God.
I was up early and on the roof of our house clearing out a nest of hornets that had made a home in our attic fan. It was a delicate business until my wife rushed outside and told me I'd better come down and watch the Today Show- the World Trade Center was on fire.
My heart sank when I first glimpsed the pictures.
My mother and I had visited the Windows on the World restaurant almost one year to the day earlier and my thoughts went to the Windows staff that was obviously going to be trapped on the top floor.
Seconds later I watched in disbelief as the second Jet hit the second tower. I remember being frustrated those covering it were tiptoeing around the obvious that we were under attack.
Later that afternoon I confirmed, and reported live, the first known Detroit-connected casualty: Teddy Addderley, the son of Kelly Services Chairman Terry Adderley.
I met Teddy a few years earlier when he was in college. His first job was working for an investment company housed on the floor above the WTC impact point. He was a nice, promising young man from a wonderful family. Reporting his death live that afternoon is still one of the hardest things I've had to do in this business. As I recall I didn't do a very good job holding it together.
Two years later I covered a "Take Your Son or Daughter to Work" event at Kelly. My heart broke for Terry Adderley as he generously hosted all of these employees and their children, delighting in their shared moments with their children in the workplace, while he was still clearly having great difficulty moving forward without his child.
I normally would have been at Local 4 at the time the World Trade Center was hit. However, I was scheduled to work later in the day, covering the Detroit Mayoral Primary. I rushed to work as soon as I learned what was happening.
I still covered the election. Gil Hill, who won a spot in the November election, struck the correct emotional tone. On the other hand, the cheering of some of his supporters seemed inappropriate, given the tragedy that had just unfolded.
In the days ahead, I reported on the Michigan victims. This may sound like an unpleasant assignment, but it was important to give viewers a perspective on the wonderful people we lost that day. Names like Alicia Titus, Meredith Whalen and Josh Rosenthal are fresh in my mind.
I always try to control my emotions on the air. But after sharing the story of Meredith and her mother, I walked out of the studio, leaned against a wall, and wept.
Most striking about that morning was the weather.
Unlike the hot and humid weather we had been experiencing, a cold front made for the brightest, crispest blue sky I remember ever seeing. I had just finished the new carpool routine for my daughters and was headed down to the station .
As I would any day, the radio was blasting in constant search for new news. As I started down Northwestern Highway in West Bloomfield flipping around, I decided to stick with Don Imus and his band of loonies. All of a sudden he broke into his regular programming with a phone call from, of all people, Warner Wolfe -- his regular sportscaster who was not on the air that day. I was strange and quickly turned bizarre. He was not jolly at all.
He was calling in from his apartment across from the World Trade Center to say a plane had just flown into the building, he had heard it and was doing a play by play of what he was watching. I immediately did what we newscasters do and started flipping around again trying to see if there were better sources with better information.
No one had the news yet. I then landed on WDFN with Jamie and Gregg Henson and Gregg was saying, ?Hey look at CNN, the World Trade Center is burning and they?re saying a plane had flown into it.? My first thought was a terrorist attack. It was the only thing that made sense. But the training you get in the news business is not to assume, you want to make certain you know before you say something that inflammatory on the air.
I immediately called the newsroom on my cell phone to make certain the assignment desk was aware. It was. I hung up and started moving a little faster down the Lodge as it was obvious this was something to be concerned about. I just wasn?t certain exactly what yet.
As time rolled on the radio started crackling with the news, at every flip of the dial special reports repeating only the barest of information we already knew, a jet had slammed into the World Trade Center. With time to quickly research, I remember one of the reporters on CBS say this had happened before, that a plane had accidentally slammed into the Empire State Building many years ago. It was frustrating that we weren't getting new news for what seemed an eternity.
I got off the Lodge at Howard Street, just yards from WDIV when Warner Wolfe said live on the air he just watched a second plane slam into the World Trade Center. I knew at that moment this was no accident, it was terrorism and I had better get into the station right away as we were going to go into daylong breaker mode, meaning the breaking story would be our day.
I stepped on the gas and screamed up the parking ramp at the station, grabbed my briefcase and ran to the elevator where I met my executive producer Jennifer Wallace who was also in a full sprint. We exchanged what we knew, terrorism, and ran together into the elevator, tapped our feet waiting for it to descend three floors, ran off the elevator and into the highly animated newsroom.
We joined in on the shouting, the assistant news director trying to decide where to send crews. I said we need to get to Dearborn immediately because this was terrorism. He was not so certain and wanted to be very careful about using the word.
We started looking at what was happening and what we needed to do. I said, "Look if they're hitting tall buildings with economic significance we need to be near the Renaissance Center" and it was agreed. I grabbed my photographer and we drove to Hart Plaza, set up a live signal and got ready for the call to be live on the air. I jumped on the telephone to every auto company in my rolodex. We needed to immediately find out what they were doing to prepare for the possibility of an attack and what they were doing to keep their employees informed and safe.
It was chaos for at least an hour trying to figure out what was happening on the ground in Detroit.
Yet, it was worse in New York and Washington, and then Pennsylvania. For the long hours we spent waiting, watching the network coverage, trying to cope with every horrifying twist and turn of that awful day, I looked up about every five minutes.
I wondered constantly whether every plane that passed overhead carried terrorists. There were many jets, as the entire nation?s air network was ordered grounded and we watched hundreds of planes flying in directions that were not familiar to us coming into Detroit Metro airport just miles up the road. Fortunately for everyone involved that was not the case.
The memories of the lives lost that day still seem surreal. Ten years later we all feel sadness for the families that lost lives that day and more than that, like we have run a horrible gauntlet that led to still more sadness and pain for millions.
9-11 was a fulcrum moment for this nation and a day that will stay with me always.
Ask anyone and most people remember their high school days vividly. But of all the high school memories I made, one day stands out from the rest.
It wasn't when our football team won that championship game or when I got that A on my history exam -- but it was when I was simply sitting in my Algebra 2 class and my principal made an announcement over the loud speaker I would never forget.
My principle directed all teachers to stop their lesson and turn on the television. I remember the vivid image of both towers smoking when my teacher turned on the TV. My entire class watched in silence as the news reports were trying to determine what took place. We left the coverage on as my teacher began to take questions from students. Before the bell rang, my principle came back on over the loud speaker saying our day will go on as usual but if anyone needed it, special counseling would be available throughout the day.
To be honest, I didn't truly realize the impact or truly understand what had happened until I got home. I knew the images I saw on television were horrifying, but I didn't know anyone in New York and only watched the coverage for minutes before school continued as normal. It wasn't until I walked into my house and saw my mother sobbing on the couch as she watched the coverage of the 9/11 attacks. I joined my mom on the couch watched the coverage for hours, that's when I knew all of our lives had changed.
I remember driving into work that morning and noticing what a beautiful, clear, sunny day it was. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. I had the music turned up as I drove along 696 heading to Southfield where worked at another TV station in town.
Within minutes of walking into the newsroom I watched as the planes flew into the towers. I was still holding my bags and my car keys in my hand.
Our morning news team was still on the air. Minutes later I rushed out to Dearborn to start getting community reaction. That's where I spend many long days and nights in the coming weeks. At one point there was a curfew put in place there. My brother was working as an intern for the State Department at the time. My mom and entire extended family was in Egypt. I remember how hard it was getting through to anyone on the phone. Lines were jammed. What a relief it was to find out they were safe.
Later that morning we got word my friend Tara from high school lost her husband in the attacks. They had only been married nearly 4 weeks. I still think about her often and pray for her as well as his family.
We had pagers back then. I worked nights at the ABC-TV station in Cincinnati, Ohio.
My pager started going off while at the same time my phone started to ring.
On the phone, my mom in Dayton. "A plane hit the World Trade Center."
I'd been to the World Trade Center and at the time ComAir in Cincinnati was making news for buying new regional jets.
All I could think that a massive mechanical failure on a small jet like that could cause an accident, or perhaps a small, private plane had hit the tower.
I thought that a Cessna would look like a fly splattered against one of the towers.
When I turned on the TV, I couldn't wrap my mind around what I was looking at.
I jumped in the shower, and on my shower radio another plane hit. The United States was under attack.
I went straight to the station in time to see our anchor on the air relaying news about the airport closing near Cincinnati and on a split screen, the first tower came down.
She didn't say a word about it.
It was surreal. ABC News showed a clip of people celebrating in the streets of some middle eastern country. Then they stopped showing scenes like that.
I spent hours at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport doing live reports about passengers being stranded.
Hundreds of business travelers and families were stuck. The more reports we did, the more the caring people of the northern Kentucky area drove to the airport offering food, rides to hotels, many even opened their homes to the stranded travelers.
It was intense. Never was I near a television to see how things in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania were unfolding.
I couldn't see any of the footage coming out of those areas as I worked into the night.
Eventually I was standing alone in a giant airport waiting to do one of the final reports there for the night. I went home at 1:30am. Turned on the news, and for the first time I saw the home video footage of a plane being flown into a tower.
I couldn't help it, but I started to cry.
My recollections of that day are still so incredibly vivid.
I was standing in my kitchen talking to my mother, getting ready for work. The Today show was on in the background. I heard Matt Lauer say that a plane had struck a tower at the World Trade Center. I turned to my television set as they were replaying the video and I froze. All of a sudden on live television, I saw the second plane hit.
I started crying. It only lasted about a minute and I told my mother I had to go. I had to go to work
called the studio and said I was on my way in. I was told I wasn't needed, yet. Everything was okay. And I said, "Yes I am. We just don't know it, yet."
I raced to get dressed and was on my way out the door when the studio called back and asked how fast I could get in. I told them I was already on my way.
As journalists, we didn't know what was happening, yet. We just knew it was something bad. We knew we had to collect sound from people and gather impressions and get on the air.
It seemed so far away, but it was just outside our emotional door.
I remember going to shopping centers and stores and they had closed. Restaurants had closed. There were no planes in the air because the FAA had shut down all air travel. But while on live TV from an empty store parking lot, I remember looking up and seeing a plane and being afraid. I mentioned it in my live shot, that normally I wouldn't have paid attention to a plane high in the sky, but on that day it looked huge, and ominous.
I think the thing people don't realize is that as journalists, we were immersed in the horror of what had happened and what was happening next. We saw the raw video that we couldn't allow the public to see. We were going through hours and hours and hours of tape of people looking for loved ones, talking about being inside the buildings and trying to get out alive, but leaving others behind. I remember hearing the story of the little boy, Bernard Brown who was taking his first solo trip on a plane--a school field trip. It was flight 77, the same plane that struck the Pentagon, where his father happened to work. How does something like that happen? How do you forget?
As journalists, we were processing all of this tragedy and horror and didn't have time to grieve ourselves because we had to get the news on the air. As journalists we were deprived of the freedom to be shocked, saddened and stopped. We didn't have that ability because we had to perform. We had to get on the air. And then the few times we went home, instead of resting we watched the video re-playing on various non-stop coverage news shows over and over of those planes hitting those towers. And the billowing smoke. And the flames dripping to the ground like a waterfall.
I was completely traumatized, but I wasn't able to show it. I just had to work.
I often think, I only had a minute to grieve that day--literally a minute. That was it.
Which is why I think that day is stuck beneath my skin, trapped below the pores where it can't get out.
Because while the nation was bleeding, and crying and suffering, I had to work and so all of that sorrow got stuck beneath my skin, where it still sits today.
9/11/2001 I was scheduled to work nights. It was a primary election day in Detroit and I was planning on making my way into work at 2:30pm.
I woke up in the morning and went for a run and when I returned noticed several missed calls. I called the station first because the assignment desk had left several messages on my cell.
When I got through to my boss she told me to turn on the Today show and get downtown asap.
I flipped on the TV moments before the second plane struck.
I grabbed the phone and called a close friend in New York to make sure he was safe..thankfully, he was ok.
I spent the day at Detroit metro watching passengers walk around in shock. No one could make sense of what was happening in NY and everyone was concerned what was going to happen next. Would we be safe here in Detroit? What about friends and family members in Washington, Chicago, LA? It was such an uncertain time.
After a long day on the job I came home after midnight and stayed glued to the coverage watching it most of the night.
As many times as I saw the images from NY and Washington I still couldn't believe what had happened.
I had a vacation day on Sept. 11th, 2001.
I was getting some work done in my home office, when my wife called from work telling me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
I knew that the weather was crystal clear on the East Coast, so my first inclination was severe mechanical failure to an aircraft either shortly after take-off or on final approach into LaGuardia.
I turned on the Today Show, and a chill went down my spine the instant the second plane hit the other tower: I knew right then and there that the United States was under attack.
My next thought was one that I guess only an amateur historian would have at that moment: so this is how my parents felt when the first reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were heard on December 7th, 1941, except that they huddled around a radio trying to picture what was being described, while we saw the event unfold live on our televisions (and immediately after on the internet).
Like most people, that morning was spent trying to get as much information as possible about what was happening. At some point, it was erroneously reported that our school district was sending kids home early, so I rode my bike up to my kids' elementary school, only to be told that it was a mistake. A few of us parents chatted outside, and let other parents walking up know that school wasn't being let out early. Some of them took their kids out anyway, and I remember all of us standing out there agreeing that this was the wrong thing to do. I now understand why some parents did this, but at that moment I didn't understand why parents would want to disrupt their kids' daily school routine, and perhaps scare them even more as a result.
One postscript: the Sunday after the 9/11 attack, the late Tim Russert interviewed Vice President Cheney on Meet The Press in a secret, secure location. That interview was exactly what this nation needed?candid answers to questions in more than just the quick "sound-bite" format we see in typical news stories. I had the good fortune to meet Tim Russert a few years later, and I told him that his program that morning was one of the most important moments in U.S. television history, and I feel even more strongly about this today.
9/11 literally hit home for me because one of the strike points was essentially my hometown of Washington, DC. After resting from my late night shift, I was awakened by a frantic phone call urging me to turn on the television. That was when I first witnessed the horror of the Twin Towers on fire and a fifth of the Pentagon's outer ring in smoke.
Without listening to anyone, I knew exactly what it was and my heart immediately went out to the lost souls on the plane and in the buildings along with their families and loved ones. It is unimaginable what it must be like to begin a sunny September morning and end it with no mother, no father, no son, no daughter, no brother or no sister.
Then I thought of my own family and friends. My mother worked across from the National Naval Medical Center at the National Institutes of Health. Although her office was neither directly involved with the American Military nor economy, worry continued to fill my mind because all bets were off. Concerns overflowed when it became impossible to get through by phone because all lines were jammed. All I could do and did do was leave messages, hope and pray.
In addition to my relatives, I had several friends and colleagues from childhood to adulthood, former classmates and workmates. A friend of mine was on a business trip to New York City, staying in a hotel across from the World Trade Center where she was due for a meeting but had been running late. Fellow journalists from all of networks and local news stations were covering the disaster and covered by it. The images of them plastered in what looked like ash but was really pulverized concrete, office materials and fellow human beings remain seared in my memory.
I thought of how lucky I was to not have many people close to me perish and to avoid the catastrophe by a day because I was on a flight from Washington, DC to the Midwest just the day before, Monday, Sept. 10th.
Finally, the journalist and historian in me grabbed all of the blank VHS tapes I could and continuously recorded as many newscasts as possible so I would not forget. Turns out that I cannot bring myself watch those videotapes again, but I don't need to in order to remember what happened or how I felt on that day.