9/11 attacks, 20 years later: Local 4 team shares where they were that day

9/11.
9/11. (WDIV)

With the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks this weekend, we wanted to share some of our own stories with you.

Everyone remembers where they were when they first heard what was happening that day. As an Insider, we wanted to hear what that day was like for you. Many in our newsroom were working in news when the attacks happened, while others were in middle school. Here are some of the stories from the Local 4 team.

(You can find full coverage of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 here)


9/11 -- Where were you? Local 4 team shares stories


Devin Scillian

I was at home with my wife Corey watching The Today Show. While I was still trying to piece together what we were seeing, it was Corey who first said, “We’re under attack.” Indeed, we were.

The station called, but I was already in the shower, readying to head to work for what I knew would be a very long, very painful ordeal. My experiences in Oklahoma City six years earlier had prepared me for that ---which was both good and bad.


Kimberly Gill

I was in college at The University of South Carolina. I lived off campus and first heard about what was happening on the radio during my drive to school. When I walked into the building for my class, everyone was in the common area watching the news coverage. No one went to class. Most of us sat there… watching, for hours.


Jason Colthorp

I was still a fledgling sports reporter in Lansing on 9/11. I didn’t usually work that early, but the Pistons Caravan was coming to a local middle school so I was there to cover it as well as get some interviews with Rick Carlisle, George Blaha and the Pistons prized rookie Rodney White. When I left the newsroom a TV was showing a tower on fire but it was assumed a small plane had accidentally hit it at that point.

It wasn’t until the team had just wrapped up its presentation to the kids that my phone rang and our assignment editor screamed that this was a terrorist attack and to get back immediately. I suggested going into some classrooms to see how teachers and students were dealing with it. I walked into the school’s office just as a TV showed the first tower falling. Teachers were crying. I simply couldn’t understand yet what had happened. We had almost no local coverage that day, but my interviews with students and teachers turned out to be the only local content we ran in the limited time we had.

Days later, our local sports coverage of prep and college teams resuming action was just as significant in many ways as the rest of our reporting. 9/11 was easily the day I grew the most as a journalist.


Jason Carr

I had just started teaching a brand new broadcasting class at Davison High School, east of Flint. I was coaching my kids on how to shoot on location with the equipment when suddenly the classroom TV on mute was showing a special report. We turned the volume up. At that moment Peter Jennings was saying a private plane, possibly a Cessna, had hit the World Trade Center. I instructed my students to stop shooting video of whatever we had been doing and start shooting the TV and their fellow students’ reactions.

Little did any of us know the awful history that was about to unfold. And by the time I left the school to go to my TV job, I was already experiencing a sort of dread that the world I had known was forever changed.


Bernie Smilovitz

I was at home asleep when the phone rang. A friend asked thank goodness you’re home. My wife and I said why? And they said turn on the TV. We turned it on and stood watching the TV for three straight hours. In someways the entire day is a blur.

In other ways it is as clear as it happened yesterday. The first thing we did was make sure the kids were OK at school. And then like many others we tried to make sense of it all. We’re still trying to do that.


Paula Tutman

I was watching the Today show in PJs. It took me a moment to realize we were under attack. I immediately ran to the phone to call the station. I think everyone was in shock. I said I was, “Heading in” and the voice on the other end of the phone said, “No, we don’t need you just yet”. I said, “Yes you do. You just don’t realize it yet.”

By the time I was dressed and running out the door my phone rang. It was the assignment desk telling me where to meet my crew for the day to start local coverage of the attack. They asked how long it would take to get in gear. I told them I was already heading out the door.

I was traumatized. I was in shock, just like the rest of the Nation. But I also knew I had a job to do, and so I put my fear, my grief and my shock on an emotional shelf for the next two months, or so, to survive my job.


Priya Mann

I was in tenth grade math class, in a suburb near Toronto. A student walked by, poked his head in, and said ‘America is under attack.’ We were bewildered but continued with algebra. When the period ended and we filled into the hallways, I passed the library. I noticed a large crowd of students huddled around a TV. As I started walking toward them, the principal came on the the PA, and announced classes were cancelled for the day. That’s when I first saw footage of the planes hitting the towers.

I remember walking out of high school feeling anxious and scared. I didn’t have a cell phone, and it felt like eternity to get home. My family had just moved a few days prior, and we didn’t yet have our cable hooked up. We spent the evening listening to the radio. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I read the newspapers, that I saw those haunting photos.


Karen Drew

I remember that September morning, I was driving to work – my phone rang and it was one of my police sources calling me to tell me a plane just crashed into the Twin Towers. He had the TV on and was giving me play-by-play.

We both couldn’t believe what was going on. I remember being a bit in shock and disbelief. I called the station asking the assignment desk if they knew anything else. It was chaos – they told me to go home and pack a bag, they wanted to send me to New York. I headed back to Berkley, where I lived at the time, and by the time I got home, the 2nd plane had crashed. My roommate, Jennifer Donelan (former reporter at WDIV) started screaming, and we were glued to the TV set. Now, the talk turned to a terrorist attack, and we both wondered could Detroit be next? I started packing my bags to head to New York but by the time I was ready to leave the air space was shut down.

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. I can still feel those emotions, that fear, that worry …. a day I’ll never forget for as long as I live.


Hank Winchester

9/11 was an election day in Detroit. I was scheduled to work for the 11pm news at WDIV. However, I remember my answering machine going off that morning. My News Director left a message saying “Hank, turn on the Today Show now, and come in ASAP.”

I turned on the TV and really couldn’t process what I was seeing. I got to the station immediately and that day was unlike any other. It still seems unbelievable after all these years.


Jamie Edmonds

I had just moved in and was a freshman in college at University of Delaware. My roommate woke me up to tell me what happened to the first tower and we watched in horror on our small TV in our dorm room as the second tower was hit live on TV. Then the Pentagon was hit and finally Flight 93 near Pittsburgh. It was terrifying. We wondered what would happen next. I called my parents to make sure they were OK. They were on a Disney World vacation with my brother. They told me Disney wasn’t sure if it was a target and evacuated the park.

Classes were canceled at UD. We all sort of gathered together in small groups not knowing what to do. That night, there was a candle light vigil for the victims on our main quad. I think every student and faculty member was there. We had a lot of students from New York at our school and we heard stories of kids finding out their dads or moms worked at the World Trade Center and were missing. It was such a terrible time.


Kim DeGiulio

I was in the 6th grade at Bryant Middle School in Dearborn. I remember it was a half day so I was so excited to go out to lunch with all of my friends after school (like we always did on half days). When school was let out, our teachers told us to go directly home because something terrible had happened in New York City. I walked home with some friends and we talked about the rumors we had heard through the hallways. We had gathered that there was a plane crash but that’s really all we knew.

When I got home I turned on the TV to the news. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and really hard for my 10 year old mind to comprehend. I remember shortly after watching the coverage my mom came home from work with tears in her eyes. She came to me and gave me one of the biggest hugs I can ever remember. I remember being scared at that moment to see my mom scared and sad but I also remember feeling so lucky to be safe and in my moms arms. I always think about the children that lost their parents that day.


Dr. Frank McGeorge

I was in the hospital on September 11th. Initially, we were prepared to help with any medical transfers from New York that might be necessary. When we saw the towers fall, we didn’t think there wouldn’t be any transfers. Sadly, we were right.


Brandon Roux

I was a brand new weatherman at KTNV, the ABC affiliate in Las Vegas, Nevada. So, I was in the Pacific Time Zone, three hours behind Detroit time. My shift on September 11th, 2001 was to do the weather forecast for the 11am newscast and then some of the station’s afternoon newscasts. I got in my car at 8am without turning on the TV or radio before I left my apartment. On my car ride to work, ESPN was not doing its normal sports loaded show and it took me a while to figure out what they were talking about.

Two commercial jets crashed into the World Trade Center buildings? That can’t be an accident. I tried to catch up to the awful news of that morning in NYC, but I had no idea. When I walked into the newsroom at KTNV, I saw a wall of TV monitors taking in video feeds from New York and I won’t go into detail about what I saw, but it was unedited coverage of the worst of the worst imaginable. The decisions people faced alive in those buildings before they came down.

Shaken and disturbed, I went into the studio where our weather department worked and our main evening anchors were already on set at 9am. This is bad, very bad. I didn’t know what to do, so I just started putting the local forecast together. My news director walked in and said, ‘What are you doing? We’re not doing weather today. Go grab a photog and find a story. There are tragic tales everywhere.”

So, that’s what I did. I know tourists and locals alike were very nervous that Las Vegas could be next. There are always thousands and thousands of people from all over the world at this gambling, entertainment, and food mecca… what a perfect target, we thought. Like everyone else, I was riddled with sadness and despair on September 11th, 2001, a day I will never forget.


Paul Gross

I was actually off that day. I was just sitting down at my computer in my den when my wife called to tell me to turn on the Today Show, because a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. l quickly looked at a satellite image, and the weather was clear in the east, so I knew it wasn’t a weather issue...”had to be a catastrophic mechanical failure,” I thought. The very moment word that a second plane had hit the second tower was broadcast, I knew that we were under attack. Nobody had to tell me...it was an instantaneous realization that our country was being attacked. The only question I had at that point was: how many planes had been hijacked...how many cities are going to be attacked?

Like everybody else, I was glued to my TV, watching this entire horrific nightmare unfold. At some point late that morning, there was a report that Farmington schools were closing for the day, so I rode my bike up to the elementary school my kids attended (we rode bikes to school that morning). At the school, they told us that the report was wrong, and that the kids were continuing their day. So I was outside talking to somebody, and noticed parent after parent coming to pick up their kids. We told them not to bother, that the report was wrong, and they took their kids home anyway. At that time, I didn’t understand. The kids were safe at school. An elementary school in the middle of a neighborhood was not a target. And besides, most of the kids were too young to understand the big picture of what was happening, anyway. I really didn’t understand why the parents were taking their kids home. Now I understand: they were so emotionally distraught over what happened that they wanted their kids with them. But I didn’t get it that day.

So I went home to watch more coverage, and I was consumed with thoughts about my co-workers in the newsroom. They had to put their own shock and emotions aside and report this story. They had to find perspective, look for local angles, and tell the story of this historic and horrific day. Our newscasts that day were without question the most incredible newscasts I’ve ever seen in my nearly thirty-nine years at Local 4. To this day, I beam with pride over what our newsroom accomplished that day.

Over the next day, I started learning about my own personal connections to the attack: somebody who was ticketed one of the doomed flights, but he and his wife decided to get a bit more sleep and take the next flight; a close friend’s brother (who I also knew...we all grew up together) who got his shoes shined at the base of the World Trade Center on his way to work...twenty minutes before the first plane hit; my cousin, Julie, who had just flown into Manhattan that morning for a business meeting...the attack occurred as she got into her cab into the city...she was stranded there for several days...calling me was her conduit for information about what was happening (remember that we didn’t have access to information on our phones in those days).

Somebody later said that 9/11 was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. That is such an emphatically true statement. The shock and awe I felt that day certainly is exactly how our parents and grandparents felt on December 7th, 1941.


Victor Williams

I was in the 3rd grade during 9/11 and I’ll never forget what happened that day. All my classmates got checked out early and I was the last student left in an empty room.

At that point I could tell something was wrong but had no idea of what was going on. Our teachers purposely kept us in the dark on the attack.

Once my father made it to the school, he came to the classroom, picked out a book and told me to read it to him at the table. After I finished, he said that was the last book I’ll ever read as a child and that I needed to become a man because a war was coming.

My father, a veteran, a marine, was deeply saddened and angered by events that occurred tragic day. Years later - I would fully understand why


Brett Collar

I was in the 6th grade at Mason Middle School in Waterford... returning to class after lunch. Can’t tell you what subject it was... didn’t really matter. The remainder of that day was spent watching the TV to watch history unfold. After school a friends mother offered to drive me home (which she normally didn’t). The drive home was as silent as it could have been.

The remainder of the day at home was spent watching the news... still and quiet.


Shawn Ley

I worked for the 11p news for the ABC affiliate in Cincinnati. The morning of 9/11, my pager started going off non-stop.

We had pagers then, no cell phones. Then, my land-line phone was ringing.

“Hello?” It was my mom up in Dayton, Ohio.

“Are you watching this? A plane flew into the World Trade Center!”

Growing up in Dayton, that statement “A plane flew into the World Trade Center!” just didn’t compute in my brain. The Wright Brothers hand made the airplane in the back of their bicycle shop in Dayton. That was 1902-1903.

Every hand-crafted piece they produced, a form of that same technology is used on every aircraft flying today. Airplanes are not supposed to “fly into the World Trade Center.”

I flipped on the T-V expecting to see a small plane, one pilot smushed up like a bug against the steel and glass fortress that was the north tower of the WTC.

Instead the tower was burning.

The pager again, it was the newsroom. “Get here, now!” Just then, a second jet was flown right into the south tower.

THAT computed instantly. The United States was under an attack from terrorists.

Inside our downtown newsroom, we all knew what to do. Stay calm, inform our viewers what was happening to keep them safe there in Cincinnati. We mapped out our coverage on a dry erase board and the reporters and photographers hit the road. I liked to cover aviation, so I went to the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport, a large Delta hub.

Don’t you remember how perfect the weather was that day? Not a hint of humidity, not a cloud in the sky. The sky over the airport was a gorgeous blue. That stood out, because the runways were empty. No planes were taking off, all flights had been grounded.

How many other hijackers were sitting on planes that had been grounded?

Inside, we spoke with people who were there trying to catch a flight before the attack began. We expected that so many travelers would be stuck there at the airport. However, for the most part, the airport was empty and it was eerie how quiet this massive airport was on one of our country’s darkest days.

We did our reports from there well into the night.

Again, no cell phones and no television from our spot in the airport, so I could not see all of the network coverage of what was going on in New York City, at the Pentagon and from Shanksville, Pennsylvania the sites of other hijacked planes crashed intentionally by terrorists.

By the time I got home, I sat on the floor, turned on the t-v and for the first time I saw that ground view of Boeing 767 being flown right into the south tower.

It took my breath away knowing the terror the passengers felt, the horrible deaths of the people inside the tower, the panic of people trying to evacuate before the towers collapsed and the first responders who ran towards the terror and never came back.

Two years ago, I took my son and daughter to the National September 11th Memorial.

We were quiet, we paid our respects and we said a prayer for all of our families who were impacted that day, for those who were impacted well after the attacks. I prayed for my children, hoping they never have to experience anything like 9/11.

Airplanes are not supposed to fly into buildings. Let us never forget that day.

Shawn Ley Instagram. (WDIV)

(You can find full coverage of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 here)


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.