Sept. 11, 2001, was a day that began for most of us, like any other — but the events that transpired that day forever changed America.
On that morning, 19 terrorists from al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes and deliberately crashed two of them into the North Tower and the South Tower of the World Trade Center. They smashed a third plane into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth plane overtook the hijackers and forced that plane to slam into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The attacks claimed the lives of 2,977, as well as the 19 hijackers.
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of that fateful day, we asked our readers to tell us where they were when they heard the news and how that day has affected them.
We share their compelling stories here in The Laker/Lutz News’ special 20th anniversary tribute, “Sept. 11, 2001: Remember & Reflect.”
–B.C. Manion, Editor of The Laker/Lutz News
First, helping others; then, overcome by dust and debris
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was caught beneath Ground Zero on my way to work, on a subway train in a smoke- and debris-filled tunnel.
This rush hour train was full of passengers. We had no idea what was occurring above us. After about a half-hour of being stuck in the tunnel between stations, the train began filling with smoke.
The passengers began ripping pieces of cloth from their clothing to protect their noses, in an attempt to filter out the smoke.
Some passengers began crying.
The train motorman hurriedly passed through my train car.
I asked the motorman what was happening, he replied, “I don’t know.”
The motorman then headed toward the last car and left the train.
The passengers, not knowing what was occurring, started to panic.
The passengers began to rush toward the last car.
One passenger fell to the floor, gasping for air with an asthma pump in his hand.
At this point, a retired detective and I took control of the situation.
We had the passengers line up in an orderly fashion and head toward the last car of the train, where the conductor had opened the last door of the last car.
We also picked up the asthmatic man and led him out of the train to an emergency exit of the train tunnel.
After the last passenger left the train, I walked through the smoke-filled train to make sure all of the passengers had been evacuated.
I then left the train, walked the live tracks and climbed up an emergency exit ladder to the street.
Once at street level, I saw the aftermath of the first collapsed tower. I saw several police officers assisting pedestrians. I advised the police officers that I was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve and asked if I could help.
The officers asked me to direct people in the street toward the Brooklyn Bridge, as lower Manhattan was being evacuated.
A short time later, as I was directing pedestrians toward the bridge, the second tower began collapsing.
I ran, but not fast enough.
The dust and debris blinded and covered me, and I could no longer breathe.
Fortunately, I was pulled from the debris and into a nearby building and resuscitated by an EMS worker.
After coming to, I went out of the building for medical assistance.
Several loud explosions were then heard and we all evacuated that building and ran toward the Brooklyn Bridge.
After walking across the bridge, I walked for several hours toward my home, as public transportation was unavailable.
I later caught a taxi home.
I had respiratory problems for several weeks from the dust that I inhaled.
Edward Rademaker originally wrote this for an U.S. Army newsletter in April 2002. (It has been slightly edited). He is a former U.S. Army JAG Corps Captain.
-Edward Rademaker, Wesley Chapel
On morning duty at Denham Oaks
As I was standing on morning duty outside the front office of Denham Oaks Elementary School, happy children passed by, waving and saying “Good Morning, Ms. C, see you in art class.”
The children were laughing and smiling on their way into school, with not a care in the world.
Glancing over, I noticed a gathering group of staff in the office staring at the overhead TV.
Moving closer, I began looking at the screen and saw in disbelief and shock the North Tower being engulfed with flames and smoke.
How is this happening and why?
I was witnessing people hanging desperately from the tower, and even jumping.
It was unbelievable and horrifying.
The thoughts of the potential loss of human life began to break my heart.
The near impossible challenges of rescuing those lives had me thinking about those who are brave and dedicated enough to be there to help.
My thoughts turned to the students who were too young to grasp the enormity of what was happening.
Tears filled my eyes as I thought of the families that would be broken apart.
As the day unfolded, a deep sadness settled in my soul.
I found myself praying for everyone who was affected and for rescuers to have strength.
I knew then, it would be a day and event we would always remember together — united as a nation, and we do.
-Cindy Smith, Land O’ Lakes
An air traffic controller heads into work
I was driving to work for the early shift at Phoenix TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) when my wife, also on her way to work, called me and said that a local radio station had reported that an airplane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
As a pilot and air traffic controller, I told her that the pilot had probably encountered bad weather and crashed into the tower.
I arrived at work and my manager informed me that an air carrier had crashed into one of the towers.
This was unbelievable.
I thought it had to be a hijack or suicide, as it was a clear, cloudless day in New York City.
As you can imagine, our facility was buzzing.
I told my boss that I would stay in the breakroom and monitor the television to see what I could learn. A few minutes later I watched the second plane slam into the South Tower.
I ran into the TRACON and yelled that the South Tower had just been hit.
One of our controllers, a former New York TRACON controller, let loose with a swear word, followed by, “It’s a terrorist attack.”
Everyone was so upset that the manager yelled “calm down and pay attention to your traffic,” as we were in the early stages of a big arrival push from the East Coast.
As that horrible day progressed, the FAA shut down the U.S. airspace and we were tasked with informing the pilots that they had to land at the closest airport that would accommodate their aircraft.
Within just a few hours, all aircraft were on the ground without incident.
Phoenix airspace, which was always very busy, had no air traffic except law enforcement.
Not long after, I was working with an FBI agent by my side running intercepts with F16s on small aircraft that were observed in our airspace and apparently were unaware that U.S. airspace was shut down.
U.S. and Canadian airspace under heavy restrictions reopened on Sept. 13, but it was weeks before there was anything approaching normal air traffic.
Everything changed for us.
Our facility was now under heavy security— no visitors, no leaving for lunch.
We were later surprised to learn that one of the hijackers may have toured our facility from a local flight school where several of the hijackers trained.
-Steve Hadley, Land O’ Lakes
Flight attendant at home, awaiting shift that day
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at home in Centreville, Virginia.
I was a flight attendant scheduled to fly a three-day trip out of Washington Dulles Airport at 4 p.m.
I first heard about the terrorist attacks when I turned on The Today Show, on TV.
The broadcaster was reporting that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.
He gave no other information at that time.
I was in disbelief as to how an airplane could be in that airspace and crash into the tower.
As more information came in, I found myself glued to the TV. I witnessed the second airplane crashing into the World Trade Center on TV.
I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I was horrified!
I took a break from the TV news to walk my dogs.
We lived under one of the landing paths to Washington Dulles Airport.
I remember hearing airplanes overhead.
The airplanes were approaching and flying overhead two by two.
There were two parallel landing runways at the airport.
I had never seen so many airplanes landing all at once at Dulles Airport before.
I just couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
I returned home to learn a third airplane had crashed into the Pentagon.
A fourth airplane was heading back to Washington. This was the airplane that eventually crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I just couldn’t believe that four airplanes could be hijacked all at once!
I never thought skyscrapers would be a target and eventually collapse to the ground.
The horror of all the innocent people, firemen, policemen who passed that day. Unbelievable!
I didn’t fly my trip that day. All airplanes had been grounded indefinitely.
I still couldn’t comprehend it all.
Later, I found out that I knew some of the flight crew members on two of the airplanes.
I attended a funeral for two of them in Culpepper, Virginia.
There we all were, airline employees, proudly wearing our uniforms in support, standing with family and friends.
Such a sad, sad day!
When the airlines were allowed to fly passengers again, I was assigned a two-day trip out of Washington National Airport.
I was a bit apprehensive to fly so soon.
I completed that trip and many thereafter, before retiring from a 40-year career with American Airlines.
I will never forget that day and all the lives lost to terrorists.
I still can’t believe how vulnerable we Americans were that day.
-Tammy Hansen, Land O’ Lakes
New homeowners in Oak Grove
On Sept. 8, 2001, which was a Saturday, my husband, Peter, and I moved into our new house in the Oak Grove community in Lutz.
We were very excited to be moving from an apartment in Tampa to our new home.
On Sept. 11, just three days later, Peter went to work in South Tampa, not far from MacDill Airforce Base.
He called me to tell me to turn on the TV, to see the news.
I asked, “What channel?”
He said: “It doesn’t matter.”
I turned the TV on just after the second plane hit.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There was no doubt, at all, as to what was happening.
We soon heard of the plane hitting the Pentagon, along with scary stories of other possible attacks and of our military bases being targets.
Our families and friends began calling. Parents, aunts, cousins — the calls were local and from different states, as we all checked on each other.
We kept saying that we could not believe what we were seeing.
I anxiously waited for Peter to come home, but it would be a while before his company closed for the employees to go home.
I was on the phone with my brother when the first tower collapsed.
I did, too. I just sank to the floor, my heart breaking for those still in or around the building and their families.
It was incomprehensible.
It still is.
I didn’t know anyone in New York or D.C., or that was near any of the attack or crash sites, but I believe we all were impacted by what happened that day.
For me, I knew that going forward, I would be sure to tell my family and friends, with words, how much I loved them, in case…well, you know.
Now, 20 years later, I continue to pray and ask God for comfort and peace for those who lost loved ones on 9/11/01, for the first responders and for their families, and for those who continue to suffer with health or emotional issues from that day.
I ask God to carry them through the hills and valleys, just as He has carried me.
-Kelley Caporice, Lutz
Watching the TODAY show, drinking coffee
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was having coffee, while watching the TODAY show at home in Lutz.
Breaking news interrupted the programming, with video of a plane crashing into the first of the Twin Towers.
I still recall the bright, beautiful blue cloudless sky in New York City and the horror of an assumed airline mishap hitting the building, but at the same time knowing that weather could not have been a factor.
Shortly thereafter, when a second plane tore into the second tower, I realized immediately that it was not a mistake or accident, but an actual attack — but from whom and why?
As details emerged, it became increasingly horrifying to realize the numbers of office workers, firefighters, police and bystanders who could not escape as both towers collapsed.
This catastrophic attack left an indelible imprint on my psyche, as an American and as a recently transplanted (upstate) New Yorker.
We all immediately became New Yorkers, and Pennsylvanians and D.C. citizens after the full impact of this terrorist attack was realized at all those locations.
Like with the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK, I will always remember where I was, that moment and the profound shock, sadness and anger that ensued.
Much like our parents’ generation experiencing the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and forever changing our lives and our history, we will never forget!
The following year on 9/11/02, as a member of the GFWC Lutz-Land O’Lakes Woman’s Club, we waved flags in commemoration of the first anniversary of the event.
Each subsequent year — up to and including this year’s 20th anniversary — our women have stood tall, waving flags along U.S. 41, in Lutz.
The event is typically accompanied by cars, trucks and 18-wheelers honking their horns, and bicyclists waving, as they pass by.
This flag-filled club event always brings tears to my eyes.
Let us never forget.
-Patricia Serio, Lutz
NOTE: Please see Part Two of reader responses in the story below.