Becoming news reporters was the farthest thing on the minds of many current members of The Aegis staff on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Most of them were still in school and hadn't even thought about where their career paths might lead.
For the veteran news staff members who watched the horrific events unfold in our newsroom, 10 years hasn't dimmed the vividness of their memories of that tragic day about where they were when they first heard the news that our county had been attacked.
I was 14 on Sept. 11, 2001, and a sophomore in high school. Because I was home schooled through high school, I wasn't in a classroom or sitting at a desk when planes hit the twin towers. I was at home working through a typical morning. The day was like any other until first one plane, then a second brought unexpected change. I remember the nonstop television coverage and the smoking towers. Most of the day strikes me as fragmented with only a few moments standing out among the rest. I remember my dad coming home from work early, giving me a hug, and sitting with my mom as events unfolded. I remember taking to my favorite defense mechanism: a book. When the coverage overwhelmed me I left the house, sat in the front yard under a tree and devoured Jane Eyre. I remember late that afternoon standing on the front porch of a friend's house with a group of other kids ranging in age from 11 to 16 and talking about what had happened. I don't remember what was said. I remember several days of blue sky unadorned by airplanes or their trails. Mostly, I remember the feeling, a feeling of shock and distance. Looking back at it, I think I was trying to put the tragedy at arms length to restore my world view, my sense of equilibrium, that had been pushed off its center.
9/11 is what prompted me to be a journalist, because I realized that morning, when everyone was glued to TVs, how important the media can be in people's lives. I was in a dorm at the University of Maryland in College Park at the time. I remember sitting around a TV with my friends, who were saying things like "Maybe this is the end of the world." One girl was crying hysterically because her dad worked at the Pentagon and she couldn't reach him. I decided to go to class, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. When I got there, no one was doing any work, just sitting around watching more TVs. The professor had nothing to say about what was going on. Later that day, I went to a Mexican restaurant because it was my friend's birthday, and I still wanted to celebrate it. I was surprised to see a number of other people at the restaurant were also celebrating birthdays. It made me feel like life still went on. When I got back, there were fliers on the doors for a memorial vigil that night. It was only a couple hours' notice, but several hundred students from North Campus came out for it. We stood in a giant circle on the field, holding candles. Some people came up to a microphone and talked about how they felt. I don't remember anyone saying anything vengeful or violent; everyone was just extremely sad, and hopeful things would somehow get better. That was how I felt, too, and there was a real sense of unity with all Americans, at least for one moment, before it disintegrated into war and hatred. I was extremely proud that day of the College Park community. It was one of my best memories from college.
I was driving from my house in Havre de Grace to the former Aegis newspaper building on Hays Street in Bel Air, listening to WAMD AM 970. On Route 22, near Harford Community, the first words of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers came across the radio and I quickly searched the radio for a national report. I also hurried toward The Aegis newsroom, where I knew I could see something on the TV. I walked into the newsroom to find Jim Kennedy, who at the moment was unaware of the event. We turned on the TV and then watched in horror as the second plane hit the other tower. We then knew, because of what we saw and also heard of the other tragedies unfolding at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, these were no accidents. I tried to get my work done as quickly as possible, so that I could go home to with my family. As a volunteer firefighter (16 years at that point), I could only imagine what those New York City firefighters were thinking and feeling as they made their way to the scene. Watching the footage that was captured that day is bothersome. I'm sure it will be replayed this week if not already. Sadly, we lose men and women every day at war because of that horrific day. In my lifetime, it's certainly the worst tragedy I have watched unfold. Those events changed the way we do business in this country on a daily basis.
First someone came in and whispered something into my math teacher's ear, who then asked if anyone had parents or family who worked at the Pentagon or were at the building that day. No one spoke up. A little strange for an 11th grade classroom, but I didn't think anything of it. A few minutes later the same person came in. Another whisper. My teacher asked if by any chance anyone had family at the World Trade Center in New York. Everyone was silent. She explained that an airplane had hit the Twin Towers and Pentagon, but no one knew anything else. It was hard to concentrate for the rest of the period. My next class was history (how appropriate) where TVs were set up near the chalkboard with the news playing. We all started to sit down as we saw the second tower come crumbling down. Everyone gasped. We didn't know what to make of the images on the screen, but knew we were watching history be made. Why is this happening? Was it an accident? Is this seriously going on? What's happening to those people on TV? Oh my God, those poor people. I watched New Yorkers get covered in ash and roam the street in shock. They were just as clueless as we were, and all of us watching in horror couldn't do a thing except stare and hope. Hope that there was some miracle and everyone in those buildings made it out safely. Hope that there weren't more airplanes looking for their next target. School dismissed early that day and I watched more news unravel with my mom as the day progressed and more things came to light. Like everyone else that day, we just continued to hope for the best.
It's weird how sometimes I can't remember what I said last week, but I can remember the minute details of how I experienced 9/11. I was in seventh grade at North Harford Middle School. My science class came back from a walk outside to one of our classmates, who was on crutches and couldn't participate in the activity, telling us how she heard from office staff that a plane crashed into a building in New York. Classes changed and I headed to my social studies class. I remember all of us sitting at our desks, watching TV, watching history in the making during our history class. I don't think I really grasped it right then. I was 11 years old and I didn't pay much attention to the news or world events. I didn't realize the magnitude, really, until my mother pulled my sister and me out of class to go home. When we got home, it was the same thing, sitting and watching TV. We were kept home from school the next day, and I think seeing my parents' fear opened my eyes to the tragedy of that day and the far-reaching consequences. I'm sure my life has changed in ways barely noticeable compared to those who lost loved ones. Even then, there was a new fear, of the world and the people who live in it. I realized that we were not invincible, that there were those who wanted to hurt us. But there was also a sense of unity that I'll never forget and I remember feeling proud of those who stepped up to save lives then, as I still do today.
I come into work later than many people, so on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was just starting my day around 8:30 a.m. I had the radio on, listening to news-talk radio, when I heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center. Wow, I thought. That's crazy. A few minutes later, I heard another plane hit the other tower. That's really crazy, I thought, and it certainly can't be coincidence, so I ran down to the basement and turned on the television. I watched replays of the planes hitting the towers and the chaos that played out in New York City. I watched as the plane hit the Pentagon and the reports came in of a plane crashing in western Pennsylvania. In shock, I realized that somehow, these attacks would have ramifications, whatever they may be, in Harford County as well, and I needed to get into work, here at The Aegis. Once here (or at our old building), everything shifted into high gear. We worked on local angles of the attacks – security, Aberdeen Proving Ground, schools and general reactions around the county. Periodically throughout the day, I caught glimpses on our newsroom TV of the coverage, but it wasn't until about 10 that night, after The Aegis, with the headline "Attacked!" in giant print, that I got to stop and think. I went back into "the cave," one of the back rooms in our old building, and was overwhelmed with emotion. Sadness, fear, shock – they ran the gamut. I broke down and cried at the day's events. Ten years later, I still can't believe what happened to our country. I won't say it's something I think about every day, but it's never far from my thoughts. Nor should it be – 9/11 was a terrible day in our country's history and thousands of people died needlessly.
I remember everything quite clearly: It was the second week of my final year at the University of Maryland, and that morning I had rushed out of the house without showering or eating in order to make it to my 9:30 a.m. class, English 451: Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The professor of that course, whom I'd studied under in two other classes the previous year, was fond of saying, "your generation suffers from not having a, 'I remember exactly where I was when ...,' occurrence, like the Kennedy assassination." I'd heard variants of that statement many times leading up to that point in my life, and, in the youthful haze of narcissism, I believed that I'd actually been short-changed by not having lived through some terrible national tragedy. While shuffling back to my living quarters following the class's dismissal at 10:30 a.m., I ran into a friend of mine, Heather, who looked like she'd been crying. I asked, "what's wrong, hon?" to which she replied, "some maniacs flew a plane into the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon too! I don't know what the hell is going on. This is crazy. Somebody said there was a chemical bomb on the plane that crashed in D.C." I removed my sandals and sprinted a half mile in my bare feet, down the grassy hill in front of the chapel, across Route 1, and made it to the common area of my residence dry-mouthed and almost choking for air. By that time, the grainy video of the airliner slamming into the North Tower was being shown on CNN, and my housemates were standing around the television, hands over mouths, struggling to process what they were seeing. It was clear that it had not been an accident, that we were under attack, and that just two hours into this terrible event, the world was irrevocably changed. I realized watching the television that this was one of the "I remember exactly where I was when ... ," occurrences of which my professor, insulated from the Kennedy assassination by 38 years, spoke so eloquently. Now, raw nerved, sad beyond words, angry and terrified, listening to the fighter jets making low-level defensive loops around Washington D.C., I wanted to take it all back. I didn't want to live through a national tragedy. I didn't want thousands of people to die so my generation would have some shared memory; this was too terrible to be real, but there it was, on the television. I hope we never see another day like it.