Where our readers were on 9/11

Where our readers were on 9/11

2,977 American flags at Romare Bearden Park, in the shape of the Twin Towers. Each has the name and picture of a person lost that day. The event is put on annually by Steven Coakley Foundation to commemorate the victims of 9/11. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios

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At 10am that day, as the second tower fell in New York, bankers poured out of the 60-story Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte.

  • It was, after all, the tallest building between Atlanta and Philadelphia.

WBTV had a studio Uptown then, and people gathered around to watch the scenes from New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. Teachers wondered what to tell kids. And in this city that gave birth to Billy Graham, pastors ran to the church on a Tuesday to pray with people.

People all across America feared that the next attack would happen in their town. Some were more right to be afraid than others.

  • In Greensboro, officials worried that the 320-acre Colonial Pipeline tank farm that sits right alongside Interstate 40 would be a target.
  • In Raleigh, police increased their presence at the state capitol.
  • In Fayetteville, barbed wire and barricades went up around Fort Bragg, schools locked down, and families prepared for war.
  • And in Charlotte, the fear of course was that one of the country’s most important financial centers would be next.

A few weeks ago, we asked for your stories of 9/11, in 100 words or less.

We figured we’d get an interesting mix, given Charlotte’s growth from a city of about 575,000 people in 2001 to 875,000 today.

  • Some of our readers were living in New York then. Many were here. Some a year old, and some were a day or few older than that.

Here is how a few of your neighbors experienced 9/11.

  • Thank you to everybody who contributed.

Submissions were edited for clarity and space. A few are still over 100 words. 

I had just gotten to work at WBTV that Tuesday.

I was the only employee there at the time. Completely stunned, in total disbelief, I’m thinking OMG, WTF just happened? Then, the second plane hit.

WBTV opened up its Center City Studio at Founders Hall. Bank workers came and mind-numbingly stared at TV monitors, watching the HORROR unfold. Media coverage was wall-to-wall. Everything started shutting down. It was absolutely surreal. — Susan Hancock

I was taking a step class at the Harris Y.

Someone came in who had just been to the bathroom and said a plane hit the WTC. We all thought it must be a small plane. Later, as we started putting our benches away, a woman I had never before seen in that class said, “My brother works on one of the top floors.” I told her to go home — I’d put away her bench. … Then I went home and turned on the TV. And I never again saw the woman whose brother worked at the WTC. — Nance Smithwick

I was working onboard a 767 as a flight attendant on 9/11.

We landed in PDX (Portland, Oregon) at the same time the towers were crumbling. It felt like a curtain was drawn across a stage at the end of a final performance. Everything changed in the industry. And for me, personally. I knew several of the crew members who lost their lives that day. In an instant my job shifted from fun to fear. The feeling of uncertainty and loss was palpable. And it was the catalyst for my reinvention! Loss is not the end but an invitation to change.

— Lynda Bouchard

I was in 4th grade.

School closed early and my mom picked us up (not sure if this was because we were so close to DC or if schools closed across the country). I sat and watched the news for almost two days not fully understanding the magnitude. I developed restless leg syndrome and began sleep walking and talking. I consider September 11th to be the inciting incident for my anxiety disorder; I was never the same afterwards. We used to go to NYC every Christmas and that year’s trip was somber. We walked by so many firehouses with signs out honoring their fallen men.

— Joselyn Perlmutter

I was in 3rd grade in New York.

My aunt was picking me up from school once she heard of the attack. No one in school knew yet and I got called down to the principal’s office to be picked up. I had been delaying getting glasses all school year and as I walked out the classroom, my teacher said “hopefully you get those glasses today.”

— Paul Torres

It was my 46th birthday and my colleagues at our urology office were giving me a waffle breakfast.

We saw the news on the waiting room TV and our work came to a screeching halt. No one was able to perform their job that morning. We were in shock, in tears. Most of our patients did not even show up. Ever since, when I tell someone my birthday is 9/11, they seem to feel sorry for me. I always say, “It was my birthday first.”

— Leslie Klein

I was sitting in my 11th grade U.S. History class at Butler High School.

All of a sudden our teacher turned on the TV and we saw the towers fall. One kid said, “Oh my God. This is history happening before our eyes.” Parents started picking their kids early. My mom worked at Federal Reserve Bank downtown and they released employees because Charlotte is the second largest banking area and people thought we were next.

— Erin Nicole Coles (formerly Barksdale; newly married)

As I was locking my front door, I thought, “Here goes another ho-hum deadline day at the magazine.”

An hour later, I heard our business manager screaming, “Oh my God!” … Telephone calls and emails poured in from friends who were being evacuated from buildings throughout Uptown. Nobody knew if other skyscrapers or landmarks in major cities would be targeted. My office on Mint Street was a block from Bank of America Stadium. … Then news broke about a plane crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And another at the Pentagon. … I pulled out the rosary beads from my purse and placed them on my desk next to my Nokia cellphone.

— Courtney Gaillard. (Courtney was an editor at Charlotte Parent at the time.) 

I was in 11th grade at South Point High School in Belmont.

I was in my English class and the teacher wheeled in a television so we could watch the coverage. At the end of the day I walked out to my car to find a note from my mom telling me that my cousin Kym, who lived in Manhattan, was OK. I wasn’t aware of the gravity of the situation, but knowing that my mom took time to come to my high school and leave that note told me it was a big deal.

— Rachel K.

I was at work but thinking about my son, who turned 1-year-old that day.

Thinking about his upcoming party. And in a matter of hours, it became the least important thing on my mind. A few weeks later, I found myself in a recruiting station trying to figure out how to go back into the Army. I’d been out less than three years. I didn’t though, because of that 1-year old, and his sisters.

He will be 21 [this year], and attempting to celebrate while the world acknowledges the 20th anniversary of this solemn event. — Kelly Fluharty

Kelley Fluharty and her son Chris

Kelley Fluharty and her son Chris. Photo: Courtesy of Kelley Fluharty

9/11/01 was such an emotionally dismantled day …

… especially being a hormonal high school junior one week into the school year (which for me happened to take place up in New York, and ironically in US History class😳). Such a God-awful memory.

— Jill Pasiak

I worked a block away from the Empire State Building, my wife at Rockefeller Center.

My co-workers and I feared the iconic tower down the block would be hit next and what would that mean for our building. Fortunately, that never happened. I eventually met up with my wife later that afternoon. I remember the streets of Manhattan being crowded as usual but eerily silent. If you looked downtown you could see the plume of smoke rising above the office buildings. No one was speaking. No horns blaring. As quiet as NYC ever gets.

— Denis Szabaga

I was testing kindergartners and first graders 1:1 in Chicago’s inner-city public schools on their phonics to see if a dance and music program was helping them improve.

I learned the towers fell on my way into the building, and remember meeting with these adorable children while thinking about what grisly events were happening. They sent us home not long after. Chicago was a quieter city that blue sky day. Seeing people outside and in the park felt very surreal to me when I knew what devastation was happening elsewhere.

— Becky Winkler

I was sitting in my high school math class — I can still see it clearly.

Then, the principal came on to announce a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Everything stopped. A teacher rolled a TV into the classroom, where we spent hours watching the coverage, silently, every now and then looking at our friends and classmates in horror and shock. Somehow, even in the midst of it all, I think we all knew that our world had been changed forever.

— Matthew Harris

I was in my third-grade classroom on the Upper West Side, a little less than 5 miles north of the World Trade Center.

A classmate had gone down to the nurse’s office, came back, and said he heard that planes crashed into the Twin Towers. I thought it was so strange that our little island was attacked and I hadn’t felt anything. Students started getting picked up, with the rest of us getting shuttled into the gym. While I couldn’t understand why people intentionally crashed and killed people, I remember appreciating how united the city felt afterwards in rebuilding.

— Julia Landauer

It was my first day of preschool.

We lived outside of DC. I remember being dropped off for my first day and then immediately getting picked up. My mom was horrified and drove to the local elementary school to pick up my brother and all of the neighborhood kids. There were giant tanks on the front lawn of the school and men in military uniforms with large automatic weapons blocking the doors. My dad worked at the State Department. We thought he was dead because all of the cell towers were down in DC. I just remember my mom sobbing until he walked through the door that night.

— Jordan Donahue

I was in English class, 9th grade. We had a teacher who was new that year; she was young, and was from New York City.

She couldn’t get through to her family and friends. Yet, she was, in those terrifying moments, somehow able to handle 20 emotional and scared kids with open arms, comfort and grace. I’ve thought about her strength many times on the anniversary of this day. Something small but a huge impact. I wish I could remember her name.

— Sarah Howerton

I was on a peaceful walk in the woods with my two dogs in Davidson.

When I returned to the house, I answered a call from a friend and learned of the attack, then attacks … disbelief and sadness set in. Fast forward: my husband was activated and deployed to Iraq. My heart still aches for the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.

  • Of note: I followed up with Adrienne to thank her for her husband’s service, and for her service as a military spouse. She wrote back:

Thank you, Michael. He feels honored to have served — 31 years in the Marine Corps. It was an odd experience living in Davidson in 2001 with no one understanding/relating to someone activated for a war. Very different than living in or on a military installation.

— Adrienne Bacchus

I was in the American Airlines Admirals Club at RDU, getting ready to fly to California.

Shortly before boarding, someone said a plane had hit a building in New York. I got to the TV just in time to see Flight 175 hit the WTC. We all thought it was some horrible accident, but they boarded our plane, anyway.

While sitting on the plane, the captain came on and said another plane had hit the Pentagon and that all flights were cancelled. The rest of the day was spent following the aftermath, alternately gasping and weeping.

— Stuart Watson

I was in the Student Union at Appalachian State, watching it live.

I grabbed the nearest person’s hand, a boy I did not know, for support. We held each other the whole morning, gasping in shock as the second tower burned and then fell. I’ll never forget seeing a woman with red hair and a man in a blue tie, jumping out of a window, escaping a fiery death. They were hand in hand, her hair like the flames against that blue sky. I think about them often, hoping wherever they are, they’re together and at peace.

— Kara Mottershead

Living in California, I was headed to work, every radio station was broadcasting the exact same feed.

I thought it was War of the Worlds come to life. At the office, everyone crowded around a TV. Since we were three hours behind NYC, we watched the towers fall in real time. It was surreal. I went numb. There were no words. What was happening? Life was now divided between ‘before 9/11’ and ‘after 9/11’. We all knew in our bones our country would never be the same.

— Laura B.

I was at the University of Illinois at a college recruiting event with my company.

I remember watching the towers fall on a big tv screen at the student union and being a New Yorker thought, ‘Oh my god. These students have no idea of the devastation that just happened.” Shortly thereafter all of the banks at the career fair packed up and left in shock and distressed about their colleagues back in New York

The impact for me was knowing we would never be safe from international terrorism happening in the U.S. again.

— Teresa Prentiss

I was in sixth grade homeroom. I heard that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers and thought, “Wow, that’s such a sad accident.”

I had no clue what terrorism was. That was the day my innocence was taken away, and I realized what a dangerous place this world can be.

— Lindsay Strickert

I was 9 years old in a New Jersey classroom 40 minutes away from NYC.

We were all told to get under our desks and the lights were turned off. My teacher held in his tears as he reassured us we’d all be okay. You could hear the cries of teachers all through the halls as they knew what happened but couldn’t tell us. When we went home, the sky was full of smoke and remained so for days to come.

— Lauren Strickland

I was in NYC on the 24th floor of a building on Lexington and 48th with a clear view of the Towers.

I was supposed to begin writing training for TIAA at 9:00 a.m. When I arrived at 8:45, I saw several employees gathered around the window. They could see smoke coming from the Towers, and we decided it must just be a fire in the building. No one turned on the television nor looked at their phones. At 9:00, I started the training, and one by one as people arrived, their stories of what was happening got worse. … I ended the workshop by saying we were all bound together for life because we would never forget where we were that morning.

— Deborah Bosley

I lived in upstate New York and I was in class to become a nurse when on my break I called my sister to check in; she helped me with watching my daughter during school.

When she answered she said, “The towers are down.” She explained to me that while we sat in class completely unaware the trade center towers had been hit. Watching people on tv jump to their deaths in a building I had just attended a class in a couple of years before will never leave my memory.

— Kelly Hoyle

I was in the 7th grade.

We were getting ready to go to the library and another teacher ran into our room and turned the TV on. I remember watching the news and being afraid to go outside and wondering what exactly was happening. That is all I remember from that day. I cannot even remember if they dismissed schools early or not.

— Michelle J.

Driving to my fifth-grade classroom, I heard on the radio that a plane had hit the twin towers in NYC. I hoped they were talking about radio towers.

I decided not to turn the TV on for my 5th graders to watch the traumatic events. Instead we discussed what causes fights and what brings peace. In the end we learned how to make peace cranes and hung 1,000 of them in the library as a sign of hope and peace. I still have the origami bouquet one of my students made at home after she learned the craft. Peace.

— Sue Frederick

I was at my desk at work which was underneath a big glass dome.

After I heard the news of all the attacks I was so afraid Charlotte would be next since we are the hub of financial institutions. I watched the sky for the remainder of the day. There was an eerie silence for a campus of 3k who were mostly NY transplants. This doesn’t happen in the US. I’ll never forget this day!

— Tammy H.

I was getting ready for work in my apartment in St. Louis and watching the Today Show (central time).

I watched the second plane hit the South Tower on live TV. It was confusing, scary, and surreal. I drove to work at Washington University and spent the day glued to the TV and wandering through campus, trying to console distraught and frightened students. I tried to reach friends in New York City and could not. Much of the day is a blur. One I will never forget.

— Glenda Bernhardt

My best friend, my father, is also my hero. He was an NYPD officer who always told me and my sister where he was going to be that day. That day he was going to be in Manhattan.

I was in middle school. The principal came over the loudspeaker to tell us that there was a plane crash in New York and we should be keeping those involved in our prayers. That was it. My teacher then told us what actually was happening.

After that last bell rang I sprinted outside to my mom. The last she heard from him was that morning, when he called to say he was responding to a plane that hit one of the towers. Many precincts did not know where a lot of their officers were.

That night, seconds felt like days. My Uncle Jim came over as we watched the news.

Then the phone rang around 10 o’clock. Thankfully it was him. He continued to stay for weeks after to help dig and clean up and hopefully find more people to save.

— Andrew Weber

Andy Weber and his dad

Andrew Weber and his dad in a more recent photo, when Andy moved away to Charlotte. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Weber

I was driving my 15-year-old son to high school around 7:45 MST.

We were listening to NPR when the announcement came from Bob Edwards that a plane had struck one of the twin towers. Everything changed after that.

— Nancy Lasater

I was in the learning center at Polk Community College studying for a biology test.

The center always had the news on mute on a TV mounted to the wall. Someone noticed what was on and turned on the sound. We all tried to figure out what we were seeing. It felt unreal. The college evacuated after my test for safety reasons. I was scared. No one understood what was happening, and what would happen next or where.

— Shelley Stockton

I was traveling for work, and had to check out of my Chapel Hill hotel early.

The lobby was full of people — people on chairs, couches and sitting on the floor. When I asked for early check-out, I received a round of applause from these travelers who had been dropped off by vans from the airport, after their flights to everywhere were forced to land at RDU, clearing US airspace. A hotel maid helped me pack, so she could ready the room for people who, hours ago, had no idea they would be staying in Chapel Hill that night.

— Ann Staples

In long-term care, it was solemn and eerie, but we had a bigger task to focus on: keeping our patients informed, safe and secure.

We had practice drills for bomb threats/fire/evacuation. “Code words & code numbers” to use. Daily conference calls to “check-in” with all of our nursing homes in NC. Increased food/water/pharmacy supplies. Triple-checked our generators. Held daily group prayer time with our patients and staff. Reflectively, it was time when nothing else mattered except standing shoulder to shoulder with the person beside you united in red, white and blue.

— Shirl R.

My partner turns 45 on September 11th. I always joke with him that he’s the best thing to ever happen on September 11th. Poor guy. Atleast he had about 20 “normal” birthdays.

I’m 12 years younger than he is (and I like to make it very known) so on 9/11 I was only 13 and was in home economics class in middle school. … For weeks after that, I became obsessed with the news and the start of the war. My mom was actually worried about me. I tend to like to be in control and there was nothing I could do about anything happening in the world around me, so I tried to at least know everything about what was going on. This was my first exposure to politics and I’ve been quite political ever since. You HAVE to be. It matters so much!

As for my partner, he was in college by then. And I never forget his birthdate.

— Hailee Yurjevich

I was a 27-year-old lawyer who worked on the 28th floor in the second tower of the World Trade Center … but I had an orthodontist appointment that day in my neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights and was going to be late getting into work.

As I was walking to my appointment, I heard a loud crash and construction workers on top of a nearby building yelling, “Oh my God.” I noticed lots of people walking toward the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which overlooks lower Manhattan, so I joined them and saw the gaping holes and smoke coming from the towers and learned that they had both been hit by planes.

I eventually returned to my apartment and watched the towers fall on TV. My landlord came up later and asked me to close all my windows so the smoke would not get in. The phone lines were jammed and it was hours before I was able to get through to my family in Missouri and let them know I was OK. I learned later that day that everyone in my firm that was there had escaped in time, although many of them saw and experienced horrors.

Our backup servers were located in the WTC, so we lost every document we had ever created. In the aftermath, I came to love New York even more than before, as people came together in a profound way to help one another, even competitors, recover and heal. However, I also became more fearful (of flying, riding the subway, being in crowded spaces), and that has remained with me to this day.

Sorry, I know this is more than 100 words, but I don’t know how to tell it any differently.

— Carmalita Monroe

I was in kindergarten in northern New Jersey.

I have clear memories of the rush of mothers to the school to pick up their kids in a frenzy; many had no contact with their partners who were working in NYC that morning. Remember families huddling together scrambling for information. Lost a few members of our community that day. At such a young age it was impossible to understand but you could tell it was important and people were hurting.

It has constantly made me wonder how young children are dealing with the pandemic.

— Wills Roman

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