Terri Kenny, Port Matilda Elementary School principal
I was a principal at a school in New England. I was in an administrative meeting when we were alerted that "bombs" were activated in New York City. I remember hearing the word "terrorists" and was in the dark about what they may have had to do with this. Next, we were actually relieved that it appeared to be a plane crash and a horrible accident. This was televised and a short time later, our hearts sank when the Pentagon was hit. As horrible of an accident as this was, this was a planned attack by someone evil. Staff was riveted to TV sets in the teacher's room and library. Parents started to come into the school requesting that their children be released. They feared Boston could be next and wanted their kids with them.
I remember looking at the sky from the playground as the kids played and thinking that this could be the end coming. I went inside as children sensed something was wrong when many of their classmates were being dismissed. Kids started to cry and wanted their parents. Teachers wanted us to help calm them. I visited every classroom that afternoon and explained a bad person crashed planes and people were hurt in New York. They were little and looked at me with those wide-open stares. I tried to be gentle and tactful. They asked me questions – those were the hardest ones to answer. “Why is this person so mad?” “Will they come here?” “My dog is outside! I want to go home and let him in.” It was horrible.
The news reports of actual footage made it seem like the apocalypse. I stayed until every child was gone as did my faithful staff. I wanted to drive home to Pennsylvania to be with my parents, as well. I remember the interstates in the Northeast were starting to clog up as people panicked and abandoned the area. People were trapped in the city – a memory that was most horrid was the reporter speaking in an area in front of the World Trade Center and the thuds heard while people jumped to their deaths out of windows. I won't forget this sound and how I didn't believe that was what it was. I prayed. I was sure this was the end of our country. I felt alone and helpless.
Ginger Leupold, high school main office secretary
I was at home, not working that day, vacuuming the living room, when my husband called me on the telephone. He asked, "do you have the TV on?" I replied, "no, I don't." He said, "turn it on, we're under some kind of attack." I said, "what are you talking about?" When the TV came into focus, the first thing I saw was the Pentagon on fire. My stomach immediately did a flip, and my heart sank. I sat down on the sofa and started to cry, and I told my husband the Pentagon was on fire, and I asked him, "what in the world is going on?" At that point, the second plane hit the towers, and the horrifying events of the day began slowly unfolding.
I had just taken down our American flag for the impending fall and winter season, so I immediately put our flag back up. I will never forget realizing that we may be more vulnerable to attacks than I ever knew before 9/11. Another stone-cold realization was that my son, Brett, had just signed into the National Guard and I wondered at this point, what would be required of him? Another hard slap of reality – it takes our sons and daughters who are willing to give their lives to keep this nation and its secrets safe. Possibly even my son. I am thankful to live in this wonderful country, the ‘land of opportunity,’ and I am proud to support our troops who give more than we know to protect our freedoms and our liberty.
Kristen McCarty, high school social studies teacher
I had just graduated from college, but did not have my teaching certificate yet, and I was working part-time at a video store. That morning I turned on the TV, which I never watched, but was I bored. We had only one channel, but soon after I turned it on, the station switched to breaking news saying that a plane had just crashed into one of the twin towers in New York City. They thought it was an accident and were not sure what was happening until, on live television, they recorded the second plane hitting. I remember being stunned and confused as I watched the plane crash into the towers. We knew it was not an accident after that. For the rest of the morning, I watched the TV in disbelief. It was heartbreaking to hear that one plane crashed in Pennsylvania, and another hit the Pentagon. It was even worse when both the towers collapsed, and you realized that so many people did not make it out of the building.
My husband, then boyfriend, was working with students at the nearby middle school and stopped by for lunch. We talked about what was happening and that the teachers at the school knew, but most of the students did not. They were wondering if they should have an early dismissal and how to break the news to the students. A few parents had come to take their children home.
That evening I had to go to work at the video store, and on the screen where we usually showed a movie, we had the news running. People came in to talk about what happened and share their thought – very few rented movies. It was a more of a community gathering. Everyone was stunned; some people were mad; others were scared. In the days that followed, the mood was somber, but flags and other patriotic symbols started to show up everywhere. People were a little kinder to each other; we were mourning as a country.
Sharon Nilson, computer network administrator
I was working here in the computer lab when we heard the news. Mr. Houck and I went to the server room where we had a TV set up and watched the events unfold. We watched the second plane hit the tower. (Husband) Tim and I spoke to our kids about the events of the day. I participate in the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride as a Muddy Angel and we ride from Boston to Washington, D.C. in memory of EMS providers who have died in the line of duty or from illness in the line of duty. Three years ago for the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride I rode for Clyde Sealy. He was a paramedic for NYFD and worked the 9/11 scene and died as a result of cancer caused from the 9/11 incident. We also lost one of our Muddy Angels, Brian Cobb, who was also a paramedic for NYPD and worked the 9/11 incident. He died from the same cancer as Sealy. This is a day that, as an EMS provider myself, stays in my memory and every time our ambulance service responds on a call, we all pray for our safety on scene and the ability to return home and be with our families.
Kathy Parsons, special education secretary
I was in my office at Wingate Elementary and was one of the first ones to hear about what was happening – scared to death for my daughter who was a freshman at Mercyhurst College in Erie. At the same time, I was rushing to the main office to get the word to the principal so they could notify teachers and decide how to handle it with the students and to make sure no TVs were turned on until that decision was made.