KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Twenty years have passed since Sept. 11, when hijackers used commercial planes as missiles and crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and toppled the trade center’s 110-story twin towers. It brought profound change in America and the world. The death and devastation stirred grief, rage and war.
Two decades later, many of us have personal memories and cultural memories and political memories; sometimes the line between them blurs.
And of course, nearly one-fifth of the country is too young to remember firsthand the day that changed everything. That hardly means they haven’t been paying attention, though; they “remember” too, even if they weren’t around.
Staff at FOX4 certainly remember. Some of our anchors, reporters, producers and more felt it was important to share those memories, connections and reflections so that we all never forget that tragic day.
I turned on the TV to keep me occupied while I got in a quick workout at home and realized soon it was a workout that would have to wait. Like many, I was confused at the plumes of smoke I saw when the old TV flickered to life, but even in the fog of what we were witnessing, I recognized it was a major story and I could not watch from home.
I jumped into a suit, my car, and eventually, into the anchor chair with then main anchor Phil Witt when I arrived at FOX4. We would cut-in to network coverage where possible to update our viewers on the local efforts to tighten security and brace for the unknown. And there was so much unknown. It was a long, horrible day for all of us. Indeed, for America. Only later, at home, did it begin to sink in. Life had changed. Forever.
— John Holt, anchor
I was a young reporter in central Nebraska. I was driving home from my future wife’s apartment to get ready for work when the radio announcer said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a small plane. When I got home, I turned on the television right in time to see the second plane go into the second tower. I sat in shock, wondering what the heck was going on.
At work that day, we all sat in the newsroom staring at the TV, unsure if we would even have a local newscast that day, wondering what stories we should cover. I remember reading all the breaking news over the news wires as it came into our newsroom, so unsure what was going to happen next.
— Matt Stewart, reporter/anchor
It was a beautiful morning, with a hint of Autumn in the air. I was about to leave my house to head to work when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Bryant Gumbel was the anchor and I could hear the shock in his voice.
I was news director at the CBS affiliate in Springfield, Missouri (it’s now a sister station to FOX4). As soon as I got to the newsroom, everyone was crowded around televisions, watching in horror. By then the second plane had struck, and we all knew then that this was a deliberate attack. Then the Pentagon was attacked, and then the doomed plane went down in Pennsylvania. It was staggering to process everything. The video of frightened people running for their lives in the debris cloud in Manhattan is something I’ll never forget.
While we stayed with network coverage throughout the day, our crews quickly began gathering local reaction. One of the most vivid memories I have is of National Guard troops standing on the roof of the Armory building, guns ready. At that point, no one knew whether there would be additional attacks in the Midwest. I was so proud of my team’s focus to keep our community informed in a factual and calm manner.
On a personal note, our daughter was in sixth grade and my husband picked her up and took her home at noon. I called her and told her to stay inside. She was watching the news and asked me if we were in danger. I was honest and told her I wasn’t sure. During my 40-year career, 9/11 was the most emotional event I’ve witnessed.
— Polly Van Doren-Orr, executive producer
I was getting ready for high school and listening to the radio when I heard about the attack. I was in my bathroom, and looked in the mirror as I heard the news and saw the astonishment on my own face. In my lifetime I had never experienced an attack like this. It was something I always imagined happened in movies, but not in real life. Not in America.
I went to school and the news was already on. I lived on the west coast so it was much later in NYC. That day, I remember one of my friends crying because she was terrified her brother would be sent overseas to fight in the war. I didn’t know what to say. As a teenager I’d never imagined I would have to console a friend about such a terrifying situation.
Living on the other side of the country I remember the fear we all had that it could happen again. Going to the movies was weird, going to concerts, malls, airports. As a sixteen year old I would imagine what could happen if we were bombed at any second. It was a scary time.
My friend Andy lost his brother, Casey Sheehan, in the Iraq war. He was killed during a raid in Iraq. While I didn’t know Casey, I will never forget the loss his brother still feels to this day. After he died, Casey was honored with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with “V” for valor.
As a reporter now, I’ve talked to many people about 9/11 and what the country is going through now. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from all of the messages is we need to come together as a nation again. We need to find a way to look past our differences, political views, religious beliefs, and whatever situation you find yourself in. We are all much more alike than you think.
— Sherae Honeycutt, reporter
At the time, I was a 5th grader living in a small town 20 miles outside of D.C. I was in my first few weeks of school, and was waking up every morning with my clothes already picked out from the night before, and rushing to eat breakfast so that I could get to class and show off my status as a new “senior” of elementary school.
The morning of Sept. 11 was no different. I remember sitting in the classroom, and my teacher turned the television on. Not understanding what was going on, us kids were still pretty chatty and hyper. Not too soon after, as young as we were, did we realize something serious was going on. Till this day I don’t really understand why teachers had groups of kids watching such a traumatic event unfold live. But as an adult, I appreciate the importance.
It didn’t really hit me, or the other kids how close to home this terror attack was until we learned about the Pentagon. As a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many of our parents and loved ones worked there, and commuted to the city everyday. I remember panicking once I heard the word “Pentagon.” My uncle worked at the Pentagon, and I was afraid something had happened to him. (I later learned at home that he left his post at the Pentagon weeks before.)
Not too long after, parents were showing up to pick up their kids. I don’t quite remember if we were on lockdown on not. Then, next thing you know, kids were being put on buses to go home. Phone grids in the area were shut down, everything just felt so “dark” even with the clear skies. My mom finally made it home from work and I remember we watched the news for the rest of the night. I remember thinking to myself, “did any of my friends know someone who was killed?” “are the attacks done?” Nothing a 5th grader should be thinking.
I can also remember seeing the large hole in the Pentagon days after the attack. It felt so surreal. Years later, I actually ended up working at the Pentagon and walked down the reconstructed hallways of where the plane hit frequently. I remember being quite afraid to walk into the building at first.
Survivors of 9/11 were coworkers of mine, and just hearing the experiences felt so unreal. One good thing I do remember from back then, is how united our community was after that. It was like we were working hard to rise above the tragedy. That’s something I hope we can see more of today.
— Deneysha Richard, anchor/reporter
On 9/11/01 I was the executive producer for FOX4’s late evening newscasts, so I normally went to work around 1:30 p.m. That morning, I was hanging out in bed watching our morning news, and feeding our baby boy who was about to turn one. My eldest sister called to make sure I was up, and to ask if I watching television. Initially we all thought the first tower hit was some sort of horrible mistake, but when the second plane hit, realization set in that this was a terrorist attack.
I quickly called our daycare to ask if I could drop our son off early. I knew I had to get to work right away. Leaving our son off was a hollow, horrible feeling. While I wasn’t personally fearful about my safety, I knew I could not truly begin to comprehend the pain and difficulty the day would bring for so many. Or the ways the world we’d brought him into would change.
On the drive in, I recall none of the radio stations were playing music, but simulcasting television broadcasts from the national news networks. Most of the rest of that day, and many of the days that followed were a complete blur. I know we worked hard. I know we took turns taking breaks and crying hard too. I know we supported one another.
It seems impossible now that the baby we had back then, will turn 21 in two short weeks. His generation has come of age during a war that started so long ago. Now 9/11 also has an added meaning for me. My dad died on September 11, 2019. He was only a few months shy of his 91st birthday. So while I miss his ornery, wonderful self dearly and every single day, I am also immensely grateful for the happy, wonderful decades we had together.
I reflect with gratitude and remember that so many families of those who died on 9/11 and those who have died from related illnesses since, were heartlessly robbed of the joys my dad had. He was blessed to watch his daughters grow, to know his grandchildren, and to love our mom for their 64 years of marriage.
I am still saddened to think of all the life, love, and opportunities those victims and the heroes who died, missed. I am among those Americans who will never forget 9/11.
— Jana Calkins, assistant news director
September 11, 2001, I was living in Chicago, Illinois working at a national television network. I had the news on in the background as I got ready for work that morning and heard the anchor say a plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers. That caught my attention and I went from listening to the news to watching the news and saw the second plane hit the second tower. I immediately knew it was a terrorist attack.
Panic quickly grew as I frantically began calling several of my relatives who worked at the World Trade Center. None of them answered and it felt like my heart stopped when I watched the towers collapse. I raced to work in downtown Chicago while on the phone with other worried relatives. I watched the events unfold on the television in my office until we got word of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane crash in Shanksville, PA.
Rumors that a plane targeting the Sears Tower was heading to downtown Chicago sparked an evacuation of downtown. As I left my building and hustled to my car, the streets were packed with people also trying to get out of harms way. I had never seen so many people in downtown Chicago at one time and I vividly remember how quiet it was. It was a heavy, eerie silence.
I continued to watch the events of September 11 unfold on television at home. Slowly word began rolling in about my family members who all thankfully escaped and survived.
I will never forget the first time I talked to my cousin who told me about how she got out of the Twin Towers and began running towards the river. Hearing her recount the moment a boat pulled up and loaded up several people who were trying to get away still brings me to tears. The boat began speeding away with my cousin on board, shivering from chill and fear, when someone handed her, of all things, an American Flag to drape around her for warmth and protection.
I will never forget that day. God Bless those who lost their lives, their families and the first responders who did not think twice about running towards the danger.
— Shannon O’Brien, reporter
I was very young on September 11th, 2001, but I do remember watching the news coverage throughout the day at home after getting out of school early. What a scary and confusing time!
I never really understood the full effect of that day until the 10-year anniversary, as specials and documentaries on 9/11 became more available. My thoughts are with those who were affected directly 20 years ago, and all of those who continue to feel the effects today.
— Alex Countee, meteorologist
I remember I was in the 6th Grade at Eisenhower Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas. I was in my second hour science class when the teacher came running in and turning on the TV. She said that two planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York City. The picture on the TV wasn’t that great and I remember it was hard to tell what was going on. I was confused how two planes could accidently hit a building on a clear blue sky day.
My next class in hour three was social studies that was taught by a man named Jim Peters. By this time one of the towers had collapsed and the Pentagon had been hit in Washington D.C. Mr. Peters was able to explain everything clearly. America was under attack. This was going to be our generation’s Pearl Harbor and that thousands of lives will be lost. He pointed at the tower still standing and said it would only be a matter of time before that one collapsed.
Mr. Peters explained about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and how these terrorists don’t care if they kill themselves in order to kill Americans. In fact, they believe if they do that they will get a higher seat in their version of heaven.
I remember the talk about a fourth plane and all after school activities were canceled that day. We didn’t get out early, which was frustrating because it was so hard to go about the school day like everything was normal. You could just feel things were not normal. On the bus ride home there were rumors that other places like the White House had been struck. A lot of us hadn’t really heard what happened with the fourth plane that was hijacked.
I remember running home from the bus stop and talking to my mom about it. I spent the whole night watching the news. Seeing those images over and over again. Truly seeing what evil looked like. But the days and weeks ahead I remember unity. Photos of first responders, volunteers going to Ground Zero to help search for survivors.
I remember seeing American flags being flown more. At the end of September 2001 was the first NASCAR Cup Series weekend at the Kansas Speedway and I remember Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA” playing. You could just tell what it meant at that time. What it meant to live in a free country. Everyone realized things would never be the same.
I’ll never forget hearing President George W. Bush speaking with the workers at Ground Zero telling them “I hear you and pretty soon the people that knocked down these buildings will here from all of us.” I know a lot of things have changed since those days and America is a very much divided country. I think if the internet was what it is today and we had social media back in 2001, things would’ve been a lot different. We see that now with the pandemic and all the misinformation being spread out there. I’m grateful that’s not how it was during that time.
I’ve had multiple family members fight in the War on Terror and I’m thankful for them and all the other military who have fought for our freedom.
I can’t believe it has been 20 years since that dark day. The day America was attacked and thousands of lives were lost. But also a day where we saw true heroes stand up against evil. A day where we were all proud to be an American. A day I will never and have never forgot. God Bless America.
— Brian Dulle, digital producer
I just recently learned that my wife and I have the same exact story on how we found out about the tragedy on 9/11. I was new to the Blue Springs School District and was sitting in history class that day, literally two desks away from my now wife when our history teacher came into the room silent.
Not saying anything he started fumbling with the TV in the classroom trying to get a local channel to show the breaking news out of New York. He eventually got it to work with a very grainy picture but we were still able to see what had happen. Seeing the buildings, the smoke, the people running from dust and debris on that grainy screen made me wonder what was going to happen next. The class stayed silent the whole time just watching and waiting for the bell to ring.
Being that young I didn’t realize the world had just changed in just one morning, but when I talk to my wife about that day, she felt the same way.
— Mario Vazquez, photographer
I was in 7th grade homeroom when by history teacher, Mr. Boden, came by in his signature Hawaiian shirt and simply said to our math teacher, “Mr. Pippert, if you want to turn on the t.v., they’re bombing the World Trade Center.”
He said this shaking his head up and down, like he knew what was happening. I had never even heard of the World Trade Center, nor had I ever been to New York, but I quickly understood that what had happened was a very big deal.
We were quickly shuttled into our first class, literature. The teachers carted out the giant television on a dolly where we watched Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer cover the events as the second plane hit the second tower. It was the first time in my life I’d ever heard the word “terrorist” or “terrorism.”
Some weeks later, when it was apparent that U.S. forces had failed to find Bin Laden, Mr. Boden, the history teacher, said, “We’ll get him. It could be 10 days from now or it could be 10 years, but we’ll get him because America never quits.”
A decade later, on May 2, 2011, President Barack Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
— Karra Small, assignment editor
My family was living in the Chicago area at the time, and I was in the 2nd grade. The morning started off normal. It was actually my neighbor/friend’s sixth birthday. We got on the bus and went to school.
Later in the morning, administrators came around our classrooms and told us, in simple terms for us to understand, what was going on. I think some of them feared our city could be next. I came home later in the afternoon to find my mother and grandmother watching the news. While I didn’t know it then, it would change everyone’s lives from that day forward.
— Morgan, producer
I was in the control room running chyron and FOX did a cut-in, and we sat there watching fire and smoke coming out of one of the towers. Everyone in the control room was trying to figure out what was going on. We heard a rumor a small plane had hit the tower.
Then we watched the second plane hit the other tower, and we all knew what had happened. I remember thinking “Dear God, no.” We went into news mode, but FOX did most of the work. We sat there watching hoping and praying they wouldn’t fall, and then they fell. It was heartbreaking.
— Luke Watkins, graphics artist