Tribune staff remembers 9/11


Staff Reports

The Tribune staff talks about where they were on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and their thoughts about on the terrorist attacks in America.

Lew Freedman, reporter

I do not watch morning television, but on Sept. 11, 2001, I brought my car to a shop for minor repairs in Chicago, and the TV set was on in the waiting room. Only minutes later, I saw a plane crash into a World Trade Center tower in real time.

The horror played out from there over the next hours with me riveted to the screen. Distracted mechanics moving in slow motion out back made me a prisoner of the breaking, mesmerizing, terrifying news on what truly became the United States’ second Day That Will Live in Infamy, alongside Pearl Harbor.

I had no windows, no other customers to speak with and was only periodically notified “We’re working on it” when it came to the car. The TV was my portal to the outside world, in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

As did so many other millions of Americans, all I could do was watch the nightmare unfold. I was neither physically close to any of the scenes nor emotionally distraught because no family, no known friend was there, either. But like others, I was emotionally scarred because of the heartbreak of the situation.

It was nearly 1 p.m. when I got free to drive. The normally traffic-packed streets along Lake Michigan were empty. Side streets were empty. No one was out. Americans had gone home to mourn, to hug loved ones and to keep studying those news reports on TV.

When I spoke to my boss at the Chicago Tribune, he at first said they didn’t even know if they were going to have a sports section the next day. In the end, we did. It was my outdoors column day and my story for Sept. 12, which few would care to read about, was on an Indiana ranch that raised bison.

Tracie Lane, advertising director

At the time, I ran an in-home licensed day care. We typically did not have the TV on until after breakfast, but one of the parents came in with their child and told me what had happened.

When I turned the TV on, I thought I was watching the first plane hit the tower but was actually watching the second plane hit the second tower real time. It was shocking and devastating. The children I had in day care that day were too young to understand, but my older two children of my own did. It was indeed a very somber, sad day for the United States.

Sally Lawson, marketing representative

I was in middle school in Mr. Ritz’s homeroom class taking the ISTEP test all day. Mr. Ritz was called out into the hall by the principal and then came back in and turned on the TV, which he wasn’t really supposed to do during ISTEP testing.

But Mr. Ritz as the social studies teacher informed the class, “A plane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. I’m not supposed to have the TV on during testing, but this is history that you will be a part of, and you need to remember this moment. This will be one of those events that will shape the future of our country, and it’s extremely important to be informed.”

A short time later, we were released to take a break. Our class rushed out into the hallway to let the other students know what we knew, and my best friend said he didn’t believe me. Just then, our principal came over the intercom and announced all students needed to make their way into the gymnasium for an emergency assembly. There, the whole student body was informed of what was going on and how devastating this was for our country.

I remember feeling shocked and confused as to what it all meant at the time. I had never heard an assembly so quiet before. It was the “could hear a mouse walking” kind of quiet. No one moved or said a word. We just sat there stunned and unsure of what to do.

There was a moment of silence to show respect for those people who had lost their lives, and I remember praying to God that he be with those people in the towers and their families during this devastating time.

Lori McDonald, reporter

I had just dropped my son off at Redding Elementary School and was driving back home listening to the radio when I heard a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. I hurried home and turned on “The Today Show” to see what was happening. Just then, the second tower was hit, and it was clear it was not an accident. I called my parents, and they hadn’t heard it on the news yet, so my mom turned on the TV and we watched the horror unfold “together” over the phone.

Michelle Stephens, marketing representative

I will never forget that day. I had just dropped off my son, Zach, at Brown Elementary and my daughter, Shelby, at St. Ambrose preschool.

I was rushing home to mow my yard, got out of my car, headed to the shed, got the mower out, was just getting ready to start the mower and my neighbor came out crying and said the twin towers in New York had blown up. All I could think was “What?” so I ran into my house, turned on the TV and there it was, the news reporting that not one but two planes had hit the towers and they were on fire. Nothing was mentioned about it being a terror attack just yet.

My heart sank. All I could think was what is going surly this is not a terror attack on our country. Then reports start coming out about the plane in Pennsylvania and the plane at the Pentagon. Then the news reported this was a terror attack. All I could think was getting my kids and taking them home. I called my husband, and he calmed me down and said, “They are safe. It will be OK.”

Just like everyone else, I was glued to the TV just wanting more and more information, still thinking to myself, “How could this happen to our country” One year after the plane crash in Pennsylvania, I went to visit the crash site. Such a wonderful memorial to all who perished in the plane crash. I will always cherish that trip.

Aubrey Woods, editor

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in the newsroom when The Tribune was located on East Tipton Street.

Like everyone else in the country, if not around the world, everyone in the building that morning was glued to a TV once we learned the first tower had been hit by an airplane.

We watched in horror as the second tower was hit and started to realize it was something much deeper and darker than just an accident.

It was a pretty chaotic morning since we were an afternoon newspaper at that time and we were facing a deadline of 11 a.m. or so.

We managed to scrape together a timeline of the attacks and some other local stories of the attacks and then went back to watching TV every chance.

And then I went and picked up my then 9-year-old son and took him home to spend to an evening of watching TV and trying to comprehend it all.

I talked to my grown kids, my parents, siblings and others that evening. But like everyone else, my wife and I couldn’t explain it to ourselves let alone to our son, so we sat and watched TV. I have to admit I probably shed some tears for all of those who perished that day.

The Tribune spent all of the ensuing week — and more — writing about the attacks. I thought nothing would ever dominate the news and my chosen profession as much as 9/11.

And then COVID-19 reared its ugly in March 2020, and nearly a year and half later, it still dominates our news coverage.

Zach Spicer, reporter

I’ll never forget the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when my mom came to wake me up and told me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

Not long after I was glued to what I was seeing on the TV screen, the second plane hit. As an 18-year-old at the time, I knew something wasn’t right.

I don’t remember what was going through my mind as I drove south to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, where I had just begun college. I do, however, remember when I arrived in Crestview Hall, several students were gathered around a TV in the lobby. Then when I headed to my first class, we just sat around and didn’t do much at all. That continued in my other classes.

Everyone was just stunned. What had happened in New York City? Then later, why did this happen in Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, too?

For a while after that, I found myself watching the TV news more than I ever had in my life. The same thing happened four years later when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. The scenes they showed and the stories they shared from both events were just hard to escape.

I think what got me the most — and still does to this day — is that the week after spring break earlier that year, I was in New York City and Washington, D.C., on my high school senior trip. We didn’t visit the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, but I captured several photos of the twin towers. Those are the images I choose to remember of those buildings — standing tall against a blue sky.

In the early morning Sept. 11, 2001, they also were standing tall against a blue sky. Twenty years later, I still hear people talk about how beautiful that day was.

But then everything changed when the two New York City buildings were struck and ultimately collapsed.

I know for the rest of my life, I will always remember where I was when the world stopped turning that September day. I hope others do the same and take time to honor the lives lost that day, and I hope those who weren’t alive when it happened are able to read about it in history books or learn from those who witnessed this tragic day.

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