Fear, confusion and safety concerns gripped parents, students and teachers as attacks were carried out.
For parents, 9/11 started out as any other Tuesday.
Most hurried through their early-morning routines to get their children dressed, fed and to school. Likewise for teachers: Sept. 11, 2001, was a normal day.
But as the chaos unfolded, that normalcy crumbled under the weight of the news. And for everyone — teachers, administrators, parents and students — life would never be the same.
“I was sitting with my fifth-grade students during chapel at Foundation Academy,” Alison Kelly said. “As teachers, we tried to keep the day normal, but it was so hard not knowing the details about what was going on in our nation.”
Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins was assistant superintendent for the school district in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“My secretary bolted in my office and said, ‘Turn on your TV … an airplane just flew into the World Trade Center,’” she said. “We watched in shock as the second plane crashed into the second tower. Not long after that, we were told to leave the building for safety measures. There was a concern that Charlotte might be a target, (because) it was one of the top cities in the country for the banking industry.”
Similarly, Orange County School Board District 4 Pam Gould can remember the moment she learned of the attacks.
“I was in an executive team meeting at Health Central in our board room when one of our assistants ran into the room and said that a plane had hit the towers,” she said. “We turned on the television, and time seemed to stop. It changed everything.”
Some parents rushed to their children’s schools to collect them.
“By 1 p.m. that day, so many parents came to get their kids out of school that I was only left with three students,” kindergarten teacher Catherine Carpenter said. “It was such a horrible day for all Americans.”
Rosemarie Staveley said her son wanted to go home, but she wasn’t able to leave work that day.
“(I got) a call from my son’s school (stating) he was scared and wanted to come home,” she said. “(The) school (had) big open courtyards, and he was afraid to be outside. My heart broke for him. … But I was unable to leave work and assured him he was safe at school while feeling so unsure about anything at all. That same son later enlisted in the National Guard and served a year in Kuwait.”
Older students also said they will never forget that day.
“I was 21 years old in college, and I fell asleep that night with the TV on,” Nicole Stein wrote. “When I woke up, I saw one tower burning. I thought it was a movie. Got up, got a glass of water, came back to the room and saw the second hit and realized it was the news I was watching. My stomach dropped. My heart ached. My friend and I met each other and watched the news of the day as they grounded all flights, closed up government buildings out of precaution. It was truly horrifying. I felt a deep sense that moment would change a lot of things in this world.”
Mary Celano said: “I was a freshman in college at UF, and I heard someone talking about ‘an accident’ at the WTC as I was walking to a morning class. It had just happened minutes before, and we couldn’t fathom that it was an intentional act. After class, my friend and I walked home, turned on the news and watched in horror as more details were learned. We went to lunch at the sorority house and sat with a friend whose dad was working at the Pentagon that day. She was shaking waiting for a phone call to say that he was all right. Being in Florida, we felt so far away, but distance didn’t matter. It was affecting us and still does to this day.”
In the years that followed, Dr. Phillips High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC program began hosting an annual 9/11 anniversary ceremony. The program honors those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attacks and the first responders who sprung into action on one of the darkest days of American history.
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