- July 26, 2021
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we asked local leaders to share their own memories of that day.
“I was at Orlando International Airport commanding the Orlando Police’s Airport Division. I will never forget the feeling of that day, and how it changed how we looked at the world. For me, it was a reminder of how critical our work was to keep every American safe. In the years since then — both as Orlando police chief and as a member of the House Homeland Security Committee overseeing federal efforts to stop domestic terrorism — I have often thought of those we lost that day, and the bravery and sacrifice of so many first responders. As we recognize 20 years since the attacks, I hope that you will join me in saying a prayer for the victims and their families, for peace, and for the safety and security of all Americans.”
— U.S. Rep. Val Demings
“I was holding my 9-month-old first-born daughter on my lap, absently listening to the morning news while pulling on her little socks and shoes for our 9 a.m. pediatrician appointment. The morning news was interrupted by a special report about a potential plane accident in New York City, but little else was known. The live news feed of the North Tower after the first plane strike was on the air and as much as I understood something horrifying was unfolding, I had to get my baby to her nine-month appointment, so I rushed out the door, buckled her in and tuned the radio to live news coverage. As I was driving, the radio announcer cried out ‘another plane hit the tower’ describing the attack on the South Tower. The radio announcer was shaken and crying on air, unable to fully comprehend what was happening, I pulled to the side of the road, because I was having a hard time seeing through my tears and looked back at my little girl with overwhelming love and worry that I brought her into a world that would never be the same.”
— Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole H. Wilson
“I was at SWAT training at the Lake County gun range, and we had just started our training. After the news broke, the OPD SWAT Team was directed to return to the Orlando Police Department to prepare for any possible attacks in Orlando. We were already dressed and ready to go with all our equipment. We waited in the OPD gym and watched the second tower fall on the news. We stayed there ready to deploy for most of the day.”
— Orange County Sheriff John Mina
“I recall where I was when 9/11 occurred. I was at work as an 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.’ 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; it was one of the top cities in the country for the banking industry. Several bank headquarters were located in the uptown area near our building. The rest of that day is a bit blurry.”
— Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins
“I remember that day very clearly. 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. We turned on the television and time seemed to stop. It changed everything.”
— Orange County School Board District 4 member Pam Gould
“I was at the auto auction … and we were in arbitration. We were all sitting there at the office, and I came walking in. The guy in the office had the TV on and there was a plane flying into the (South) Tower. It was like everything came to a stop. Everyone was standing there in awe. ... Somebody said, ‘That’s a plane (that) crashed into the thing.’ Then, it got into more of what happened, everyone was standing there. It was a total devastated thought process for everybody seeing what was happening with the people and the buildings collapsed. … It’s hard to believe when you see something like that. Most people thought a plane had just accidentally crashed into the building. All of a sudden, boom! Another plane crashed.”
— Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson
“Got to work (at the Pentagon) as normal — about 6:15 to 6:30 a.m. in the morning. In my office, I didn’t have a television. Someone came in and said, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ I said I didn’t. A plane went into the World Trade (Center). I go out of my office into a Naval Security office to say ‘What’s going on?’ I’m looking at this TV … and that’s when the Pentagon got hit. Things went kind of blurry then. We went got out of the office ,and it was like smoke that you see in the movies walking down the hallways. I ran out into the courtyard of the Pentagon that was in the center. As I was going down, there was a little lady trying to make her way down. I didn’t know who she was, but I would say hello to her every day. I went back up the stairs, grabbed her, went to the courtyard and dropped her off. I made my way back to my office and let the people there know what was going on, because it was on the other side of the Pentagon. … For me, it was strange, because we think this has never happened on American soil, we will not be attacked like the War of 1812, yet it did happen.”
— Ocoee City Commissioner Larry Brinson
“I remember waking up that day without turning on the TV, because I was running late for a doctor’s appointment. When I started the car, I remember not turning on the radio, because I was listening to an audio book via CD. Therefore, I didn’t hear the radio reports either. As I walked into the lobby of my doctor’s office, my cell phone started ringing. My boss was on the other end and her exact words were, “Remove all your money from the banks, because the country is under attack.” I asked why, and she replied, “Turn on a TV or radio.” Upon doing so, I discovered that the country was under attack. I was in a state of shock for at least an hour as I tried to make sense of what was happening.
— Ocoee City Commissioner George Oliver III
“I had just arrived at work preparing for the day and turning on the lobby TV. At that point watching in disbelief to what I was seeing unfold … in utter disbelief that this was reality.”
— Ocoee City Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen
“I was walking into work at Disney and heard when I got in the door. We went to the conference room and turned on the TV. The internet was overwhelmed, and we waited to see what was next as the first two planes had crashed. It was surreal and scary as the other two planes crashed and to see the towers falling. Putting safety measures in place as best we could at both Disney and in Oakland. Coming home eventually to hug our families and to try and make sense of the loss and our next steps as a nation and a town.”
— Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark
“I was a director of pharmacy for a mail-order pharmacy in Hollywood, Florida. We had just moved into our new building, and in that location was a mounted TV. We as a staff would turn on the TV from time to time to see what was going on when we could get a connection from the local channels. On Sept. 11, the TV was on early in the morning, and someone said there is a movie on the TV, as they can see a plane crash into the World Trade Center. We all ran to the TV and still thought it was a movie we had access to. … We quickly realized we were watching the local news coverage of the 9/11 attacks. We all were numb, and I can remember some of the employees crying when we all heard what else was happening in the country.”
— Oakland Town Commissioner Joseph McMullen
“I was at work at Silver Springs Citrus in Howey-in-the-Hills when we heard the news. My first thoughts were of disbelief; this does not happen in the United States. Such a sense of sorrow and helplessness as you watched the events unfold. We prayed for both the victims and the first responders as we watched people being rescued.”
— Winter Garden Mayor John Rees
“I was at work in a senior staff meeting, when one of my co-workers entered the conference room and stated that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. As a private pilot, everyone quickly turned to me asking what could have happened. I assumed that a private plane might have impacted the Trade Center due to weather — as had happened 40 years prior, when a B-25 Bomber had hit the building shrouded by fog. We continued our meeting until we heard that a second plane had struck the North Tower, and it became more clear that this was some kind of coordinated attack. News was hard to come by at the time, we had no smart phones, and the internet was young and just a bit past dial-up. Netscape was overwhelmed and we resorted to a watching a small black-and-white TV. The scenes from New York were disturbing, but as the son of a firefighter, I assumed they would find a way to get everyone out. … When the first tower fell, I was shocked, and honestly, I still have trouble believing that it happened to this very day. When the second tower fell, I was angry and frustrated; I knew that many people were being lost. It was difficult to get a true sense of the enormity of this tragedy or to know how to help.”
— Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien
“I was a lieutenant at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office running the Training Division. We gathered inside our Training Briefing room to watch what was unfolding and awaited instruction for activation from SO Command Staff. (Because) it was training, we were preparing with intelligence information on what we would need to train the troops. Probably more interesting is that a few years later, as a captain, I was chosen to be the director of the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange Fusion Center for Central Florida. Fusion Centers were stood up as a result of 9/11 and the 911 Commission Report. We were information-sharing and collaboration centers to ensure local, state, federal, tribal and private sector partners communicated effectively to thwart future terrorist plots. CFIX was instrumental, in the time I was there, identifying terrorist activity that was thwarted in Central Florida. … Also, that was my last job at the OCSO before taking the Windermere chief position. I still sit on the Regional Domestic Security Task Force 5 Board.
— Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden
“I was in law school at the time. Prior to one of my classes someone said a small plane hit one of the Twin Towers. I thought it was a small Cessna, but nothing too major. Then in the middle of class, the dean steps in and announces that there has been an incident and classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Once we were outside class, I began to learn about the attacks. The best way to describe how I felt at first was confusion. People were talking about planes missing, attacks in New York, Los Angeles, the Pentagon, the Capitol and the White House. Once I was in my car driving home, I was able to listen to the news, and then I felt fear, confusion and anger. By the end of the day, it was sadness. However, seeing how the this country came together as one in the days that followed made me feel more patriotic. It is unfortunate that in times like these, it takes tragic events like those most recently in Kabul that seem to unite us.
— Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith