Remembering 9/11

Nine teachers recall their reactions on the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Manhattan skyline before the World Trade Center Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Images of the terrorist attack were broadcast live around the world. (9/11 WC 32 by Michael Foran is licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 / filter added)
The Manhattan skyline before the World Trade Center Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Images of the terrorist attack were broadcast live around the world. (“9/11 WC 32” by Michael Foran is licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 / filter added)
Nathaniel Huerta

2,977 people were killed when terrorists attacked New York City’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

That morning, 19 members of Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist organization, hijacked four commercial airplanes to use  as weapons against Americans and prominent American buildings, symbols of the country’s prosperity. Between 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., two planes — American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 — crashed into the north and south Towers of the World Trade Center. A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. A fourth plane, United 93, thought to be en route to the Capitol, crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside at 10:02 a.m. after passengers fought back against the terrorists. 

Scenes of the unprecedented attacks played in a loop on news networks, non-stop coverage that many Americans watched, transfixed and horrified. The day’s events would change the U.S. forever, and the scenes on TV that day would never be forgotten. 

Nine BOHS teachers share their experience of watching the attacks on television on this day 22 years ago.

Stephen Teal History Teacher

I remember the day like it just happened.

Mrs. [Summer] Teal and I were driving to work at BOHS. We lived in Riverside. We were listening to the radio and the DJ said a plane hit one of the towers. Everyone thought it was like some horrific plane crash. Then, minutes later, there was another crash into the other tower, so we knew it was on purpose. We got to work and turned on our TVs in the classroom. Students came and we watched it all day. There was nothing else that mattered.

Students sat in shock as we watched the images on the TV. [We] could see people on the top floors jumping out of windows. I remember seeing the building on fire, and it was bad, but it seemed like that would be it. Then, out of nowhere, the building just collapsed. And we watched it collapse. It was so surreal. I remember my students gasping. I had never considered the concept of terrorism in America before that moment. I remember just the horror. 

We lived in a strange existence for months after that. People were afraid to get on planes. There were military with weapons stationed at every airport. For awhile, everyone was convinced that there was a terrorist cell in every city waiting to be activated to kill everyone.

We had a class discussion at some point, and a student asked me what it would look like in the future. Would 9/11 be this big forever? I remember telling him that people would move on. That, at some point, it would just be a history question, something that happened to other people.

Ken McCall Patient Care Pathway Teacher

My wife was pregnant with our first born, and my mother in law said something along the lines of, “It’s so sad that you’re bringing a child into this world during these times.” We were all so shook by the event. We just couldn’t believe that this was what the world was coming to and for the hatred going around. But, for a lot of people, there was a sense of solidarity that wasn’t here before.

Brittany Kurtz History Teacher

It was a normal Tuesday. I woke up early and started getting ready for school. I was in 7th grade at McAuliffe Middle School in Los Alamitos, and we had only been in school for a few weeks because back then, school would start the week before or the week after Labor Day. I was awake really early. 

I’m the oldest, so I would also help get my siblings ready. My younger brother was in elementary school and my sister was in preschool.

As I ate breakfast, I’ll never forget my mom running into the kitchen and telling me to turn on the TV. Once it was on, we watched footage of the second plane flying into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I remember the news reporters not having that much information and the video just being looped over and over again because, at that time, it was a lot more difficult to get video quickly [without] WiFi or [the] “cloud.” 

Normally, we would leave the house around 7 a.m., but I remember us all sitting around the kitchen table watching the TV as my mom was trying to get ahold of my dad, who was in London for business and had a flight home scheduled for the next day. Around that time, we all witnessed the South Tower collapsing, and less than ten minutes later, we watched the North Tower fall. 

I remember my mom saying, “There is no way they got everyone out in time,” and went back to frantically trying to call my dad. I don’t remember feeling much while processing what happened as a 12-year old. I honestly wasn’t sure how to process it. I didn’t cry, but I knew deep down that this was really bad and I logically understood that what we had watched was bigger than any news that we had seen before. It wasn’t until we got to school (late) that it sunk in more. 

Each teacher, every period, had the TV rolled into the center of the room, and all we did for the entire day was watch news footage of the attack. We listened as they reported new information that came in. We learned about the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, listening for hours as news reporters attempted to frantically piece together what happened that morning, all while reporting the aftermath of the collapse. 

I saw a few of my teachers cry, and I saw some students crying as well. When they started guessing how many were dead, I remember feeling incredibly sad for the hundreds (which turned into thousands) of lost lives. I knew the word “terrorism” or “terrorist,” but at that time, I didn’t know anything about the Middle East, and I had never heard of Al-Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden. 

With each year that passed, I grew to understand more and more of what happened on that horrific day and the consequences that followed. America would always and forever be a “post-9/11 America.” Ultimately, everyone’s lives changed overnight. 

In 2004, I went to New York and Washington, D.C., for a family trip, and I remember being brought to tears standing near Ground Zero. There was no museum built and the Freedom Tower (now known as the One World Trade Center) hadn’t even broken ground yet. All Ground Zero was fenced off, and you could see giant holes in the land where the underground parking lots used to be. 

September 11, 2001, means a lot more to me now than what it did as a 12-year old watching it on a small, grainy kitchen television. It is a day where evil won, but it is also a day where I saw the entire country come together to mourn. And after the dust settled, I saw an America come together to not only recover and heal but fight back. 

Everyone was proud to be an American, and 9/11 unified us. No matter who you were, where you lived, or your differences, everyone could agree that 9/11 was evil, horrific, tragic, and life-changing. No one argued over that and that bonded everyone. With how divided our nation is in 2023, it is so disheartening to think that the last time I remember our society truly being united was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. 

So, with all that said, 9/11 means the following to me: The most tragic, horrific, and impactful day in American history that I have been alive for thus far; a day where thousands of lives were lost, and thousands of families/communities changed forever; a day that forever changed the way we would live in America.

Amanda Hefner English Teacher

I was 10-years old when 9/11 happened. I was in fifth grade. I remember my mom waking me up to see that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City. I had never been to New York, and at the time, the images I saw on the screen were so jarring they seemed unreal and hard to believe.

I think as time has passed, the events of September 11 and the aftermath of the “War on Terror” have caused many of our citizens to be less trusting and more fearful. It is important to remember this tragedy and the staggering loss of life, but it is equally important not to let fear and anger cloud one’s judgment. 

Because 9/11 happened when I was a child, I can see how that one monumental event has had so many repercussions on our government, foreign policy, and the American way of life.

Nicole Baughman-Collinge Math Teacher

I was a first-year teacher in Los Angeles during 9/11. I remember getting to school that Tuesday, and another teacher had the news on in his classroom. They were reporting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I was shocked. I went to the top of the tower in the summer of ’95 because of my love of skyscrapers and big cities. I didn’t know what to think. This was before smartphones, and I had no internet in my classroom, so I only got to find out more once I got home that evening.

It was eerie driving by LAX the next week, with no airplanes taking off or landing. I remember watching all the news coverage I could, trying to make sense of what had happened. It’s so sad that people with extreme beliefs decided to kill so many innocent people to make a point. And the pain inflicted didn’t end with the people in the buildings. Reading about all of the first responders who got cancer after working in the rubble adds to the tragedy of that day.

I’ve been to Lower Manhattan multiple times since 9/11 and I always tear up when I see the gaping hole in the skyline that once was occupied by the World Trade Center towers.

Andrea Ramos Science Teacher

I used to wake up and watch the news in the morning.  I remember watching as a plane hit the building.  I thought I was watching a [replay] of the first plane but it turns out it was the second plane crashing, live.  I could not fathom it happening twice.  My husband worked for Disney. [It] was one of the rare days Disneyland closed.  He spent the morning walking the park making sure everything seemed safe.

Bryson Burns History Teacher

9/11 is a day of remembrance. It is a day to remember the lives of innocent men and women whose lives were cut short due to a terrible attack.  Additionally, it is a day to remember that we are more than individuals in this country.  Above everything else, we are all Americans.  

I was getting ready for school when it happened. As I was walking downstairs to get breakfast, my parents had the news on, and that’s when I saw what happened to the World Trade Center towers.

School was odd that day. The first few class periods of the day were dedicated to watching the news coverage of the event.  Everyone was silent, trying to comprehend what was happening to our country.

It was truly a shock. As a freshman in high school, I tried to comprehend why someone would do that to our country and people.

Life changed in the short and long term after September 11, 2001.  The immediate impact was massive patriotism. There was no “Democrat” or “Republican” after; we all united as Americans. A common phrase I have heard lately is that “people miss 9/12” because of the true unity that existed in our country.  

The long-term impact on our lives is still seen today. Many of the security measures we have in place at airports, sporting events, concerts, etc., were put in place in the aftermath of 9/11. TSA checkpoints did not exist in airports before 9/11. People were able to walk through the airport and up to the gates without a ticket.

Elizabeth Ureno History Teacher

I was nine and in fourth grade when 9/11 happened. I remember getting ready for school and my mom was watching the news on the TV, and I was watching Spongebob. I knew she wanted me to watch something happy, and I could feel her concern and fear, but I didn’t know what was happening. 

At school that day, all the students in my class were talking about the events that happened earlier that morning, but no one really understood or knew what was going on since we were so young. That’s all I really remember from that day.

I mostly remember what came in the year afterward and learning how America responded to 9/11. Some of it was good — people helping the nation when we needed it most, uniting as Americans and showing our pride in that identity, the government becoming more aware of safety protocols and issues, etc. 

But a lot of it was bad — increasing racism towards people of Middle Eastern descent just because they looked like the people that were blamed for 9/11, American identity turning into “no foreigners,” and lots of hatred taught to Americans when we also always preach America is for everyone.

I think that the bad things stuck with me the most, and the feeling that people remember these massive events forever and shouldn’t have to live through events like these in their lifetime. These thoughts have really shaped my teaching as a Social Studies teacher because I like students to look at an event and think about what the average person thought about it, or [how they] reacted to it when it happened. 

We boil down events to just a short description of [what] happened in the past, but I don’t think that’s enough. I felt weird, confused, insightful, and reflective [after] 9/11, and I want others to recognize that real people are affected in so many different ways when traumatic events happen to a country.

Brian Schlueter History Teacher

I do not like when this date looms on the calendar. It is still a very hard day for my family and me. I was already in college here in California when it happened and saw it unfold in one of my history lecture halls while we watched on the news as it all progressed through the day.  

With airlines grounded and the world in chaos, I was unable to fly back east to be with my family. When I was finally able to reach my parents and siblings I learned that two of my cousins were missing, and we all began praying. 

One of my cousins is a [NYC] Metro police officer who was trapped in a subway tunnel and he was able to make his way to safety while leading others. 

My other cousin, Robert King, Jr., was unfortunately one of the 343 firemen who ran into the World Trade Center Towers to rescue those trapped. He did not make it out. He has small children who have all grown now without their father in their lives.  

Growing up outside of New York City, many people in my neighborhood were a part of the “bridge and tunnel” crowd of commuters to work in the city everyday.  Many people had personal connections to friends and family that were tragically taken from us that day.  I think it is imperative that it be remembered.  As Thomas Jeffrerson reminds us, “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty.”

Compiled by Ellen Kim

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  • Peggy AvilaSep 11, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    Nicely done. Good compilation. Thank you for writing this. I’m a 1994 BOHS grad and like following The Wildcat.