Where We Were on 9/11

Area residents recall the moment they learned of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

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Elizabeth Glabus, Kensington: “My daughter, Tierney, was 4 years old and sick that morning, so I took her to the pediatrician’s office. On my way I heard a radio news report about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, but my assumption was that it was just a small commuter plane or some such. By the time I reached the doctor’s office, the second plane had hit and they had the TV news on showing the incredible horror. It was early, and I was one of the first appointments, so there were not many people in the office yet. Suddenly I became aware of a young mom standing in the corner of the waiting room crying. I asked her if she was all right and she said her cousin worked in the Twin Towers. I could see the shock and pain start to register across her face. I had no idea who she was, but at that moment it didn’t really matter. I walked over and hugged her for a few moments, saying nothing. What was there to say? I think of her often on the anniversary of 9/11. I wonder if her cousin survived. Looking back, that was a pivotal moment in our lives—two moms standing with young children in a pediatrician’s office facing a completely new world.”

Angie Kilcullen, Kensington: “My husband and I had just moved to Paris about three weeks prior. I was at our flat in Paris when my mom called to tell me. We didn’t have a television yet. At first, I didn’t believe that it was a terrorist attack. I was like, ‘Oh, c’mon, Mom! That can’t be right.’ It was too unfathomable. There was an elderly woman who lived across the avenue from us, and she always left her curtains open. Later that night I got out our binoculars and watched the footage for the first time that way. A few days later our babysitter’s husband brought over taped video footage for me to see. The Parisians were very kind and empathetic. Security was then really upped at the girls’ school, as it was about 50 percent American kids. We even had a little Saudi princess who had her own full-time security out in front of school.”

Paul Herman, Bethesda, head of the Lower School at St. Albans in Washington, D.C.: “The headmaster pulled us all in together and we had a moment of silence. Many parents came in to get their sons, but there were many who could not get here because of the standstill traffic. The children knew, as we did after the second tower was hit, that this was a terrorist attack. Many kids had trouble coming back to school the next day. I waited until the last parent was able to pick up their child, maybe 5 p.m. It was as disturbing a thing as I’ve ever seen.”

Betsy Heidenberger, Chevy Chase: “I was at my desk when I heard there had been an accident. Every time I heard there was a plane crash, I called my brother Tommy [a pilot for USAirways]  to see if he or Michele [his wife, a flight attendant for American Airlines] was flying. His words to me that morning were very quiet: ‘Nothing’s been confirmed.’ Michele was on a flight she frequently flew, and he was in denial. I called back five minutes later and Tommy replied, ‘It’s been confirmed.’ It was like an avalanche that changed my whole life. She was my sister, and I confided in her. She was the glue that held this family together. My whole family was at Tommy’s house shortly after hearing the news. One of my brothers went to get [Tommy and Michele’s] son at school. Two days before it happened, Michele had invited me to dinner at their house. I was too tired, so I didn’t go. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to change things. You have to take time for family and friends.”

Steve Hull, Chevy Chase, editor and publisher of Bethesda Magazine: “I arrived in midtown New York at about 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11—a beautiful day. I was greeted inside the offices of The Atlantic Monthly (my employer at the time) by a sobbing colleague. When I asked what was wrong, she simply pointed out a south-facing window. The buildings near us blocked the view of the World Trade Center, but I could see smoke billowing from near Wall Street. As other employees arrived, we sat stunned, watching the television coverage—occasionally looking at the ever-expanding plumes of smoke out the window. Being just a block from the Empire State Building (a likely target), we decided it was best that we leave. We came up with a plan for all the New York employees to get home safely—and then I had to figure out how to get back to Chevy Chase (the airports, train stations, bridges and tunnels were all closed). I found a Hertz rental car office in the shadow of the U.N. building that was still open, and managed to get one of the last cars available. About 30 miles outside of the city I was able to cross the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge. I drove home at about 90 mph, passing countless convoys of ambulances heading toward the city from as far away as Delaware and Pennsylvania. When I got home, I played catch with my 11-year-old son. Everything seemed so normal, but the screech of fighter jets patrolling overhead was a constant reminder that normal was no more.”

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