PoliceOne members speak out: Where were you on 9/11?
Editor's Note: As PoliceOne takes a few moments to remember those who were lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, we also want to look back at where we all were on that dreadful day. There are PoliceOne Members today who weren’t yet officers – some were just entering the academy, some were even still in High School – while other P1 Members were already 20+ year veterans on their force. No matter where you were, or what you were doing, PoliceOne stands in solidarity with all those who continue to live on and fight each day to prevent any such tragedy from ever happening again on our soil.
The following are just some of the submissions we received when we asked PoliceOne members the question: “Where were you on 9/11?”
On September 11, 2001 I was with my wife as she delivered my son Brandon. My wife was having a difficult labor and we had been up all night. They finally gave my wife something to relax her in the morning and we fell asleep for about an hour. When we woke up the news was showing the WTC on fire and then another plane crashed into the WTC. My wife was already stressed out enough so we turned off the TV. I kept going out to the waiting room to get updates. This was our first child and I was already stressed out enough, with the attack going on I was a basket case! I remember overhearing our doctor on the phone saying that he couldn't concentrate with all this going on. We live in upstate NY and the hospital was next to the interstate. Later in the day you could see the New York State Troopers zooming towards NYC. Now my boy is turning seven years old and he is starting to understand what happened on his birthday. It was and still is a strange feeling having gained my son while so many people lost their loved ones that day.
— Officer Terry Rea, Jamestown (New York) Police Department
I was in western North Carolina, headed to the very first day of my first law enforcement academy. I was talking to my roommate and she said, “Wait a second” and turned up the radio. We heard that a plane had hit one of the towers. Throughout the day, on every break we had from class, everyone rushed to the computer lab and to the front office, where there was a TV. During class, an instructor interrupted to tell us when a plane hit the Pentagon. This was when I really started to worry. Not only do I have friends in northern Virginia, but my whole family is in the Norfolk, VA area where every branch of the military has a base. All I thought was: “They’re gonna hit that next.”
After finally getting out of class, I borrowed a classmate’s cell phone and called my mom, and we both immediately started crying. She told me everyone was okay, and I told her I was too. This event just made me more resolved to be in law enforcement and keep the U.S. safe here on our own soil.
— U.S. Park Ranger (Law Enforcement) Betsy Smith, Whiskeytown (California) National Recreational Area
Like most of us on the job, I was woken up by a fellow patrol officer, who said turn on the TV. We've been hit. No sooner than that, my department pager starts ringing. I am told to report for work for extended duty. I watch the TV as I prepare for work with the phone ringing off the wall. As friends, relatives, and neighbors call asking about what to do and are we at war. I didn’t have an answer for them as I was as unprepared for this as they were.
All I can say about that UNFORGETABLE DAY is that my fellow officers not only in my department, but all around us, reported for work and patrolled those areas that would be at risk for possible attack. We prayed for those officers and firefighters we lost, and hoped to hell that some bastard would try something so that we could show them what happens when you piss off the USA. Those events were an awaking for us. It caused my department to improve its training programs to reflect those outside threats that were once thought to be "what ifs" but to now look at them as "when it happens" we will do this. Those of us who read this forum, and train to are best know that the next event is just around the corner. I can only hope and pray that I respond just as bravely as my brothers and sisters of the NYPD, FDNY, and Port Authority did.
— Officer Eliseo Quiroga, DART (Dallas, Texas) Police Department
I was in the Academy at the time at Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. I had just sworn to my Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and went on break. Some of our instructors were talking about it and I overheard them so I got a few guys together and we ran to the second floor to the commons room and turned on the TV. We were glued to the set and almost forgot that our ten minutes were up. We went back to the classroom and the Director Ed Pavey came in and announced the news. Most of us knew about it at that time and he turned on the overhead projector and we watched it for a while. During every break we were running out of the room and heading to the second floor to see what else was going on that day. Officer there were getting calls from their departments being called back in case we were under attack. Some that were in guard units, Marine, and Army, were called back home. No one knew what was happening and what to expect at the time.
“...I turned on the TV just minutes after the second tower was struck, and like most Americans I spent most of the rest of the day glued to CNN.” — Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Senior Editor (AP Photo)
— Officer Timothy Anderson, Marysville (Kansas) Police Department
I was getting ready to head to traffic court. I was ironing a uniform watching the news. They said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. My first thought was: "Man, there is going to be an air traffic controller out of a job." Then as I'm watching the coverage, I got to thinking, "Those firemen are going to be busy for a long time on that one."
I had no idea – I couldn't even think it was a terrorist attack. About that time, the second plane hit. That's when I knew. I called my wife on the phone and told her what was going on. She was headed to work as a pre-school teacher. She was scared. I was scared. I told her to come home as soon as she could. I got to court and some of the clerks were crying. People were talking about how another plane had hit the Pentagon and another had crashed in a field somewhere. I signed in to court and went back home. I watched on the news as the Towers fell that day. I was just numb, just totally numb.
I went to work at 2PM. We were told to watch all the public buildings and pay close attention to the schools. The thing I remember most about the work day that day was how quiet it was. I didn't run a single call that day, not a single call. It seemed everyone was glued to the TV and everyone pulled together and got along. It was like that for a while after 9/11 too.
— Deputy Mike Bilbrey, Harris County (Texas) Constable Precinct 5
On the way to work, got the car washed and got gas.
Gas receipt was time stamped 0846.
Got to the Courthouse to sign in and one of the guys told me what had happened; everyone was glued to the TV in the office. I signed in and went to park my car.
Got back to the office a few minutes later an an NYPD cop who was there on election duty said that another one had hit and that everyone (NYPD) had to go.
We suspended operations soon after and sent civilians home.
In the hallway, I saw lawyers(!) crying and someone had a radio on as the newscaster was yelling that the first Tower was collapsing.
I called my wife and said the she should go back to her office, and not to take the subway.
I called my daughter's school, and they said that they would keep the kids until someone could pick them up.
Then the second Tower collapsed.
Everybody was just numb.
The DA on trial in our part was freaking out; she and her husband lived in lower Manhattan and she hadn't heard from him. She was going to go to her parent's home in Westchester. Cellphones weren't working. He called later and said that he was ok.
My buddy and I watched the plume of smoke and dust rise over Manhattan.
People were streaming northbound on the Grand Concourse from Manhattan, as the subways were shut down.
F-16 fighters were wheeling over us on combat air patrol.
Went home to my family later on.
Walking around Van Cortlandt Park, seeing the plume from Manhattan in the distance, I tried to explain the events to my 7-year-old daughter.
The next day, myself, and about fifty other officers from my command were bused down to the WTC.
We all carried large water jugs to a relief station. A cop saw me and said that it was good to see a boss doing some work for a change!
The scene resembled the post-apocalyptic scenes in the Terminator 2 movie.
We were on a bucket brigade for about 12 hours.
Stood between a Patterson NJ SWAT member and a bunch of medical students on the line.
Saw a National Guardsman (who was a Nassau County cop) with the thousand-yard stare. I bet we all had that look.
The next day, our Administration wouldn't permit us to go down there. We were furious.
In light of all of the lung problems suffered by others later, that was perhaps a wise decision.
We found out that our organization lost three members in the collapse; I didn't know them.
I lost a few people that I knew; nothing compared to those who lost a loved one that day.
So many fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands and wives just went to work that day and never came home.
I got off easy-so many others didn't.
I don't know why people bought those 9/11-Never Forget bumper stickers.
Anyone who was down there that day or lost a loved one will never forget.
— Sergeant Joe Shanahan, Bronx County Supreme Court, NYS Office of Court Administration (25 Years)
I was one month from retirement – I worked midnights for 18 ½ years of my 20 ½. The day of Sept 11 was primary day in NYC and I reverted to uniform (I worked plainclothes) and was assigned to a polling location at a school in Brooklyn. As I was getting ready to lave and drive my personal car to my assignment a few neighbors poked their heads of their windows to yell to me: “Hey, a plan crashed into the WTC Tower.”
From my many years of knowing seaplanes land and take off in NY Harbor and the Hudson and East rivers, I wasn’t quite surprised at all. However, when the second plane hit and all radio networks were creaming and excited reports were coming in about a slew of hijacked aircraft around the US. I really thought NYC was a “Primary Target” and we were going to be having a hell of a day to say the least.
I was at Ground Zero 6 ½ months on-and-off 14-16 hour tours. I retired in April 2002 instead of late September 2001, have been thankful I survived my 20+ years, sad to lose friends and co-workers at the site.
I actually sustained a condition with very large kidney stones – respiratory ailments – and this year was operated on in Moffitt Cancer Hospital in Tampa, Florida. At 53 years old I’m now sterile and recovering still.
— Senior Officer (Ret.) Jim Burke, Support Services Bureau, NYPD
I had just gotten up for work. I slept in because I stayed up late the night before. For some reason, I turned on the television while I was getting ready.
I got up in time to see the second tower get hit.
My first thought, before the second plane hit was that the first one had some mechanical problem and crashed into the WTC.
Then that second plane hit.
I drove around that day and listened to the news. I must have stopped at my house about six times.
I don't know why.
I remember when one of our officers said his wife was in Canton and there were gas stations up there that had raised their prices to over five dollars a gallon.
I couldn't understand that. Pretty soon, a couple of the local gas stations did the same thing. I think they reached $4.89 a gallon.
And people were lining up to buy it! The traffic was horrible!
I wished right then that I had an Abrams tank so I could just run these places over. It disgusted me that these places would take advantage of people’s fear.
It also disgusted me that people would go into such a panic.
Later on I found out that United 93 flew right over Dover-New Phila.
I'm still floored because someone, somewhere thinks it's a bad idea to allow off-duty police officers to fly armed.
I got home at around 2300 and stayed up until after 0700 watching the news, wishing I had been on one of those planes with my gun.
— Captain Brett Swigert, Dover (Ohio) Police Department
I was with First Marine Division in Darwin Australia training with the Australian Army. It was a little after midnight when I was on the computer with my now ex wife. She told me a plane had hit the tower. We continued to talk on the computer, then the next plane hit and s**t hit the fan. We were called back to the ship and set sail immediately.........we were ramping up for war.
— Officer Jake Krusemark, Burlington (Wisconsin) Police Department
As a federal agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, I was preparing to move to Okinawa, Japan from Little Rock Air Force Base. We don't keep our guns but get issued a new one at each assignment so I had just locked up my gun in the weapons safe and was finishing up cleaning out my desk. I could look out of my office to the conference room where the television was and I saw the first plane hit.
We all gathered in the conference room and saw the second plane hit...needless to say, I went right back to the weapons safe and got my gun back out. I ended up still moving to Okinawa but my wife and kids had to wait an additional two weeks because their passport paperwork was in the Pentagon. After two weeks of being there and working twelve hour shifts, my family finally arrived. But then, within a week of them getting there and while still living off base without our furniture, I was told I was leaving within twelve hours.
I couldn't tell my wife where I was going and I didn't know how long I would be gone. I was sent to Singapore with our KC-135 refuelers for counterintelligence/counterterrorism support. On our return trip I was lucky enough to go down in the boom and watch a B-1 bomber being refueled. It was pretty cool to see...especially when I noticed that the bombs were no longer under the wings and realized he had already dropped them on targets in Afghanistan.
Since then I have deployed two other times (once to Afghanistan) and am scheduled to return to Afghanistan in a couple of months and will be there for a year. Of my nineteen year Air Force career, fighting the war on terror is what I am most proud of!
— Special Agent Brent Palmer, Air Force Office of Special Investigations
I had retired on July 1, 2001 from the South Carolina Highway Patrol after 25 years. I had always had a fascination with airplanes and prior to my retirement found a job as a Gate Agent for US Airways Express in Charlotte, NC. I was working at Charlottes Douglas Airport on 9/11/01. I had already boarded the first bank of flights at my gate at about 8:10.
I was waiting on the next inbound aircraft to come to my gate when the Tower called and stated planes would be coming to my gate, to get the passengers off the planes and get them inside as soon as possible, they were very busy and offered no explanation. I looked outside and planes were waiting to be parked. I had more planes than designated parking places. One ramp supervisor came over and told me to help park planes and park them anywhere as long as the wings weren't touching. We parked aircraft from other Airlines, and had to find portable steps for the larger planes.
We had planes everywhere, and then found that some of these aircraft had been diverted to Charlotte from other destinations. I had a Captain tell me later that he had been told to get the plane on the ground or stand a chance of being shot down. Then we had all these passengers to deal with, some were frightened and some were angry. We as employees were only told that a small plane had struck a building in New York. We only found the real story from a TV in a sports bar upstairs at about noon.
I had made a lot of friends with the crews of the flights I boarded on a daily basis, the carnage of this day made me realize that it could have been some of those friends on those doomed flights. I am still angry that one human being could do this to another. I went to Ground Zero in February of 2002 and at this time the clean up was only about a third complete. I had been a Trooper for 25 years and smelled death before, and visiting Ground Zero I can remember the gut wrenching smell of death again. I will never forget that smell.
I still get emotional talking or writing about that day. I left US Airways Express in 2005 and returned to the South Carolina Highway Patrol as a Trooper under a rehire retired Trooper program. I am back in uniform and often miss my airline job, but I still feel that I have something to give and am making a positive contribution to a profession that I love.
— Lance Corporal Frank A Murphy, South Carolina Highway Patrol
I've never been on one of these forums but with this anniversary I've been thinking about this topic. It's a good time to post my story.
On 9/11 I was asleep at home when my girlfriend called and woke me up. I slept late because working in our Gang Enforcement Unit we worked a 1900-0300 shift.
She was in school teaching her sixth grade class when the news hit them at school. She was in tears when she called me telling me about the first plane.
I turned on the TV and was watching when the second plane hit. I watched the 767 fly into the second tower and knew then that it was deliberate. In college I worked on the ramp at DFW International Airport for an airline. I knew my way around them and I saw the paint scheme and knew it was United. My brother was working for another airline at DFW at the time. I was glad he was a ramp agent like I had been.
I sat like everyone else riveted to the TV for hours. My girl called and asked how she could explain it to the kids. I told her that I didn't honestly know.
We were called in to work in the afternoon. My unit – along with 40 other Fort Worth PD – was sent in convoys to DFW. We were asked to help the Airport Police secure the ramps and taxiways and guard the planes as they came in.
For the next two days we worked at DFW, securing the planes. We watched the last of the planes land. The third busiest airport in the US was eerie silent and the irony was not lost on me while I walked among the planes.
We weren’t real sure what was going to happen in those two days, but I know of at least 50 heavily armed cops who were angry and wanting some payback. Now that the anniversary is here again our thoughts go back to that day. And they should never be far from us the rest of the year.
— Detective Brian Raynsford, Fort Worth (Texas) Police Department
I was a Sergeant with the Baltimore City Police Department. Not long after roll call we saw the report on the television. As it became clear we were under attack, the entire Department scrambled into action fearing an attack on the Port of Baltimore. I worked the next several weeks on 12 hour shifts without time off. We must do everything to ensure this never happens again. God bless all who were lost in this attack and all who served with honor.
— Drew Hall, Chief of Police, Maryland Department of Education
I was taking night classes in the police academy and working first shift at a local mall in the security department. I remember all units getting called into the office, and we all crowded into our small break room. We all saw the second plane hit, and there was no question it was intentional. At first, there was shock and disbelief, then management panicked and we did a sweep of the property for IED's, unattended backpacks, terrorist-y looking people, you name it. During the weeks following, we did that a lot.
I remember feeling guilty because I wanted to jump in my car and drive non-stop to NY to offer what help I could, but I couldn't just up and leave my wife and newborn. I now realize that staying and being there for my girls was the best thing I could have done. I was not a cop at the time, but I still felt connected to all the LEOs and FD that were lost. I still get choked when I see that picture of the firefighters hoisting the flag. "The more you hold us down, the more we press on." We'll always remember the sacrifice...
— Officer Jason Schaefer, Cedar Springs (Michigan) Police Department
I was at home working on the computer and about ready to go to bed after working midnights the night before. My wife called from work and told me to turn on the television because a plane crashed into a building. I turned on the television, believing I was seeing a "replay" when the second plane hit the second tower.
I stayed up for another hour or so but went to bed before the idea of intentionality was identified. I remember though feeling a little numb, like when the space shuttle exploded. Something terrible had happened but I didn't understand what it meant or how to feel.
I remember that when I got up and learned that it was intentional that anger became the prevalent emotion but I felt helplessness too. It's too bad that most people have disconnected from that moment and slid back into their routines believing that they will always be safe and warm. This is a symptom of a condition.
I don't think foreign enemies will destroy this country but a lack of national resolve will someday cause this country to implode. Too sad.
— Roger Squiers, Sergeant, Owosso (Michigan) Police Department