Where were you on 9/11? We asked Kansas Citians to share their stories

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Anyone old enough to remember 9/11 has a story of where they were when the world trembled. Here are eight from Kansas Citians.

HE WROTE THE FRONT-PAGE STORY ON THE ATTACKS—AND SOON AFTER LEFT FOR AFGHANISTAN.

I stood looking up at a television in the Kansas City Star’s newsroom a little after 8 am local time when a second plane struck the World Trade Center. Soon, I teamed up with two other reporters for a story concluding that the attack came from a sophisticated terror group for a special afternoon edition of the newspaper. This was when print was still king.

Next, for the next morning’s paper, I wrote quick nine hundred words that started: Today your stock market is on hold, your gasoline is a question mark, even your mall may be closed. Disney World is shuttered, baseball is suspended, and this morning even those travelers who would fly cannot. So much of what America takes for granted, at least for a time, vanished.

Those words largely hold up.

Looking back, I’m struck by the fact that the tone of my story focused on the inconveniences ahead. It missed the brutality of the moment and the near future. Terrorists killed nearly three thousand people that day. More carnage would follow. For starters, nearly twenty-three hundred U.S. troops would die in Afghanistan. Another twenty thousand would return wounded. The Afghans, of course, got it worse. At least fifty thousand civilians died in the forever war that continues, even as U.S. troops leave—as they left a generation before, when Afghanistan ended up a Cold War battleground. Several weeks after 9/11, I got dispatched to Pakistan to cover the war, including a few weeks in southern Afghanistan embedded with Marines.

I returned to Kansas City early the next year to find a country where yellow ribbon support-the-troops magnets clung to the backs of so many cars but where the sacrifice was wildly uneven.

The years that followed saw most of the unity generated by 9/11 dissolve into resignation and disinterest about what was happening in Afghanistan, partly because we soon found ourselves sending troops to another war that went badly.

Scott Canon is the managing editor of Kansas News Service, which is affiliated with KCUR 89.3

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SHE WAS ON A ROAD TRIP.

Twenty years ago, I was on a road trip with my mom. We were checking out of our hotel in Denver when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. We shared a moment of disbelief—there are so many protocols, how does an accident like this happen?—before the second plane hit and reality collided along with it. It wasn’t an accident.

Now, as a member of Congress, I have a sworn duty to protect our Constitution against all enemies. Last session, I joined my colleagues in a moment of silence on the Capitol steps to remember the thousands of innocent lives lost and honor the brave first responders who put their lives on the line to help others.

These moments remind me of my place in history and how much bigger my service in office is than just myself. I strive to remember that each day that I have the honor to serve the people of our community.

—Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan)

HE WAS WATCHING TRAINING DAY.

I had finished packing my bags for the Toronto International Film Festival that Wednesday. I had one more film to get in before I left, so at 9 am on Tuesday morning, I was at a screening of Denzel Washington’s Training Day at the tiny private screening room in Old Film Row. As I was leisurely driving to the screening, I was listening to NPR. A report came on saying that a small engine plane had accidentally hit the World Trade Center. Two hours later, after the film ended, I found out that both towers no longer existed due to a terrorist attack. I sped home and watched the news nonstop. Needless to say, my trip to Toronto the next day was canceled. Nothing has been the same since, especially in New York and the film industry.

—Shawn Edwards is the film critic for Fox 4

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THEY SCRAMBLED TO HELP HOWEVER THEY COULD AT THE AIRPORT.

On the early morning of September 11, my husband and I were awakened by a phone call from his co-worker. At the time, my husband was an operations supervisor at Southwest Airlines at KCI. His co-worker told him a plane hit the World Trade Center and he was needed at work. We turned on the television just as the second plane hit the tower. We both remember being confused and trying to process what he had been told and what we were seeing. Was it replaying the crash or was it live? We had been married less than six months. Our parents and siblings lived in other states. I felt an immediate need to be with them. He knew what he needed to do: get to work and help. There was no way I was staying home. I worked in airport operations at KCI. I called work and told them I was coming in. I didn’t know what I would do, but I needed to be near him and help out however I could.

When he arrived at the airport, it was very chaotic and everything was rushed. There were a lot of planes en route to KCI, but they had no idea how many. The Southwest team began the continual process of pulling the planes into the gate, telling the passengers to gather their belongings and exit the plane. No details of what had happened were relayed as they deplaned, just empty the plane, push it off the gate, bring another plane in, repeat. He recalls passengers crying as they watched the televisions in the gate area. So much confusion. Passengers had no idea how they were going to get home and what they should do, where they should go. He helped however he could—the ramp, bag claim, gates, coordinating where the planes would be parked and doing what he could for the many passengers stuck in Kansas City. At the time, Southwest used six boarding bridges. A total of twenty-seven Southwest aircraft landed at KCI that day. Southwest employees were all working hard to rebook passengers and find hotels for as many as they could, not knowing if the planes would even be able to fly the next day.

I reported to the emergency operations center at Airport Police. The airport plans for many types of emergencies, but how do you plan for an emergency that’s not happening at your airport? I filled a position as a call taker. The phone didn’t stop ringing for hours. People from churches, other nonprofits and just individuals from the area were calling offering to house passengers, to bring food and cots, to take them to hotels. There was no time to think about the kindness that was pouring in. I remember seeing the images on the news and just having to keep the emotions from setting in so we could help the passengers and airlines. What we both remember as we left that night was the stillness of the airport. It was so quiet as he walked onto the ramp. For the first time, he could hear the cows on the other side of the runway. Something we’ll never forget.

—Kristin and Thomas Danner work at Kansas City International Air

HE WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY CLASS.

I was in history class and just remember sitting in the front row because I was a little bit late. But I walked in and everyone was glued to the TV. Kids were crying, kids were missing because their parents had come to pick them up. It was most certainly an extraordinary day in the worst way. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

—Chase McAnulty is the owner of Charlie Hustle

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FROM THE AIRPORT, HE SPENT THE DAY SHARING WHAT LITTLE INFORMATION HE HAD.

The first thing I recall about 9/11 was driving to work at Kansas City International Airport, passing the downtown airport, when a radio breaking news report came on announcing that an aircraft had hit the World Trade Center. Immediately, I assumed there was an accident and a private aircraft had crashed into the building, as had occurred years before at the Empire State Building.

I arrived at my office and turned on the television. As elements came together, I learned that it was a commercial airliner that had crashed into the building. My phone lit up with calls from the media as local reporters attempted to localize the story. I recall that I was giving a live phone interview when I saw a second aircraft hit the other tower at World Trade Center. I could not understand what I just saw. I truly do not know if I paused or missed a beat while speaking live on the radio, but I had to power through. Once I ended the call, I knew what was occurring were not a succession of accidents but the hijacking and intentional crashing of airliners. Who did this and why? I could not understand what was happening, why, and how I felt about it. I would be so busy speaking with staff and media all day that I would not have the time to come to grips with what occurred until much later.

Two more hijacked aircraft loaded with people crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. No one had good information, and I certainly had little information to share with the media and the public. Then the federal government ordered all aircraft in U.S. airspace to immediately land. I stepped outside. I looked up. I could see dozens of crescent-shaped aircraft condensation trails in the clear blue sky. These were aircraft making turns as pilots worked with air traffic controllers to expedite landing at nearby airports. As it turns out, there were nearly eighty aircraft destined for KCI Airport with upwards of ten thousand people on them.

An unprecedented situation such as this would be a challenge at any time, but upper managers of most U.S. airports were at their annual meeting in Montreal. This was true for us, but our deputy director and airport manager were in town—plus some seasoned veterans. We gathered operations, security and police staff and quickly discussed what we knew and hashed out a plan. The room was tense, but I was proud to be in the room with level-headed people who improvised as best they could. Thousands of people who were not destined for our airport would need hotel rooms, rental cars and, possibly, food, water and cots. We needed to contact area hotels, the hotel association, rental car agencies, the Red Cross and other partners to assist with stranded passengers. Aircraft began landing and the gates at the terminal quickly filled up. Aircraft were being parked out on the airfield so we needed to divert our parking lot buses to the airfield to offload passengers. Rental cars were quickly snatched up. I heard stories of people in rental cars cruising slowly through the terminal areas and shouting out cities they were headed to, carpooling with strangers. The spirit of cooperation was amazing.

The need for cots was not to come. Since the events happened early in the morning, diverted passengers had the day to find transportation or accommodations. The terminals were deserted by midday. The hustle and bustle became a few clusters of media vehicles and reporters. Standing outside the terminal was spooky. Nothing was moving. There was dead silence with no vehicles and no planes operating. There were no condensation trails in the sky, crescent-shaped or straight. It was surreal.

My day was consumed with collaborating with staff and partners and sharing what information I could with the media. I did not know much and it was stressful. I dug from within and got through it. At some point in the evening, there was no more I could do. I decided to go home. Traffic was light, so the twenty-five-mile trip home gave me little opportunity to think. My mind was just reviewing what had occurred, not processing it. I opened the door and saw my wife and young daughter, Emily. In a flash, there in the doorway, I realized that many lives had been lost that day and that many families would never be the same. I realized that I had much to deal with that day, but it was nothing compared to what others had endured and will endure. I went to my little family and I held them. That is when I lost it. What had these people done to our people? What will happen? What sort of life will my daughter have? What will be our new normal?

—Joe McBride is the spokesman for the Kansas City Aviation Department

SHE TRIED TO DREAM IT AWAY.

I woke up for the second time on September 11, 2001, dreaming about the morning’s tragedy. I was in Kansas City and I had an 8 am meeting. The night before, I had gathered film reels, carefully salvaged the naughty flocked wallpaper from the bathroom and unwired the candelabras out of the Old Chelsea with Ron McGee and Late Night Theatre—the building was scheduled for demolition the next day. When I got home, my first husband was still sleeping off his jazz gig.

My meeting dispersed after the second tower billowed into flames on the tiny television we’d gathered around. I returned home and climbed back into bed, attempting to explain what was happening. Mark rolled over and told me everything was OK. What I was saying was unbelievable. I wanted to believe him. I woke up again and turned on his radio. America felt very close and far away.

My tall friend Nicole Nadeau and her twin sister, Coryn, were called the “twin towers” throughout their childhood. Something we had taken for granted, two matching shapes in a cityscape, that the sky was safe, went up in smoke. My grandmother called from Eastchester that day to tell me she was OK. I went to the empty tower’s space when I visited her months later and wondered if how I was feeling matched false limb syndrome. Plastic flowers and sun-bleached photographs were stuffed into fences. My mother remembers the day President Kennedy was shot, and I will remember 9/11 in the same way—what I was wearing, the sweet natural smell of my partner’s sleepy head, light pouring in through the window as I attempted to dream off the unforgettable—that the sky I knew was not safe.

—Peregrine Honig is a KC-based artist

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SHE WAS AT A CONFERENCE AT GROUND ZERO.

As I see again and again on the news the disastrous collapse of the residential tower in Surfside, Florida, my thoughts go back to that sunny Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, in New York City. I was attending the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, scheduled for September 9 through 12 at the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, which sat between the bases of the Twin Towers.

Suddenly that morning, our hotel building shook sharply and the lights flickered. As alarms sounded, we and other hotel guests were ushered down long flights of stairs, out the doors and across a wide avenue. Once there, we looked back to see flames and smoke pouring out the windows of the highest floors of the north tower. As we stood in disbelief, we heard the roar of an approaching plane, accelerating as it slammed into the south tower.

Rushed by police out of the immediate area to nearby Battery Park, we watched with horror as the south tower collapsed in a monstrous cloud of smoke and debris. Not long after, we heard—but couldn’t see through the debris cloud—the remaining tower fall, reinforcing the dense fog enveloping us. All manner of watercraft approached to evacuate people from the area, and we boarded a ferry and were transported across the river to safety.

Now, twenty years later, as I see news clips of rescue crews searching in this most recent mountain of debris for survivors and remains, my mind goes to that day in 2001 and particularly to the images of those who chose to jump from upper-floor windows rather than die in the flames. But that’s just part of the memory. I’m also reminded of the kindness of strangers during the days we were stranded in New York before planes began flying again and of the welcome and comfort provided by friends and family once safely back home.

In the years since, I retired in order to pursue volunteer work as a way to partially repay the generosity of those New Yorkers. I have a feeling Floridian residents will be just as helpful to those who have lost so much in this most recent disaster.

—Jane Tedder is a resident of Lawrence

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