12 years later…I still remember every moment of how September 11, 2001 unfolded. I pray I will never forget. That day taught me that evil truly does exist and it is in direct opposition to a loving and merciful God.
7am I arrived on campus at Emory University for my seminary classes for the day
8am I was studying in the common area at the Candler School of Theology
8:46am Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center (North Tower)
At that point, all the conversation at Emory was centered on the tragedy of the crash that must have resulted from a terrible miscommunication or mistake in directions. There was some talk that it was a private plane and then word started to come out that it might have been a commercial airliner. All of the very first communication still centered around a tragic incident. Terrorism wasn’t first in our mind in those days.
9am My first class of the day started: The History of Christian Thought
9:03am Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center (South Tower)
9:20am Several students in my class started talking quietly and spreading information they were hearing. That was back before cellphones were so prevalent. Even email wasn’t as pervasive as it is today. My professor asked what was going on and someone shared with the class that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The professor said that it thought it wise for us to dismiss class and head back to the tv’s in the lobby to see what was going on in our nation.
9:37am Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon
9:59am The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed
We were all still standing in the lobby at Emory watching things unfold on the television. There was a lot of concern in the room and a good bit of speculation up until this point…but still just watching things unfold. When the South Tower collapsed, it was the eeriest feeling I’ve ever had in my life. We watched on live TV as that tower fell…it only took 10 seconds to collapse…and in that moment we knew that hundreds…if not thousands of people had entered eternity right before our very eyes. There was no more chit chat…there were tears, stunned looks, lots of prayer, and immediately everyone in the room was forever bonded in having shared that tragic moment together.
10:03am Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania…it turned out later that the passengers had overtaken the hijackers to intentionally crash the plane into a field to save Washington, DC, the intended target of the terrorists. This was one of many unfathomable acts of heroism that took place on 9/11 and the days following.
Once that flight crashed, we started hearing some type of loudspeaker giving a message outside of the building we were all in. Having never heard that before, we grabbed our bags and walked outside to hear what was going on. The loudspeakers were saying, “All Emory University students and personnel should immediately evacuate the campus. Do not walk, run to your vehicles or away from the campus immediately. Evacuate the campus.” A rumor started to circulate that there was a credible threat against the Center for Disease Control that neighbors the campus of Emory University. Everyone immediately started to run to their cars and down the sidewalks leaving campus. You would think it would be mass chaos, but it was the most orderly I’ve ever seen a huge parking lot empty.
10:15am The E ring of the Pentagon collapsed
10:28am The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed
I heard this unfold on the radio in my car as I was heading west on I-285 to hit I-75 North back up to Acworth. I remember thinking that traffic was probably going to be horrible….after all, this was still Atlanta. It was really interesting to see how traffic unfolded. Everyone was driving like me…fast and away from the city. All of the electronic signs on the interstate said “National Emergency…Evacuation in Progress”. I was listening to the news on the radio and I saw my emotions played out in all of the drivers that were next to me on the highway. Grown men and women had tears running down their faces as they too were listening to things unfold. The radio announcer said “This is a day that will live in infamy.” I remembered that being said about Pearl Harbor and couldn’t believe that I was actually in the midst of something that was identified in the same way as that tragic day in our nation’s history.
When I arrived back in Acworth, I immediately went to the church that I was on staff at and we gathered around televisions to watch things unfold. We had a staff meeting and immediately began preparing a special prayer service for the following evening. At that point, there was still no idea as to how much more was going to happen. I remember eating lunch with a friend and she invited me to come over to their house for dinner and told me to bring my stuff in case I wanted to spend the night. I was young and single in a place far from home and this was a family that was really special to me. I immediately took her up on her offer!
All commercial air travel had been suspended and it was strange not to see planes in the sky since we are not far from Hartsfield Atlanta Airport…the nation’s busiest international airport. I remember that a friend was travelling in Canada and ended up renting a car to drive home. Several other friends were stranded for a few days due to business travel and that type of thing. We did occasionally see planes in the sky, but they were fighter jets from Dobbins Air Force base. When you saw the fighter jets, you immediately found yourself bracing for something else to happen. Gratefully nothing else happened that day.
I still remember how tense I was the entire day. I prayed, but it was very distracted prayers as I was worried about family and friends spread around the world. In the weeks and months to come, we all heard many stories of people that were supposed to have been on one of those flights, or were originally scheduled to be in the World Trade Center for one reason or the other. I remember just watching the news the entire day. Even lunch and dinner were at restaurants with TV’s so that we could all stay in touch. I remember Tom Brokaw on the NBC News telling everyone to hug their kids tighter and to remember that America will not lay down…we will find those responsible for this. I believed him and was proud to be an American.
At 8:30pm President Bush was on television and he shared that “America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.” I believed him and was proud to be an American.
12 years later, I will never forget the day that I began to fully understand that evil was real. But it is also a day that further confirmed, that God is real and He will always win against evil.
Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Great 9/11 Timeline: http://timeline.national911memorial.org/#/Explore/2
To learn more about what President Bush was hearing and thinking about on those days, I’d really encourage you to check out Decision Points by President Bush. Incredible volume about leadership in the face of adversity.