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Where were you on 9/11? ‘My life flashed before me, as I was shaking so badly I couldn’t dial the phone’

These responses are tough to read at times, but illustrate the grim reality of that tragic day

The Tribute in Light memorial lights up lower Manhattan near One World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2018 in New York City.
The Tribute in Light memorial lights up lower Manhattan near One World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2018 in New York City. (Getty Images)

Were you in school? At work? Traveling? Out at the store? We wanted to know: Specifically, we asked about where you were when you learned of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

And boy, are these answers ever heart-wrenching.

There’s still time to drop us a response, by the way, if you feel like it might be therapeutic. Just look for the form at the bottom of the news article linked here.

We’ll leave you with the following responses, which, at times were edited for clarity, grammar and length. Just a warning, the content below does get a bit graphic, so don’t read on if you’re not ready for some of those details.


“I was 23, and five months pregnant with my son, as news of the first plane hitting broke. I was getting ready for work. I remember rolling my eyes at the ‘dramatic’ reporting, thinking it couldn’t possibly be a passenger jet plane. However, as I was getting out of the shower, the second plane was hitting the second tower and my stomach dropped. The change in EVERYTHING, from that moment on, was tangible. You could feel it. All day at work, I listened to the broadcasts on the radio, as the towers collapsed -- more disbelief. That night I cried, and for the first time, I questioned what in the world I was bringing my son into, and I had never felt that, even for myself. I feared for his future. Even now, I long for the days before that. ... He is 19 now. I try and explain to him (about) the before and after associated with Sept. 11, but it’s not a concept he can grasp. The world is different. America is different. I am different. His life is different.” -- Shanon

“I was home with my two preschoolers in a New York City suburb when my husband called. He said, ‘Turn on the news. A plane just hit our building.’ He was frantic. It wasn’t on the news yet. I told him to come home. He said he couldn’t just leave work. Then the reporter on TV said, ‘We have a report of a fire at the World Trade Center. A plane has hit the building.’ I cried for my husband to come home. He was there for the bombing a few years earlier and we lived up near Central Park in Manhattan. He said they were being told not to leave the building, and he had to go, but would call me later. A friend from church came over to sit with me. We watched the second plane hit on TV. There were reports of other planes in the air, and we heard military jets overhead. I called my sisters and got things ready to go down to the basement with my sons, if necessary. I saw a man about my husband’s age on TV climbing out of a window and trying to get to the floor below. At the very last minute, he slipped and fell, tumbling from the Trade Center. I still think of him to this day. ... My husband did come home that night. He didn’t remember how he got there. My neighbors found him out in the yard and brought him inside. He told me about people falling and jumping from the building. He saw a man and woman hold hands and jump. He saw birds in flames falling. When he got out, he saw body parts all over and heard the bangs of people hitting the ground. Nothing would ever be the same.” -- Theresa

A visitor traces the date etched in a marble slab on the Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial before the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (Getty Images)

“I’m 45 now. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working at Macy’s in Arlington, Virginia. My store was on the other side of I-395 from the Pentagon, and my department’s entrances from outside faced the Pentagon. I saw a lot of military personnel walk through on their way to the mall’s food court every day. I remember that morning as being bright and sunny. Traffic into DC seemed to be heavier and moving slower than normal. I had been listening to what was going on in NYC on the radio while driving into work. My spouse was in the car with me and mentioned that if it was a terrorist attack, DC could be a target. I didn’t think anything of it until it happened. I heard the plane. It was a loud and fast WHOOSH. I heard the impact, and felt the shockwave as the ground shook, causing fixtures to rattle and lights to sway. A man rushed in, saying something hit the Pentagon. I looked out those doors facing the Pentagon, and although the highway blocked my view of the building, I saw the wall of thick black smoke rising up. ... Some of our phones didn’t work, supposedly because Macy’s phones were routed through the Herald Square store in NYC and lines were destroyed when the towers fell, but the ones that did work had lines of people waiting to use them. We were soon ordered to shut down and evacuate ourselves. Turns out, my family thought I worked IN the Pentagon, so they were in panic mode for hours.” -- Brian

“I was at a truck stop in Kearny, New Jersey. I told my family I was going to be at the Trade Center that morning but I overslept. The towers had already been hit when I woke up, but I stood in the parking lot and watched both towers fall.” -- Marcus

“My wife and I were driving from Berlin back to Dortmund in Germany. We’d visited family and heard on the radio that a plane crashed in one of the towers. We thought it was just an accident as it became clear that there was much more to it. We did not talk and just listened to the news the next few hours while driving. When we arrived at home, we watched CNN the whole night and I remember thinking how unreal this situation was. I think we all were shocked. I also remember the next day at work. Nobody could really focus on work. Our thoughts were with the people in NY and the U.S. We spoke a lot about this senseless attack and tried to understand -- even if we could not.” -- Anonymous

“I was 40 years old, and I remember the day like it was yesterday. My family immigrated from Turkey to New York in 1962, and they weren’t able to stay home the first day of school as they were trying to give us a great life in America. I made a promise that I will always be home when my boys start school. Sept. 11, 2001, was my oldest son’s first day at Pre-K. At the time, I worked for Goldman Sachs in the corporate security department. My phone started ringing of hook and everyone asked if I was OK. That’s when I found out about the first plane. I knew it couldn’t be an accident because commercial airliners have warning systems, then the second plane hit. I remember the shock we were all in. Tears followed. I called work for hours, finally getting through, and everyone was frantically trying to plan what to do. My manager told me to come in Thursday if I could. I arrived at Penn Station in NYC and walked downtown to work. There were police checkpoints everywhere, and I had to explain over and over why I was heading to Wall Street. I remember the smell of smoke and seeing dust everywhere. If this was one week earlier, I was on the 92nd floor of the first tower. My promise to stay home for my children saved my life, because I would have been under the Trade Center having breakfast at 8:30 before heading to Jersey City for a construction meeting for the new Goldman Sachs Tower.” -- Birol

The North Tower of the World Trade Center is shown on fire. (WireImage/Getty Images)

“It was three days before my eighth birthday. My grandfather worked for Dow Chemical and lived in Malaysia at the time. My grandparents had been in the U.S. for a few weeks and were scheduled to fly home on Sept. 11, 2001. That day, my brother and I stayed home from school to take them to the airport since it was so few and far between that we got to see them. We were walking out the door when my aunt called the home phone and told us to turn on the TV. At almost 8, I watched the whole thing. It was like time stood still. The world changed right before us. We all just stood in the den watching for a long time, not speaking. My grandfather did not go back to Malaysia that day. A month later when he flew home, we were terrified.” -- Emily

“I was working as a marketing intern and attending Wayne State University at the time, concurrently with my internship. ... There was a threat to the Renaissance Center shortly after. Everyone exited the building and eventually downtown (Detroit). It took me over two hours to get out of the parking structure. As a 21-year old college student, I was terrified as I drove home that day. My boyfriend at the time was in the National Guard, and he ended up going to war in Afghanistan for over a year. Thankfully, he returned home with only minor injuries, but I do believe it made an impression on our hearts and lives.” -- Anonymous

“I was teaching. Another teacher pulled me out to inform me of the news, since she knew both my children lived in NYC. I came to find out they were both caught in this terrible tragedy. It took HOURS to find out they were OK. My son helped those who were hurt and my daughter was on her way to the World Trade Center. My life flashed before me, as I was shaking so badly I couldn’t dial the phone. I am grateful every day for their safety.” -- Anonymous

“I was in my junior year of high school. ... When I got to school, my first-period physics teacher put on the TV and told us there was something important happening. We watched as the second plane struck. Then, we watched as the Towers fell. My good friend, who was in that class with me, was distraught because her aunt worked in one of the buildings and no one could get ahold of her. When I got to Spanish, my second-period class, my teacher was adamant that we would NOT be watching TV and that we had an agenda. Being teenagers, we all cursed and were mad that we had to actually do work. We found out the next day that my Spanish teacher’s sister had been on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Apparently, she was on a rescheduled honeymoon that had kept getting put off for one reason or another. My teacher wasn’t there on Sept. 12, and she never returned. We got a new teacher, who was great, but I always wondered what came of my teacher.” -- Dawn

Shocked crowds of downtown Manhattanites observe the burning World Trade Center towers in New York City early Sept. 11, 2001. Three hijacked planes crashed into major U.S. landmarks on the same day, destroying both of New York's Twin Towers and plunging the Pentagon in Washington into flames, in an unprecedented assault on key symbols of U.S. military and financial power. (Corbis via Getty Images)

“I was 30 years old in 2001. I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, but actually had to fly out of Baltimore that morning, while two other coworkers flew out of Reagan National. We all meet in North Carolina for a meeting. During the meeting, one of the participants had one of those pagers that displayed breaking news, because yes, this was 2001. He interrupted the meeting to say, ‘Wow, looks like one of the towers in New York was hit by a plane.’ We did not have a TV onsite, so when you hear the report, it doesn’t sound as daunting. Some time had passed and his pager went off again. He said, ‘I don’t understand. Why are they resending me the same message?’ But then he read it closer and he realized, the other tower had been hit. We knew something was dreadfully wrong. We learned of the Pentagon being hit, and I made the executive decision that we were not flying back under any circumstances. (Before all flights were grounded). After assuring everyone we were OK, I drove us back. Since Reagan National and Dulles were crime scenes, (some people) could not get their vehicles. As we drove, we passed by the Pentagon and saw the plume of smoke -- horrible. We arrived at the airport and it was a scene I will never forget: Completely empty, with only announcements going over the loudspeaker, very much like a zombie apocalypse movie. I remember the week afterward how different the world was. Neighbors held prayer circles. Home Depot gave away hot dogs. People were so nice to each other. Every year since then, there is a coworker who sends out a remembrance email to us. I look forward to that email every year. I wish the humanitarian good will that initially happened to bring people closer together to deal with the devastating event could have lasted -- especially now.” -- Mike

“I was working with the FBI in Detroit when our supervisor called us into his office to say a plane had just hit one of the towers. We all saw the second plane hit, and we knew it was not an accident. Myself and nine other members of the Evidence Response Team ended up driving to Shanksville, Pennsylvania that same day after Flight 93 went down. We joined other first responders to start picking up body parts for the next two weeks. The biggest body part we found was an arm. Yet, we found enough body parts to identify, through DNA, all the passengers, and the four hijackers on board that Flight of Heroes.” -- Anonymous

“My husband and I, with our 2-year-old daughter, were at Walt Disney World (the Magic Kingdom) for my birthday, which is on the 13th. We were at the very back of the park when the employees of WDW asked everyone to leave in an orderly fashion. I have to give it to the employees. They were calm and collected the entire time, knowing what was going on. They gave everyone a return one-day pass ticket for future use. When we returned to our resort, we saw on TV what had happened. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.” -- Anonymous

“I was in my elementary classroom. My teacher started crying. She told us that bad people had done something, but we shouldn’t worry because she would make sure we were safe. My mom picked us up early. I walked into the house to see my grandma sitting on the couch watching TV footage of people covered in dust and a plane hitting a building. I burst into tears, saying I didn’t want to die. It was incredibly scary as a child to know something that was scaring the adults was happening.” -- Kate


Read part one: Where were you on 9/11? These responses are heart-wrenching


About the Author:

Michelle is the Managing Editor of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which writes for all of the company's news websites.