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Newsroom employees recall 9/11 experiences

It’s been 20 years and the memories of Sept. 22, 2001, remain.

When the first plane struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, I had been with The Dominion Post for 13 years.

It was a Tuesday and most of us had started our day at 8:30 a.m., so we were really just getting into it when the managing editor at that time announced a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Like most around the country, we thought it was an accident. But, minutes later he said a second one hit the building.

Immediately, we were monitoring national news and putting together a story budget for a special afternoon edition of The Dominion Post. Everyone in the Newsroom was given assignments — some reporters were called off other assignments and sent out to talk to people about what was happening in New York and Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

A reporter and photographer were sent to that Pennsylvania field to get photos and stories from there. We worked to get information on area people who may have been in New York or the Pentagon that tragic day. We worked to let readers know how this act of terrorism was going to affect the Morgantown area and, thus, them. We worked to give readers the facts as fast as we could, as accurately as we could.

Paginators and pressmen were called in early to put the articles and photos on pages and plates on the printing press so we could have the special edition out by early afternoon.

Like so many others, our staff — whether they were working here, in school or just being kids — has memories of that day. We decided to share them here.

David Beard, Senior reporter

 I had just visited New York City the last week of August 2001 along with my wife, Diane, and daughter, Tabitha. We walked all over downtown, shopped at Macy’s, lunched on one of those giant deli sandwiches and stopped at one of the countless street vendors selling souvenir T-shirts. I picked a long-sleeve one with a picture of the Twin Towers. It was a fun and memorable day.

With vacation over, I returned to work as a copy editor for The Dominion Post. I worked the night shift, 3 p.m.-midnight, so I was just stirring that Sept. 11 morning when a phone call came from the newsroom telling me I needed to get in to the newsroom ASAP and to turn on my TV.

I did and saw the first tower in flames. Some of that is a blur, but I recall seeing the second tower collapse while I was getting ready to go in.

When I arrived, the newsroom was strangely quiet, with everyone numb with shock, but also bustling as reporters made calls and the editorial staff planned how we would cover the news. It was a long and tiring night. We knew this was a day that would change the history of the country and the whole world.

I had never gotten around to trying on the T-shirt and after that, I couldn’t bring myself to wear it. It sits folded in a dresser drawer. I’ve pulled it out twice to look at it in the past 20 years, but in the drawer it will remain unless I come up with a better idea of what to do with it.

Ben Conley, City/county reporter

I don’t remember the white-haired lady’s name.

I’ll never forget her face.

She was crying. More, she seemed genuinely panicked.

She’d hurried into the building that held Greenfield Products’ new powder coating line and started making her way around the small factory floor.

She stopped in front of me and Josh at our station. We were hanging treadmill components onto the line.

“We’re under attack, boys,” she said. “They blew up the Pentagon and bombed New York. It’s on the break room TV”

She moved on. We kept loading.

Moments later, the production line fell silent.

This was serious. The line was new. They were still working out the bugs. They never simply shut it off.

The 15 or 20 of us working in the small factory addition walked across the parking lot to see for ourselves. I half expected to see jets streaking across the Ohio sky as I stepped outside.

The television was mounted in the corner of the room, which was packed, but silent save the sound of confusion coming from the emergency news broadcast.

Black smoke was rolling out of both towers.

“What the hell’s going on?”

The question was repeated again and again as more people joined the crowd standing around the table in the center of the tiny room.

“Planes flew into the buildings,” came the reply. “They’re trying to get everyone out.”

Just as the room fell silent again, the first tower collapsed.

We watched, oblivious.

Then the second tower dropped.

The white-haired lady was crying hard now. She had her hands over her face.

She wasn’t alone.

“Go home,” the boss said. “We’re done today.”

William Dean, Preston County reporter

I was 13 on Sept. 11, 2001, but that was old enough to understand what was happening.

I was home and watching Today on NBC with my mom. As it was closing out, they cut in with breaking news that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. I remember we had something to do that day but instead we sat transfixed watching the tragic accident and the live coverage. I saw the second plane crash into the second tower, live. It was hard to comprehend but I knew intuitively we would go to war. I didn’t know with who and I definitely hadn’t heard of the Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. I was a history nerd as a kid and I knew that an attack on American soil meant war. It always has. It was a declaration of war the same as Pearl Harbor was on Dec. 7, 1941. The magnitude felt like what I imagined it did back then. I don’t think I left the couch that day until it was time to go to bed except to use the bathroom or make a sandwich.

9/11 has had a definite impact on my life. To start, I’m old enough to remember greeting people at airport gates and not having to take my shoes off to fly. I’m not entirely sure if I would have joined the military if the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq hadn’t been going on. It was a pivotal moment that forever changed the direction of our country.

Gabriella Brown, Cops and courts reporter

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was 2 years old.

Part of a generation unaware of the world before the 9/11 attacks, it is difficult to say how life is different for me now. The extent of my experience comes from second-hand accounts — teachers who shared documentaries and taught what happened on the anniversary every year or stories told by my parents who watched coverage on television.

I do not remember life before the attacks, but the aftermath we cope with to this day is something normal in the lives of those in my generation. Taking my shoes off at the security check and having to exit the airport before seeing my family members has never seemed strange to me. I have never batted an eye at signs warning against prohibited items, weapons or restrictions on fluids scattered throughout the terminal.

Being fearful of the dangers that could come with traveling are ingrained into us for a different reason. We did not experience the tragedy firsthand, but part of our lives comes with following extreme precautions in case it were to happen again. The idea of a bomb or hijacking occurring on an airplane has never seemed out of the realm of possibility for me because of these precautions. It makes it almost feel likely something dangerous could be lurking anytime I board a plane, regardless of the fact that I have never experienced anything like it.

Despite the aftermath of 9/11 impacting my life today, I also recognize I will never truly understand what it was like to see it happen. I and others of my generation live mostly in ignorance of what life was like before experiencing such a harrowing event and the toll it took on so many individuals and families.

While I cannot contribute a story or a memory of my own from that day, I am grateful to hear the stories of those who share them. I may never be able to fully comprehend what happened that day or feel the full effects of what truly occurred, but I am grateful for those throughout my life who have worked to keep the events alive and have shown us the importance of honoring the lives lost.

Katie McDowell, enterprise editor

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving to an assignment — the grand-opening of a construction supply company on the Mileground — when I heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Like so many others, I thought to myself how odd and sad that was, believing it to be nothing more than a tragic accident. I assumed it was a small, private plane that had gone off course.

Shortly after arriving and about to begin my first interview, I heard someone say “turn that up.” A breaking news announcement brought the truth into focus — a second plane had hit the other tower, and this was clearly no accident.

 About one minute later, my pager went off. Being so close to the office, I headed back without calling. The managing editor at the time was rounding up the troops, as my father would say, organizing coverage. By then, I’d heard about the plane into the Pentagon, though I hadn’t seen any actual footage of any of the attacks yet.

I was still super green in terms of the job, and the rest of the day was a whirlwind. A bomb threat was called in to a WVU building and I rushed to cover that. Then I went to the police station to talk to the cops there, tracking down insight, leads, anything I could for the special afternoon edition we were publishing. It was at the Morgantown Police station that I finally saw the video. I worried about one of my best friends, who was a flight attendant at the time. I felt a dread I’d never known before.

 When I finally had a moment to take a short break, I called my dad — a retired Army colonel and Vietnam vet — and remember asking him, “Daddy do you think there will be a war here?”

I don’t know why I thought he’d have all the answers. Maybe I didn’t, maybe I just needed to hear his authoritative and comforting voice.

In the days and weeks that followed, I remember flags everywhere. People were frightened, but there was a bravery afoot. We were bound together by a determination — for healing, for swift justice, for explanations, for something toward which to redirect our fear and hurt.

I find it difficult to describe, though I will never forget it. Sometimes even in the business of writing, words fail.

Lindsey Fleming, News editor

I was 16, sitting in my high school history class at Parkersburg High when our teacher interrupted his lesson plan to turn on the TV, and we all watched the news coverage trying to make sense of the chaos and tragedy unfolding.

I mostly remember the confusion I felt. I had trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that this was not an accident, rather an orchestrated attack. Who would do this? Why? What else was to come?

I immediately wondered if my family friend who lived in New York City was safe. This is before cell phones were ubiquitous. The one I had was only to be carried when I was out with friends, in case I got stranded and needed to be picked up, not for chatting. And texting certainly wasn’t a thing, which meant I would have to wait until I was home with my family to try to reach her — thankfully, when we did, she was safe.

For so many people across the nation, there was no such relief, and the anniversaries of the attack also mark a much more deeply personal loss.

In my own hometown, Mary Lou Hague, a 1992 PHS graduate, was working in Tower Two of the World Trade Center that day. She was 26 and a financial analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods when she was killed.

Today, the City of Parkersburg, the Wood County Commission and Hague’s family will erect a monument at 1 Government Square, which incorporates a piece of steel recovered from the Twin Towers to honor her and all of the lives lost during the attack.

I am grateful that my memories from that day are not so deeply etched as families like hers, who have no choice but to remember.

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