Midlo Remembers: an eerie flash back to 20 years ago at Ground Zero

Midlothian teachers share their stories on the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks


Photo by: Max Pixel

The attacks of September 11, 2001, are remembered in New York by two beams of light, representing the spot of the Twin Towers.

It was just twenty years ago that the seemingly average lives of the American people would drastically change forever.  On September 11, 2001, the United States was brutally attacked by terrorists who claimed the lives of more than 3,000 innocent victims.  No matter who you were on that Tuesday morning, life would never be the same. 

The whole nation collectively held its breath that day as they watched television or listened on the radio to the blood-chilling news that a Boeing 767 carrying ninety-two people had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. As they were grappling with the news, a second plane hit the South Tower of the WTC. Over the course of an hour, two other planes headed toward Washington, D.C., one of which would strike The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and the other, meant to strike the Capitol, was brought down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania by its heroic passengers.  This news would not only startle the nation but would entirely change the course of history.  It was only twenty years ago, and yet, many are still emotionally wounded from such a traumatic event.  Everyone who was old enough to remember that day has a story to tell. 

At precisely 8:46 a.m., what sounded like a large cannon cracking through the sky made everyone stop in their tracks and look up.  An aircraft had just crashed into one of the glistening towers of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.  Flurries of papers and huge clouds of blackened smoke began to sputter out of the building and fill the city streets. Four short minutes after the initial attack, President George W. Bush was notified of the events while visiting an elementary school in Florida. Nearly an hour later in Washington D.C., a third hijacked aircraft crashed into The Pentagon.  The United States of America was officially under attack.

The second tower of the World Trade Center bursts into flames after being hit by a hijacked airplane in New York in this September 11, 2001. (Photo by: Reuters)

History/Economics Teacher, Bryan Vannoy

“It just doesn’t seem like it’s been 20 years,” Vannoy said, reminiscing on his experience from September 11, 2001.  “The school year had just started and I was living in Virginia Beach where I was a freshman in high school.” 

“I was in a new school, kind of getting used to everything, and I remember that it was a Tuesday and I was on my way to lunch.  A friend of mine was walking down the hallway opposite of me. He was like ‘Hey Brian, did you hear that the U.S. is getting attacked?’ and I’m like ‘What?’ Because you don’t just randomly hear that and we didn’t have smartphones where you could just pull up Twitter feeds or social media to check the news.”

“So, we were walking to lunch, and still, nobody knows exactly what’s going on. So then we started hearing all these rumors.  We heard things like ‘the President is dead’ and ‘the Capitol Building is gone.’ We heard that ‘we are going to war,’” Vannoy said.

Economics and History teacher, Bryan Vannoy, meets with President George W. Bush just one month before the 9/11 attacks. (Photo by: Bryan Vannoy)

“So all day I went through my classes and none of my teachers turned on TVs, they didn’t really mention it. It wasn’t until my last class of the day where my social studies teacher said, ‘just to let you know what’s happened,’ because she had a radio on, which had the news and was telling us ‘Two planes were flown into the Twin Towers in New York City and they have collapsed and fallen to the ground. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon.”

“And then I had some friends calling me at my house, saying ‘Hey are you seeing this? It’s crazy.’ And you know, President Bush was on the TV that night and he talked about what was going on. And it wasn’t for a couple of days until we realized that it was a terrorist attack. And then we started hearing the country named Afghanistan a lot in the news and we’re like, ‘I’ve never heard of that country before’ and a lot of people hadn’t until then,” Vannoy said.

“After that, you couldn’t even buy an American flag anywhere because everybody wanted to show their patriotism.  Everybody was all about America.  Everybody was sad, but everybody showed loving patriotism for the U.S.  Back then you couldn’t find one in stores and the local newspaper actually printed off an insert in the newspaper where you could like put an American flag in your windows. I remember I took it out of the paper and I taped it to my bedroom window,” Vannoy said.

“But yeah, it was really hard to comprehend what was going on. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was a freshman in high school and I was 15 years old. Now I’m 35 and I mean, it just doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years.”


The streets of New York City are filled with smoke and debris after the World Trade Center is hit. (Photo by: Picryl)

History Teacher, John Fout

“I was sitting in educational psychology at college,” Fout said, explaining that he was just beginning his day of school and attending his morning lecture. “So the first time I knew something was weird was that we had a kid in our college class that somebody came and pulled out of class.”

“That never happens in college. Like no one ever comes to college classes, like ‘We need to see a student.’ So they pulled a young lady out and we were like, ‘huh, that’s weird.’ And then maybe she came back ten minutes later, obviously upset, grabbed her bag, and left.”

We had no idea what was going on. And then once class ended, we were walking around campus to the next class. Everybody on campus was basically saying, ‘Get to a television.’ My wife was in class with me and we ran to her dorm to turn on the TV just in time to watch the second plane hit,” Fout said.

Science Teacher, Paul Parker

“I was here at school.  Teaching at Midlothian High School,” Parker said, and his first reaction to the event was “shock and surprise.”  “It was surprising because no one ever thought that would happen here, you know?” Parker said.  “There was a lot of fear because, they had all those videos showing the crash itself. They even had a picture of a man falling. So it was quite frightening for me and I think the entire nation when they saw that,” Parker said.

Fire fighters, police officers, and other first responders search endlessly through ruble and debris after the collapse of the Twin Towers. (Photo by: Flickr)

School Monitor, Gail Ledbetter

“My first thought was shock, just shock.  And then I went to the library to look at it on TV and I could not believe it,” Ledbetter said.  “I was just shocked. I was worried because I have relatives in D.C. I was really worried about them, but I made it through.  I was worried because the phone lines were down and I just couldn’t get to them.”

“It was a real shock. It was like something that I wouldn’t believe ever would have happened. It just came out of nowhere. But did the whole teenage generation during that time grow up quicker? Yes. Did they learn how to deal with adversity, learn how to deal with sadness, and did they learn how to deal with hardship, because you know, some of them were left without parents? Yeah.”

“The teenage group grew up quick, in my opinion, but I was worried about them.  The whole school just took on a different personality and awareness of what they should be doing to prepare for the future. But for the generation of 9/11 kids, they all changed their thinking,” Ledbetter said.

Teacher Assistant, Afrodisia Brown

Originally from the New York area, Brown witnessed firsthand the horrors of the September 11 attacks.  “I was in Manhattan on 9/11,” Brown said. “I worked downtown at the Financial District called Battery Park. I was coming up from the subway and I heard people yelling, ‘one of the towers was hit’ and ‘We are under attack!’” Brown said as she reflected on her still-vivid, but eerie memories of September 11.

“I looked up and all you could see was smoke filling the air and ash coming down from the sky. I was in complete disbelief.” Brown said.  “Police were telling everyone to go the opposite way away from that area and we could not use any transportation because everything was shut down.”

“I began to run with everyone else.  All I could think about was my son and trying to make it back home to him. People started yelling even more saying, ‘The second tower has been hit.’ I just remember running and trying to get away from where I was as quick as possible.”

“Since everything was shut down, I just walked and walked. I crossed two bridges until I reached a certain part of Queens where a friend gave me a ride to another part of Queens. I did not reach my son until late that evening. When I arrived, I just hugged him and cried. When I actually found out what was actually going on, I just became numb.”

“I was terrified because I didn’t know what to expect next. I was imagining the unthinkable. If they could attack by air, would the subways or bridges be next? My boss had been searching for me for a few days. I could not process, nor fathom, everything that was going on. I did eventually pull it together to let him know I was safe and sound. I will never forget that day.”


After just twenty short years, America is still wounded and will forever be changed by the drastic events of September 11, 2001.  We will forever remember this frightening time, yet will continue to teach and explain to future generations so that history will not repeat itself.  What happened all those years ago can be learned about and experienced at the new One World Observatory in New York City, which stands tall in remembrance of the Twin Towers.  Memorials in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. are available for viewing as well, and are there to remember the brave heroes who died on that horrific day.