There are moments in our lives when time seems to stand still, when the world seems to stop turning, when we are rendered speechless and seemingly unable to comprehend what’s happening. On Sept. 11, 2001, our world shifted with the initial impact of a commercial plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Those who knew of the attack were likely still in shock when a second aircraft hit the South Tower. Some of us watched live as that terrifying strike took place. Still more horror unfolded as a third plane hit the Pentagon and another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The events of that tragic day and where we were, what we were doing, are likely seared into our memories. We remember the fear, the anger, the disbelief. But most of all, two decades after that tragic day, we remember those who lost their lives to senseless acts of violence.
To commemorate 20 years since 9/11, we asked local city officials, business owners and residents where they were when the world stopped turning.
“My pregnant wife and I were actually headed to NY that morning from ATL to meet my parents (who were flying to NY from Chicago) — we were going to see a baseball game, see a play, visit Cooperstown, and visit family in NY. We had a 9 something AM flight, and were running late. We got to the counter and the CSR told us nonchalantly that the flight was delayed because a plane hit the WTC. We all thought it was a small plane or sightseeing helicopter. Cellphones were not a big thing then, however I had one and got a frantic call from my boss whose husband was a Delta pilot. She was crying and was emotionally glad to hear my voice. She related what happened and I repeated to my wife — the WTC collapsed — I relayed this to my wife in disbelief — others around me heard and ran for the payphones. The TVs in the terminal which had been powered off, came on just as the video of the second tower crashing down was telecast. We had no way to contact my parents to see if they were OK, and most phone lines were not connecting. I managed to get a call into my grandmother in Chicago who had heard my parents were OK — they were on the plane and deboarded. My wife and I sat there staring at the TV for what seemed like hours. Soon the police came through and ushered everyone out of the airport. On the radio we heard that ATL and Chicago landmarks were possible targets. When we got home we were again glued to the TV and CNN coverage. I tried to get a hold of my cousin in NYC — she was on her way to work in Queens and was in the group that walked back to the city. Knowing she was safe, I started to call to cancel reservations in NY. The last piece of paper crushed me as I dialed the restaurant we were to have dinner that night — Windows on the World (top of the World Trade Center). I was trying to cancel a reservation at a restaurant that did not exist, in a building that did not exist, in a city devastated. At some point we fell asleep still numb and in shock. I woke up to the news that baseball was being cancelled as a result — at that point it hit me — if they could take away baseball — I then broke down for a long time. Then I realized the world would never be the same again.”
— Marc Cohen, Sugar Hill City Council member
“I was at my first job as a cook at Up The Creek Cafe. We were in the middle of service when one of the servers told us what had happened. We watched stunned as the events unfolded on the television behind the bar. I can’t remember if we cooked anything else that day. I didn’t want to accept what I feared then and what I would come to know now. America was changed violently as we’d never seen. The actual events of that day lasted only an instant, but the impact continues into the future.”
— Rico Cunnington, owner of Rico’s World Kitchen in Buford
“On Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, I was on the football field at my high school taking a photo in which all the graduating seniors gathered to form ‘02’ on the field to commemorate our graduation year. When we returned to our classes, we were devastated to learn of the tragedies that had taken place. As we were laughing and joking and looking forward to graduation and our futures on that field that day, the world as we knew it was changing.”
— Deanna Allen, editor of the North Gwinnett Voice
“I went in early on Sept. 11th, 2001, to work at NCR in Duluth for a daily meeting to handle customer issues we were having with deliveries. At 8:50 a.m. we heard the news that the World Trade Center North Tower had been hit by a plane. We were all in shock and it caused concern on what could be happening and the safety of the people there. I was particularly concerned because I had family members that worked in the Trade Center buildings. We watched on television as the additional horrific events of that day unfolded. The business issues we were having seemed so trivial in comparison to the tragedy that was occurring.
— Pete Charpentier, Suwanee City Council member
“I was at school on planning with another teacher when someone yelled for us to turn on the TV. We could not turn TVs on for days and many computer sites crashed — difficult to get any info for days. My daughter kept me informed, and I shared that with our faculty. There was a window in our classroom and we repeatedly saw low flying aircraft.”
— Patty Pledger Prather, Sugar Hill resident
“I was in a staff meeting at work and my wife came to the office in tears and asked us to turn on the news. We did and we did not say a word for 10 minutes. Then My wife went and picked up our kids and I went home and was glued to the TV.”
— Steve Edwards, mayor of Sugar Hill
“I don’t have a physical photo but the day is seared in my memory bank. I was 38 years old with a daughter in first grade and a son in fourth grade. I left my business in Buford and was driving to my dentist appointment in Lawrenceville. The radio was on, my song was interrupted with a news report that a plane had struck the first tower. In my mind, I was thinking a small private plane. I could not image how the pilot would hit a building. Maybe a heart attack? By the time I reached the dentist, my dentist had a television set up in the lobby and I watched the second place hit. I could not believe what I saw. My mind could think of zero scenarios that could explain how two commercial planes were able to crash into the World Trade Center. Then I heard the word terrorism. My next thought was my children and are they safe? Will there be more attacks? I need to get to my children and keep them close to me. I called my office and asked them if they needed to leave, which they said no. The school was taking excellent care of my kids, keeping them safe and sheltered somewhat from the brutal reality. At my office, my phones did not ring all day or the next until about 2 p.m. A customer called me needing coverage for a house they were buying that day. He said to me, “I think I am the only person in the world working right now.” I said, “I think so too.” And just like that, our phones started ringing again and September 11, 2001, became our new normal. We are forever changed, and I hope that we never forget.”
— Jeanne Stringer White, State Farm Insurance agent, Buford
“I was in my Freshman year at LaGrange College and just gotten back to my dorm room after my 8:00 am class. I had sometime in between classes so I was going to relax on the couch and watch some TV. I saw on the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. At first, I didn’t think much of it and was watching the news. While watching I saw the second plane hit the South Tower. One of the most surreal moments in my life. We knew then the first was no accident. We stayed glued to the TV all day and just couldn’t believe what we were watching.”
— Nic Greene, Sugar Hill City Council member
“On Sept. 11, 2001, when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, I was at the gym on the elliptical. I had just dropped my kids at school. I was glued to ‘Good Morning America’ as things played out. When the second plane hit and I realized what was happening, America was under attack, I went to the school and signed my kids out. I was terrified and wanted my kids close. I explained (age appropriate) what was happening and then they made a ‘God Bless America’ sign for the yard.”
— Maureen Kornowa, executive director for Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter
“I was a junior engineer at a company in Duluth. My manager came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center — at the time, it was thought it was an accident. I had a radio in my office, so I tuned into the live radio broadcast on WSB. Shortly after I tuned in, United Airlines 175 hit the south tower. I distinctly remember the reaction of the reporter on the radio and the realization of what was happening.”
— Taylor Anderson, Sugar Hill City Council member
“I was at a paint store in Buford when I first heard that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center Tower. There was no television in the store; just employees and other customers like myself sharing what little they knew. I assumed a little Cessna had veered off its flight plan and a tragic accident had occurred. It was not until I returned to the jobsite with my paint and saw what was happening on TV that I realized the magnitude of the event.”
— Jimmy Burnette, Suwanee mayor
On the morning of the terror attacks, I was in bed at home sick with strep throat. My husband called me and woke me up. He told me one of the twin towers had been hit by an airplane. I thought he was pulling my leg, so he was like go watch TV. I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room to turn on the TV. As I was turning the TV on, the second plane hit. I remember just feeling like our whole world had suddenly changed. I started crying.”
— Alicia Couch Payne, community editor for the North Gwinnett Voice