September 11th, 2008
09:40 AM ET

The first day of school, as the first plane hit

Editor's Note: We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/11/art.911.jimhuibregtse.jpg caption="Dust and ash cover a patio in lower Manhattan after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers."]

Rose Arce
CNN Producer

The morning of 9/11 was the first day of school in New York City and after the first plane hit I found myself near an elementary school just before a second plane slammed into the Twin Towers.

I lived downtown so I got there fast and began a day of reporting via telephone on one terrible thing after another.

One man I met captured his daughters screams on tape that morning as they looked up in horror when the 2nd plane hit. We ran it on TV. The tape was intended to capture a little girl’s excitement as she walked into her classroom on that first day. Instead it became footage of a child reacting to an unnatural disaster.

A lot of things about that day have stayed with me but I think Jim Huibregtse and little Emma are the image that endures. My own daughter was not yet born. She starts at West Village Nursery School on September 11th this year and I’ll surely be dogging behind her with my own video camera. Children are great for marking the passage of time. Luna is 3. Emma must be, gosh, not so little anymore.

Each year since then, all New Yorkers have felt a little more free to enjoy a good day and not look up at that hole in the sky and remember. A bunch of kids, like mine, have never had to watch their parents look so scared. No escaping that creepy, deep in the stomach feel, that there could be a repeat. But you move on. Even the people who lost people, you can see them moving on.

I’ve been down to Battery Park City dozens of times with my daughter, to play in the playground that is within eyeshot of where the towers once stood. It’s the “park with the ducks,” not the place where I saw all those people who leapt to their death out of fear of being incinerated in a vicious terrorist attack.

We drive by the hole on our way to Brooklyn where tractors seem to have been rearranging the dirt for 7 years and mutter about how we wish they’d build something already. On a snow day, it even looks kind of pretty.

September 11th has become for me, and many of those who live in the city, a series of repressed memories. I am amazed how people I meet in faraway states sometimes remember the ugliness of it all the more vividly than I do; they even remember hearing me report it. I wonder if me and my 5 million neighbors just developed a 'monster of a coping' mechanism the day we decided not to move.

The mechanism kicks in when we get another “suspicious” package alert from the NYPD, or we hear firefighters racing to the scene of something, or our consant Orange Alert Status because of a newly released bin Ladin tape.

I activate mine whenever I hear about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and wonder what’s next. And I guess it will be on full the day I walk my daughter into school Thursday. For no particular reason. Just because this is something you can’t ever really completely forget.

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Lauren

    I was a junior in high school and I was in my U.S. American History class.We were watching a movie and our teacher kept getting up and walking out to the hallway, we really had no idea what was going on. He came in after a 4th time, shut the TV off and said "two planes left Boston and their destination was for L.A, they were hijacked and hit the World Trade Towers in NYC, the whole class just looked around at eachother, and we were all stunned. One student ran out because he had family members that worked in the towers. After class was over, I remember walking down the hallway, that were so often very loud with all of us high schoolers talking to one another, but this day was different, it was silent and we kept asking ourselves "What is happening?"

    The library set up a few TVs and we were all going down to watch, and that is when I saw a replay of the first plane hitting the tower, and I just felt a pit in my stomach and thought about all those poor people and their familes.
    I left school early, and was glued to the TV along with the rest of America asking myself "why?"

    May God Bless the men and women who lost their lives that day and all of their families.

    September 11, 2008 at 4:32 pm |
  2. grief-ridden, yet resolvedly hopefully

    i remember seven years from today as if it was yesterday. i just finished having knee surgery on 9/10, was wakened by my phone – my mother told me to put the tv on...i was refusing till she was getting hysterical...what i saw cut me deeply, i wished i never saw what was happening...the knowledge that what i thought was debris was humans – fellow americans jumping to escape the pain of death by fire...the knowledge that this was not an accident...the knowledge that a group of fellow americans died willingly that let another plane committ mass murder in the name of vengence...it has harden my heart...with hope, hope that i, u and fellow americans will never let such a tragedy be forgotten...that freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not only attainable, but has been paid, purchased and will always be prepaid by our blood, the blood of patriots!

    GOD BLESS AMERICA...and more importantly all of us!

    September 11, 2008 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Helen

    Reading these comments and blogs really touch an emotional nerve.

    I worked at Morgan Stanley at the time and on this morning I had taken the day off to register my children at school since I had just recently moved to a new neighborhood.

    What transpired in the next few hours completely changed me for life. I was overcome with emotion. The school shut down before I could even accomplish what I went there to do. Everyone, teachers, parents were all in utter shock and complete confusion over what we were watching on television that morning.

    Part of me is grateful I was not at work that day. To think that my children saved my life that day. I am still heartbroken when I think about the victims of that horrid day and the chain of events that took place that day. My father who works for Con Edison, worked at ground zero for months after the tragedy and He too will never be the same from what he saw. It's very sad.

    God bless, NEVER forget!!!!

    September 11, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  4. Jason

    It was my Senior year in high school. I walked to school with no knowledge of it until I saw all the shocked faces and confusion on campus. I asked everyone what happened, and when they told me, I refused to believe them.

    Two months later I enlisted in the Army. Served a tour in Iraq. This is my 7th year in service. And I will continue to fight in memories of the fallen.

    September 11, 2008 at 3:18 pm |
  5. Julian

    I was just seven when all this happened. My dad called my mom while she was driving me to school, and told her that a plane hit the first tower. At that point they thought it was still an accident, but my mom started acting strange, obviously. We were glued to the news all day. Us kids, all we could say at that point, was "Osama is bad", because that's all we really could comprehend. Somebody had done something bad to New York (We live in Austin, Texas). Death is a powerful thing that can't be TRULY understood . As with most kids, I really didn't understand what was happening. Now, over years, and having built up maturity, I really can truthfully say that I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. I know that people suffered, so I give my thoughts and prayers to the Americans who died that day, and their families, and the Troops, may we remember their defense of our freedom, in Afghanistan.

    September 11, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  6. Lucy

    I was 12 on September 11th, in 7th grade. My school decided not to tell us what had happened. All day rumors flew around the school about bombs and buildings in New York, but none of us knew what was really happening. It was up to my mom to tell my carpool group what had happened. I heard her and I watched the news all afternoon and night, and then I shut it out. I couldn't let it be real, I couldn't let that world be real. It's taken years for me to acknowledge how much that day has weighed on me, how much it changed me. I am finally beginning to grieve.

    September 11, 2008 at 2:28 pm |
  7. Jan

    I was sitting in Family Court and had called my first case. As I was taking testimony, my staff started acting very peculiar. The phone kept ringing and my clerk was trying to shove a note under my arm. I reprimanded them because it was interrupting my ability to focus on the case I was hearing. After the case concluded and before calling the next one, I apologetically asked the clerk what was so important. I read the note that said "plane hit world trade center and pentagon. We are under attack !" I shot a very strange look at her and said "Is this a joke?" I took a recess and learned it was true. I returned to my bench in the courtroom and decide to tell everyone what was happening, since they had all come to court 30 minutes before the first plane hit. I asked them to allow me a minute of silent prayer and I continued hearing cases. Oddly enough, the courts were going to remain open all day and everyone showed up, even in the afternoon. As I drove home about 5:45p.m., it was so surreal. Not one car was on the road, not one car was in the mall parking lot. I knew that ,somehow, life would never be the same.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:52 pm |
  8. Sandy

    I remember taking my 1st-grader to school and hearing in the background on the office radio something about an airplane that hit a building in New York. I got home and tuned into the news only to find out the second tower had been hit. That was the first time in my life I was terrified, and I had absolutely no control over the situation at hand. I picked up my daughter, then rushed to my son's high school to get him. I needed my children with me. No matter what happened, I was now ready (or so I thought) because we'd be together. From then on, I was glued to the tv, cringing and crying but unable to take my eyes away from the horrors I saw. I sat there praying for it to end, and for the people that were unaccounted for, and their families. Even today, as I passed firehouses that were paying tribute to their fallen comrades I cried. My mom says she was always afraid of the Cold War (or threat of it) and it's the one black mark on her childhood she couldn't really shake. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 are the black mark of my generation.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  9. Hannah

    Ahem Amy!

    September 11, 2008 at 1:30 pm |
  10. Melissa

    I read this while at work....I almost cried… because it brought back so many memories. I was a freshman in high school when it happened, and all I can remember was sitting in class watching the news thinking to myself, is this really happening? GOD IS THIS HAPPENING? We were all stunned, confused, and in shock. 9th graders sitting in a small classroom starring at a 12 inch screen, our eyes glazed over. I think it was the hardest sitting there without our parents to ask the questions we had that were putting our brain on overload. I grew up that day, saw the world a little differently, saw my government a little differently, and until this day I still don't feel safe. I, like many held this unexplainable trust in America, and in post 9/11 after reading stories and reports on how maybe… just maybe this could have been prevented I just don't know anymore. Faith is all that we must put out trust in, and I learned that in that hour as I stared, blank with unanswered questions as the world as I know vanished.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  11. Justin

    I remember watching the video on CNN of the plane hitting the second tower, the fire, and the collapse of the buildings over and over again all day long and can honestly say that I grew up that day. I think many of us really lost our innocence that day. Classes were cancelled, so I just drove around listening to the same song not really knowing what to do and going through a real gut check as the reality and gravity of the situation tried to set in. It was my first year of college, when gas was still a dollar, Bill Clinton had still been president when the year started, the Red Sox were still hopeless, and I had the world figured out. It seems so long ago now, but seven years isn't really much in the grand scheme of things. But had I known then what I do now, we should not have been the least bit surprised had we know the truth about how the radical Islamists hated us so intensely following years of meddling in their affairs by our government. It's unfortunate that so few people on either side could be responsible for setting such earth shattering events into motion simply because of their own ignorance and hatred. I hope that people don't forget the feeling of being violated, but instead of responding to the unknown or unfamiliar with fear and hatred and attacking it, lets try tolerance this time around and see if we can solve the fundamental problems behind such actions.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:20 pm |
  12. Crystal

    I was 11 when the planes hit. I remember the teacher turned on the T.V and all we did was watch the news. I had no idea what was going on. I didn't know about the towers or what they were. New York was a long ways away from Florida. Our teacher was really distressed and one kid made a joke and he shouted at him to leave the room. I passed my twin brother in the hallway and told him something big had happened. Now I know how significant this was. It took away our sense of security. I hope we continue to head forward but never forget the past.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm |
  13. Amy

    Really Ray? Im sorry but this is alittle extreme. Divorcing your wife because she didnt want to see you sit and watch the news all day? It also sounds like your praising your daughter and disowning your son for going "with his mother". Your last few sentances speak of how American familes are being destroyed by this tragedey. But look...you let your own obsessive greif destroy yours...a time of mass tragedy is when a country, familes, friends and neighbors come together. I hope you are getting the help you need.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm |
  14. Steve

    It was my freshman year of high school at Ralph Mckee, which over looks the harbor and Manhattan skyline. We all watched in confusion as the planes struck and the black smoke poured forth from the city, unknowing of what was to come next. 7 years later I aspire to understand all that which makes us human, and what motivates us to progress forth with such extreme actions. As a song writer and musician I hope to one day be able to combine my influences of the world culture, religion and beliefs that come together to establish a definition of the species that we call humanity, and drives us forward into the technological future.

    September 11, 2008 at 12:41 pm |
  15. Ray Fisher

    I watched as Katie Couric was trying to determine what was happening after the first plane struck, took my son to school and walked in the door as plane #2 struck, retrieved my flag from the drawer where it was folded and stored, cried, hung my flag from my roof, attended some business meetings, returned home, listened to news and cried all day. My then wife got tired of my watching the news coverage by griping so I divorced her, my daughter joined the Army my son went with his mother, I returned to my old AF base and manned a telephone help desk supporting our troops till retiring. America lost three aircraft that morning full of innocent people their lives and families destroyed forever, across America families have been destroyed and lost forever by the events of that day. May we one day capture or kill the culprits and have closure else 9/11 will remain a festering sore upon America forever. I can barely think of 9/11 without crying over the day America died.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:36 am |