SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — The morning of Sept. 11, 2001 featured a high, blue late-summer sky when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. For many, that kicked off one of the most terrifying days in the country’s history.
In all, four commercial planes were hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists, ultimately killing nearly 3,000 people. Thousands more have died of illnesses associated with the toxins released when the towers fell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On that day, planes hit both towers of the World Trade Center, which fell, and another flew into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth plane went down in a field in Pennsylvania.
The events of 9/11 are considered the deadliest terror attacks on U.S. soil in its history. It’s also a date people remember so vividly, most can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news.
The following is a collection of remembrances of 9/11 from Summit County leaders.
The mayor was teaching an American history class at Stow High School on 9/11. He was standing talking with students when another student came to the door to report a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
A history teacher, Horrigan knew a plane had struck the Empire State Building in 1945. He thought this was a similar accident and turned on the TV for the class.
They watched a plane come into the picture and strike a World Trade Center tower, he said. Everyone thought it was a replay of the first tower being struck until TV announcers made it clear it was the second tower.
“I’ll never forget the look on their faces,” Horrigan said of his students. “You shouldn't see that. You know, hundreds of people just lost their lives in an instant. It's just, you know, just a punch in the gut. And these were kids. These were juniors in high school.”
Those students are now adults, Horrigan said, but whenever they run into one another, they talk about what they recall from that day.
Johnson was in her first year at the University of Akron School of Law. That morning, she heard the news break on TV, but went to class.
The professor started class, but stopped when students asked if they could instead talk about the morning’s events. Soon after, someone came to the door and said the university was closing for the day.
Johnson said it felt very surreal realizing she was at a research institution with the federal courthouse only blocks away, while sitting in a parking deck packed with students trying to leave.
“Listening to the radio, I do remember being very unsettled, but it also felt so far away. It felt very removed,” she said.
Once at home, Johnson tried to reach her dad, an air traffic controller at the Cleveland Traffic Control Center in Oberlin. He had already let her mother know he was going to be busy for a while, she said.
“It was crazy for him, because there was a plane that was grounded in Cleveland, and there was suspicion there were bombs on board,” Johnson said. “They thought at first [Flight] 93 was coming to Cleveland, the one that went down in Pennsylvania.”
Fowler-Mack was principal of Oxford Elementary School in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights District on 9/11.
When the news broke, she went room-to-room letting teachers know what was happening, and created a “command center” in the library.
When families began calling and arriving to sign students out of school, she invited them to look into the classrooms to see all was calm and under control, she said. Most of the families left their kids in school.
Fowler-Mack is proud of the “tactical thinking, planning and social/emotional support” she put into motion on that day, she said.
“I will never forget what it was like to be a leader, in the midst of uncertainty, charged with the care and wellbeing of adults and children,” she said. “Wow... I will never forget that day.”
Sept. 11 has a special meaning for Petures: It’s his birthday.
On that day in 2001, leaving a meeting, he said he was stunned to see the second plane hit the South Tower via a large screen on the side of the Hanna Building on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.
“How could we ever forget the tragic images of that day and the precious lives lost from this horrific event that I hope we’ll never forget?” he said. “Looking back, I choose now to reflect on the heroism of the safety forces we witnessed that day and the outpouring of love, kindness and generosity that lifted up our country and provided hope for all of us to move on, which came from all over the world.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, Akron Community Foundation, the Akron Beacon Journal and FirstMerit Bank created the Fire Truck Fund. Nearly 55,000 area residents donated $1.39 million to buy two emergency services vehicles, three SUV police cruisers and a 95-foot ladder truck for the New York City Fire Department.
Rice was in his office when news broke that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center.
“Initially, it was disbelief that turned to shock when the second plane hit the other tower,” Rice said. “As the day unfolded, it became apparent that we were under attack and I prayed for the loss of loved ones and for strength in this terrorism attack.”
A few years later, Rice went with his family to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial park in Shanksville, Pa.
“I remember feeling very emotional due to the tragedy,” Rice said.
The park honors the 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 who foiled an attempted attack on the U.S. Capitol on 9/11. The Memorial Plaza marks the crash site where the plane came to rest in a field, killing all aboard. A Wall of Names features 40 marble stones inscribed with the names of the passengers and crew.
A former banking executive, Shapiro was in a staff meeting at FirstMerit Bank when an assistant came in and whispered to FirstMerit Chairman and CEO John Cochran, she said.
Cochran then told the group the first tower had been hit.
“There was almost that delayed ‘What did you just say?’ Am I hearing you correctly?’ feeling," Shapiro said. “We started kind of looking at each other and then, we respectively all wanted to get with our teams.”
Shapiro went to the area where she met with her team and they sat together listening to the news, she said. Reports came in that a plane flying near Cleveland could be part of the attacks.
“It was a sense of disbelief — and wanting to be together,” she said. “I was hearing that from others, too, that they just needed to be together and have those people around you that you could hold on to.”
Hearing stories of people searching for loved ones in New York City made her think about the people affected, she said.
“All of the family members, all of the husbands and wives and kids that were waiting, because somebody just went to work that morning,” Shapiro said. “You know, we take day-to-day living for granted, but there are no guarantees. And much less, much less, when it is something that comes from a place of anger or hatred.”
Skoda said 9/11 is a very sad day in the country’s history.
“The loss of life was unbearable, but the events of that day brought our country together in ways we hadn't experienced before,” she said. “As we reflect on the anniversary of Sept. 11, honoring those who lost their lives that day, we need to come together again as a nation to protect each other as we fight a different enemy in COVID-19.”