“I Was 11 on 9/11”
A student from New York City looks back at a dark day 10 years ago
Top: The Twin Towers before 9/11. (Wilhelm Scholz / Stone / Getty Images)
Bottom: A new skyscraper, the Freedom Tower, is being built near the site where the Twin Towers once stood.(Mark Lennihan / AP Images)
September 11, 2001, was Emily Sussell’s fourth day of sixth grade. She attended Intermediate School 89 in New York City, four blocks from the World Trade Center. The school stood in the shadows of two 110-story skyscrapers known as the Twin Towers.
While sitting in social studies class at about 8:45 a.m., Emily heard a loud crash. “We felt the building shake a little and heard a shattering boom,” she says.
An airplane had flown into one of the Twin Towers. Emily and her classmates quickly evacuated their school. Outside, Emily looked up at the towers.
“It looked like a giant hole through the top of the tower, filled with flames,” she says. “I could feel the heat of the fire on my face, even four blocks away.”
Running From Danger
A family friend showed up to take Emily to nearby Public School 234. Emily’s mother worked there. As they waited for instructions on what to do next, a second plane hit the other tower. Emily and her mom soon left the school—just as that tower fell. They ran to escape the huge cloud of smoke and debris.
“I remember thinking that these kinds of things happen only in movies,” Emily says.
At 10:28 a.m., the tower that was hit first collapsed. By then, Emily and her mom were safe at another school about a mile and a half away.
A Day of Loss
Like many people, Emily first thought the plane crashes were accidents. That changed when she learned what had happened in Arlington, Virginia. A third airplane had slammed into the Pentagon. That five-sided building is the headquarters of the U.S. military.
News reports soon revealed that terrorists had hijacked, or taken over, the planes. The terrorists then flew the planes into the buildings on purpose. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was thought to be headed for the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
The events of September 11, often called 9/11, stunned the nation and the world. In just a few hours, close to 3,000 people had been killed. More than 400 were firefighters and police officers. They had been trying to rescue people in the Twin Towers.
After the Attacks
Following 9/11, the U.S. government took many steps to try to make the country safer. It tightened security at airports and in public buildings. Within a month, the U.S. set out to hunt down the men who had planned the attacks.
Like many Americans, Emily slowly recovered from the events of 9/11. Now 21 years old, she is in her last year of college at the State University of New York at New Paltz. She says that dark day 10 years ago is still a big part of her life. “It was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I survived it, so I think that I’m braver now,” she says. “It definitely made me more grateful for all of the things in my life.”