In their own words: Virginia Tech community remembers Sept. 11, 2001
September 10, 2021
For most people, the earliest hours of Sept. 11, 2001, were filled with the routines of an ordinary Tuesday. But just as the traditional workday was starting on the East Coast, that changed in the most dramatic fashion, and by the day’s end, it was clear the world would never be the same.
The terrorist attacks that day were the most lethal in United States history. Almost 3,000 people were killed, the single largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil, according to the 9/11 Memorial website.
Ripples were felt throughout the world and across the Virginia Tech community. In Blacksburg, classes were canceled, support centers were established, and university officials began to identify Hokies who might have lost loved ones. Administrators also worked to ensure the safety of students studying abroad and the Blacksburg campus’ international student population.
In the aftermath, alumni, students, and employees responded in a variety of ways, much of which was detailed in the Winter 2002 edition of Virginia Tech Magazine. According to the article, Richard Blood (electrical engineering '87) was in a meeting on the 105th floor of Tower Two of the World Trade Center that day. He is Virginia Tech's only confirmed alumnus to have died in the September 11 attacks.
Approaching the 20th anniversary of this extraordinary tragedy, a handful of Hokies shared how they experienced that day, as well as the weeks and months that followed. Some were in Blacksburg, others had graduated and moved closer to the areas directly targeted, and still others would join the Virginia Tech family years after their experiences that day.
Collectively, their experiences, shared in their own words and alongside a timeline of the day’s events, illustrate both the diversity and the unity of the experience and impact of September 11, 2001.
Elvis Rosario, an emergency coordinator with Virginia Tech Emergency Management, a U.S. Army veteran, and was a police officer in New York City: In May of 2001, I had moved to Staten Island, and I was working as a patrol officer. I was working the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift on Sept. 10.
Bridget Larew, a certified nurse practitioner with the Schiffert Health Center, a former U.S. Air Force major working in the Pentagon: I was working in the primary care clinic [at the Pentagon.] On that day, I was doing some training, so I wasn’t seeing patients.
Kristen Stafford ’02 came to Virginia Tech a few years prior from an area just north of New York City, where many of her friends and family lived: I was walking across the Drillfield that morning, and I just remember it was a really crisp, fall day. Just like a nice, perfect day. And then, you know, in 15 minutes the entire world changes.
Christina Franusich, a photographer/videographer with University Relations and was a first-year student and member of the Corps of Cadets: September 11, that’s not very far into the school year. You’re still a wide-eyed freshman and a wide-eyed freshman in the Corps of Cadets. You’re still not even settled into this whole big life transition that you’re in, but not just the transition from high school to college, but civilian life to military life … The last thing on your brain is going to be some world-changing event.
Holly Kobia, assistant dean for advancement in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and was a senior at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, working part time at WTAE, Pittsburgh television station: I was on the 11th floor of Lawrence Hall, and I was getting ready for the day. I think I had a presentation in class, but I remember distinctly what I was wearing. I had on a blue pinstripe suit.
Marcia Cronin ’69: On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working in the IT [information technology] department at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
William S. “Sandy” Rodgers ’65 worked in the insurance industry: The week of 9/11, a meeting was being held all week in Nashville. On the morning of 9/11, I met with the group for breakfast, and then since I had no presentations to make that morning, I returned to my office to deal with some pending cases.
8:46 a.m.—Five hijackers crash American Airlines Flight 11 into floors 93 through 99 of 1 World Trade Center (North Tower). The 76 passengers and 11 crew members on board and hundreds inside the building are killed instantly.
Michel Faulkner, '80, '85 was a freshman All-American on the football field for Virginia Tech. He was working as a pastor in Manhattan and jogging in Central Park on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when a person shared news of the crash: My first inclination was this lady’s crazy, but then I added it up—the sirens, that explains it. I was probably a half a mile from my house.
Bobbie Jean Norris, the contracts and compliance manager for Advancement at Virginia Tech, was working in Washington, D.C., a block from the White House: My husband called and told me the first tower had been hit. I interrupted a meeting in the conference room to turn on the TV, and we watched as the second tower was hit.
Kobia: I had the TV on, and my mom called me. She said, “Oh my god, have you seen what’s going on?” I saw the smoke from the first plane. I was like, “Something hit that building. It looks like a terrible accident.” My mother said, “You better get out of that dorm room. We must be under attack.”
Cronin: A co-worker brought me over to their cubicle telling me one of the Twin Towers in New York City was falling. My first reaction was that they were pulling my leg, at least until I saw the TV coverage on their monitor.
Rodgers: I soon noticed a lot of people in the hallway, all trying to look into a next door office where someone had a TV. Someone commented that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, but I had things to do so I continued working for a few minutes.
9:03 a.m.—Five hijackers crash United Airlines Flight 175 into floors 77 through 85 of 2 World Trade Center (South Tower), killing the 51 passengers and nine crew members onboard the aircraft and an unknown number of people inside the building. The impact renders two of the three emergency stairwells impassable and severs a majority of the elevator cables in this area, trapping many above the impact zone and inside elevator cars.
Rosario: I was on the phone with my mother when the second plane hit. If you follow the flight pattern, it goes right over Staten Island. I would swear that I heard the plane go over where I live. I hear what everyone describes as the jet engine revving.
Franusich: I had an early morning class. I came back to my room, and my roommate was still asleep. The phone rang because back then we had landlines. It was my dad, and he said, “You need to put on the TV right now. They bombed the towers, the twin towers in New York City.”
I put down the phone and went running down the hall as fast as I could in my rat line. (freshmen in the Corps of Cadets were required to walk in a straight line everywhere they went).
Rodgers: The second plane struck — and someone then commented that the World Trade Center buildings were our clients. I had not been aware of that until that moment. I watched TV for a few minutes, then went back to my office, as I knew I would be getting very busy, very quickly.
Stafford: We started class, and someone came in and said, “Have you seen what’s on TV?!” So someone turned on the TV, and we’re sitting in class, watching everything as it’s happening.
Rosario: I got a call from the police department saying I needed to come back to work. We jumped into a vehicle, and we were dispatched to different locations. I stayed on Staten Island. Some Staten Island officers, specifically our Emergency Services Unit, responded to Manhattan.
Faulkner: I went home and watched the television and became engrossed in everything that was going on. My first reaction was, “Let me go down there because one of my deacons in my church was a firefighter, and I knew he’d be down there.” So, I said, “Well, I’ve got to go down and check on my sheep.” But then I felt a strong leading from the Lord not to go, and there was a wrestling match within me.
9:37 a.m.—Five hijackers crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The 53 passengers and six crew members on board perish. The crash and ensuing fire killed 125 military and civilian personnel on the ground.
Larew: Somebody came down and said the World Trade Center was hit. So, we came out to the lobby to watch TV and see what they were saying, and as we were standing there, some gentleman came running into our clinic and said, “We’ve been hit, too. Evacuate now!”
Norris: I could not drive out of the city due to everyone trying to get out. The roads were jammed, and one of the major bridges out of the city (Memorial Bridge) was closed. My car mate and I walked out — along with lots of others. As we walked by the Pentagon, we could see (and smell) the burning and all the emergency vehicles.
Kobia: They evacuated all of the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, so hundreds of people were spilling onto the streets. It was a zoo. I was stuck downtown, and I was calling everyone I knew who had a car. I didn't have one. There was no way to get a cab. There was no way to get anywhere. So, I went into a church. I prayed.
Larew: We evacuated the clinic except for myself, the chief nurse, and the second in command … Some injured people started walking in. We started sending the walking wounded back outside, but we got to a couple people that were too injured to go back outside. Because I was the only provider, I had to take care of them, and it was surreal. I guess that’s the best way to say it.
9:58 a.m.—Thirty-seven telephone calls are known to have been made from hijacked Flight 93, most placed from the rear of the plane. One of the last calls is made by passenger Edward P. Felt, who uses his cell phone to dial 9-1-1 after closing himself in a restroom to avoid detection. Flight 93 is flying so low that he succeeds in reaching an emergency operator in nearby Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
Larew: I had to take them back to the treatment room and start taking care of their wounds, and that’s when they announced that the second plane was going to hit us and we needed to evacuate. One of the guys [we were treating] just pulled his IV out and said, “I’m out of here.” He had wounds all over him and he just left.
Kobia: Finally, my volleyball coach called me back and said, “I’m running in to grab a bunch of people. You can load into my car. Where should I take you?” I said, “I guess to work [WTAE] because they’re going to need me.”
9:59 a.m.—After burning for 56 minutes, the South Tower collapses in 10 seconds. More than 800 civilians and first responders inside the building and in the surrounding area are killed as a result of the attack on the South Tower.
Franusich: I get down to the student lounge. I can’t remember if I turned on the TV, or if there were already students who had the TV on. There weren’t many of us. I wasn’t able to comprehend what I was looking at. I think one of the towers was already gone.
Larew: As we were outside, I made an all-call to the crowd and said, “Does anyone have a backpack?” I started emptying everyone’s backpacks and making portable supplies. So, like, supplies with respiratory supplies. Supplies for starting an IV. Supplies for starting bandages. I also started basically commanding, “Does anyone have a car in this parking lot? Does anyone have keys to that car?” So, we sent our patients — we were on the northside of the building — in private vehicles. Our three patients ended up in different hospitals because people went to the hospitals they knew.
Kobia: It was complete chaos in the newsroom. I saw a woman get out in her pajamas, no hair and makeup, just rolled out of bed. Some of them were half dressed.
Rodgers: I probably insulted some of my fellow employees who asked why I wasn’t watching TV, and my reply was that I now had claim problems to deal with and didn’t have time to just be watching TV.
10:03 a.m.—Four hijackers crash Flight 93 in a field near the town of Shanksville in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers and the crew storm the cockpit. The 33 passengers and seven crew members on board perish. The crash site is approximately 20 minutes’ flying time from Washington, D.C.
Kobia: The plane went down in Shanksville [about an hour away]. We are sending crews out there. That was my job to keep in contact with them, to brief the desk, to make sure people knew where people were and how they were doing.
Stafford: I went back to where I was living — in my sorority house at that time — and I just tried to call my family. My uncle was a New York City fireman, and he was there, but all we knew was that my aunt had spoken to him and then she got cut off. We didn’t hear from him for like two or three days. He was OK, but there was just no communication.
10:15 a.m.—A damaged section of the Pentagon’s west-facing outer ring collapses around this time.
Larew: I remember sitting there in the middle of the afternoon going, “This isn’t fair.” I always thought I would travel to war. I never thought war would happen on my turf. It was pretty traumatic in that sense.
10:28 a.m.—The North Tower collapses after burning for 102 minutes. More than 1,600 people are killed as a result of the attack on the North Tower.
Faulkner: I’m glad I stayed because there were people who needed us. People were walking from lower Manhattan up because there was no transportation. They were coming back. People were full of dust, and these were all people who had faced trauma. Knowing what had happened, we prepared to open our church for anybody who wanted to come and needed a place to be. We said, “We’re going to be there at 7.”
Rodgers: My telephone was already ringing, and the meeting was then canceled as almost all were impacted in some manner. Those involved directly with the World Trade Center asked me to meet with them to determine our course of action.
Early afternoon—Within hours of the attacks, some rescue workers and journalists begin referring to the scene of mass destruction at the World Trade Center site as “Ground Zero,” a term typically used to describe devastation caused by an atomic bomb.
Larew: I remember trying to call my family. My daughter was in seventh grade, and my husband was in grad school up in Baltimore. I had to borrow someone’s cell phone, and I couldn’t get out until about 12:30. And so, I just left a message on my home voicemail. My husband said he came home like five minutes after I left it.
Kobia: I got a call, and one of our investigative reporters had been arrested because they crossed a line in the woods, and they didn’t know where the line was. I was trying to relay those messages. I remember yelling “Bob [news director], you’re going to need to talk to these people that were just arrested.” The editor was like, “Get our attorneys on the phone.”
Franusich: They [Virginia Tech] canceled classes, and shortly after that, we were told to get out of uniform and put on civilian clothes. They [the corps] didn’t know if they were targeting military people.
Norris: Cell lines were completely tied up. After that initial call from my husband, he could not get through to me for hours. My kids (10 years old) were in lockdown at school, and I couldn’t get through to the school — and I couldn’t get there. Fortunately, we had an au pair (from New Zealand) living with us and our house was only a few blocks from the school. She was able to walk to the school and get them when allowed.
Larew: After all our injured were taken care of and evacuated, we were standing there, and some four-star general came up and said, “We’re going back in the building,” and I was like, “I’m not going back in the building.” An ambulance showed up and it drove us around and dropped us off in center court. We spent the rest of the day in center court, mostly taking care of firemen because they could only tolerate about 15 minutes of the heat and then they would have to come out and get hydrated. We made a make-shift morgue and got set up for more casualties.
5:20 p.m.—After burning for hours, 7 World Trade Center collapses. The 47-story tower had been evacuated earlier. There are no casualties.
Faulkner: I was a police clergy liaison, and I was also on the mayor’s task force for several different things. I had connections, but the thing that was scary was that the mayor’s office of emergency management was in the tower. It went down. All communications with the mayor’s office were immediately terminated. The one place where disaster relief could be coordinated was cut off.
Larew: At 6 p.m., they told us they wanted us on the main site. So, we walked through the building and ended up at this site where the event happened, where the impact happened. It was just really weird. I took up the rear to make sure everybody got out safely. You could look up and see inside everybody’s offices. Like I could see someone’s desk. It was just strange.
Kobia: That night, and in between the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. shows, I got a little relief and I went and fed some dogs in people's homes. It was the executive producer’s dog, our anchor, and a couple of key people who were single or didn’t have family. One of them said, “Go get my dog and bring him back here.” I don’t remember sleeping.
Stafford: The rest of the day was just kind of a blur. Tech literally never canceled anything, but they canceled class the rest of the day. It was just people sitting around, glued to the TV ... And considering they canceled classes, it didn’t become like, “Hey, let’s go out and drink all day.” Things stayed very somber.
Larew: I got home about 6:30, but we weren’t allowed to go back to our offices, so I called my husband and said to pick me up at the Metro. He took my clothes out of the bathroom so I couldn’t smell them because they were covered with smell. He took them to the dry cleaners and the dry cleaners were like, “These smell horrible.” And he said, “My wife was in the Pentagon,” and they were like, “OK,” so they cleaned my clothes for free. My family was really relieved, but I got back there [the Pentagon] the next day at about 5 in the morning.
Faulkner: We did have our service, and we had times when people could talk. It wasn’t just me preaching. It was people talking and sharing what had happened and their experience and asking for prayers. We stayed open every night for the next 12 to 14 nights, and it was packed. People needed a place.
10:30 p.m.—The White House addresses the nation.
“The search is under way for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
— U.S. President George W. Bush
First responders, search and rescue teams, and volunteers continue to converge on Ground Zero throughout the day. Rescuers use special tools to peer into voids and search for remnants of stairwells and elevators that might shelter survivors. The last successful rescue will occur midday on Sept. 12.
In the days and weeks that follow …
Larew: We stayed on 24 hours operations for about six weeks and then at the one-month anniversary is when they had that big ceremony out at the riverside area. We had to be prepared for another mass casualty event. So, then you know at the anniversary when everyone could start their healing, we could not because we were still on duty.
Faulkner: I began to get calls from churches outside the area, “Hey, how can we help? What can we do?” They said, “We’re going to send money,” and I said, “Send it to the Police Benevolent Fund.” They didn’t. They sent money to us. Within about a month, we had about $250,000 that churches had sent us for a relief effort that we hadn’t even thought about.
Rosario: [At Ground Zero] I was only on the pile for one day, but when I worked on the pile, it was still smoldering. It burned for a long time. It was hot …We had to take breaks to get our eyes washed out because of the dust. There were volunteers with pop-up tents with buckets of water they would pour over your head to get the dust out of your face. You dry off, and you go back on the pile.
Norris: It was really a surreal experience. The next day all of D.C. was shut down. It was truly eerie to come out of the Metro and there was almost no one on the street. When we did return to work, our cars were checked, including opening trunks and inspecting the underside of the car—by security every day before being allowed into the garage (under the building). And everyone in the car had to show their government ID.
Rosario: There was a bagel shop in Staten Island where we used to get bagels. One of the girls who occasionally worked there [and who worked in the World Trade Center] died on 9/11.
Rodgers: The volume of requests was tremendous. Before the week ended, I was also asked to provide a confidential estimate/projection of what the costs would be to demolish and rebuild the Twin Towers, including the revenue losses during reconstruction and through re-occupancy.
Faulkner: I got the guidelines from World Vision as to how they dispense the relief funds, and we put it in a restricted account. … It took about 18 months for us to distribute those resources. We wanted to get it in the hands of people who didn’t have direct access to any kind of government funds or insurance.
Franusich: Some people [at Virginia Tech] were really moved. They were like “I’m enlisting to help fight.” We didn’t even know who we were fighting. Josh is the closest person to me who did that. He did come back [to VT] and rejoined our company. He wasn’t gone for a long time. It made it really real. I think my parents were also freaked out that they would send us out there.
Rosario: The third day [after Sept. 11], I was at the landfill [in Staten Island]. That’s where they brought all of the rubble from Ground Zero. We just shifted through all of the rubble and pulled out whatever we could pull out that could have been evidence or anything that was identifiable to something. I found the flotation device under the seats of the airplanes, tons of wallets and identification, and keys.
Cronin: My daughter had just graduated from the Air Force Academy that spring and started flight training. As it turned out, she did seven tours in Afghanistan and Iraq with her C130 crews, dodging bullets and RPG's. The ripple effects from 9/11 are still being felt.
Franusich: Every year it comes around. I immediately remember that, and I’m right back in there. It’s not everything; it’s the key moments. You remember it being a sunny, beautiful, blue sky day, being in the TV lounge, and watching it happen in a daze, and trying to inform everybody.
Faulkner: This divergent path in history changed my life, and my life is forever changed around some of the things that happened … One of the things I learned during that period of time was how to listen because people’s stories became important, and it was important that they got to share their stories. I also recognized that people, especially religious leaders, when there is a change, we have to understand that we’re not going to get an exact dictation from God as to what to do. There is going to be a lot of stuff that we’re going to have to accept by faith and trust God as we know Him.
Rosario: Every 9/11, I just go into my own little shell, and I remember. I have to remember. There are people I knew personally who died on that day. They were members of the New York Police Department and the New York City Fire Department. I have a thumb drive with radio transmissions from that day that I listen to, just to remember. Maybe I’ll start at the end and scroll backwards. I’m just wondering, if I hear a familiar voice, maybe I’ll recognize someone.
Larew: I always say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but did the right thing.
— These remembrances were collected by Jenny Boone, Jimmy Roberts, and Travis Williams