Pennsylvanians’ Personal Stories: Recalling the Moment They Learned of 9/11 Tragedy

Visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial pause at The Wall of Names, containing the names of the 40 passengers and crew who died in the crash of United Flight 93 following a memorial service in Shanksville, Pa., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Patrick Berkery

September 7, 2023

In a recent edition of our newsletter, we asked Keystone readers to share their memories of where they were when they learned of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Anyone old enough to remember will never forget where they were when they learned about the terrorist attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001.

I was living in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia at the time with my then-girlfriend, who had recently started working in midtown Manhattan, a commute she made each morning via Amtrak.

As fate would have it, she had an 8:30 dentist appointment that morning, after which she was planning to head to 30th Street Station to catch the train. I was home and had just turned on “Good Morning America” when I saw a report about the first plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Right when the second plane hit, I called my girlfriend on her cell phone. The news had already hit her dentist’s office. She wouldn’t return to work for another week.

In a recent edition of our newsletter, we asked Keystone readers to share their memories of where they were when they learned of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. You’ll notice a common thread among the responses: everyone was just going about their day when suddenly, the world was forever changed.

Responses were edited for length and clarity.

“I was working at a small family practice. We brought a portable TV into the office and watched the planes hit the towers. We were all in a state of shock.” – Sharon K., Harrisburg 

“I was on the 40th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center working for Lehman Brothers. Sept. 11 is also my birthday.” – Karen Krieger, Warminster

“I was teaching at a pre-K-12 school in Center City Philadelphia. One of the teachers had alerts come up on her computer and found out about the first plane that hit the World Trade Center. She kept updating teachers as parents started to flow to the school to get their children. Since the children were young, we only told them that the school was closing for the day and families would be coming to get them. We sang and read books aloud and kept the children calm. I remember that my own children, who were in the older part of the school, came to my classroom and just quietly waited. My husband walked over from his work and started to cry with relief when he saw all of us, but had to stop when he noticed the young children still in my care. When the last of the children were picked up, we drove home, taking two-and-a-half hours for what was normally a 20-minute ride. There were no airplanes—it was so quiet.” – Debby Richards, Philadelphia  

“I was at a seminar at a hotel in Williamsport when I heard the news. The presenters made an announcement and everyone flocked to the lobby TV to see what happened.” – Gay Bartlebaugh, Williamsport

“I was a manager for Ames department store in Mansfield. Someone came in and told us what happened. We were able to get a TV working and watch as much as we could. I recently visited the 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville. Very powerful.” – Theresa Swain, Tioga

“I was working in a hospital on the Hudson River opposite NYC. The TVs were on in patient rooms and suddenly everything stopped and everyone watched or listened to the radio. I saw the second plane hit. We prepared to receive mass casualties. Unfortunately, they never came.” – Barbara Isenberg, Nazareth

“I lived in NYC from 1970-1988 and my apartment looked south, so I watched the Twin Towers being built. On 9/11, I was in my office at Pharmacia in Peapack. N.J. waiting for a meeting with a consulting team coming from NYC. My secretary informed me that the meeting was delayed—the team called and said they were caught in traffic. Five minutes later we knew why. We rushed into a conference room and then saw the second plane hit. All employees were instructed to check on their teams and their families, and then to go home. Some of my team were at a conference in Pittsburgh and I told them to get home any way they could. They were able to rent a minivan and arrived later that evening. My drive home took me to a crest where I could see the smoke from the now collapsed towers. I had to pull over to the side of the road. To this day, when I go into NYC, I look for where the towers stood.” – Charlotte, Berwyn

“I worked for the Pottsville Republican newspaper as a pressman during 9/11. It was only the second time in my 30 years in the press room we heard the infamous saying, ‘Stop the presses.’ The only other time was the Challenger space shuttle disaster.”  Michael Onuskanich, Frackville

“I was at work in Harrisburg when we heard the news on the radio. My son called me and begged me to come home. He was afraid that Three Mile Island, six miles from our house, was a target.” – Wendy J. Diffendall, Bainbridge

“I was a student at Columbia University in Manhattan on 9/11. It was primary day (unlike Pennsylvania’s primary election held in May), and I was getting ready to go vote. The television was on and I heard a news commentator say something was happening downtown but they weren’t sure what it was. I ran to watch the TV and saw the replay of the first plane hitting the North Tower. I was stunned and stood paralyzed. I immediately thought the pilot must have had a medical emergency because no one would ever deliberately do something like that. When the second plane hit, I realized these were acts of terrorism.”  Sandra Cizek-Wood, Potter County  

“I was sleeping on our living room couch after I had to call off work because I was not feeling well. My husband woke me up. The “Today” show was showing the fire in the first tower when the second plane hit. This will be embedded in my mind the rest of my life. I can still see it like it happened yesterday.” – Karen Wright, Cogan Station

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