We put out a call on social media for George Mason University faculty, staff, students and alumni to share their memories of Sept. 11, 2001. If you want to share yours, please access the form here.
Karen T. Lee
Assistant Director, Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research
I lived in Western Pennsylvania, at the time, not far from the Flight 93 crash site. The university where I worked closed early. Most of the shops and restaurants and the local mall were closed for the rest of the day. There were helicopters that night. I kept watching the news. I'm not sure why. It was hard to wrap my head around it all, the enormity of what had happened. Now I sometimes wonder how much is memory and how much is impressions.
BS Social Work ’02
I am forever grateful to all those who lost their lives trying to save the victims that day; for the first responders still living with the damage; to all the people who lost those they love that day and days after; to all those who will forever remember how resilient the American people can be; and to all those who will continue to do what is right and selfless and courageous even when times are extremely dangerous, challenging and scary in order to protect the lives of the people of this country—forever grateful.
HR Project Manager, College of Science
I was sitting in my 10th-grade world geography class. Our teacher turned on the TV, and we saw that the twin towers had been hit. We thought it was a movie. Little did we know that history was being made. It wasn’t until we saw the report about the Pentagon being hit that reality really sunk in. My dad was at the Pentagon that day, but fortunately he was fine.
Anna Stolley Persky
Communications Officer, Office of Communications and Marketing
Graduate student, Creative Writing Program
I was a reporter for Bloomberg News, covering the Justice Department at the time of the attacks. I was running late to our offices, then in the National Press Building, when the first plane hit. When the second plane hit the second tower, I was watching it on TV. The bureau chief asked me to write the lead D.C. story about how we were in the middle of the largest terrorist attacks ever on U.S. soil. My then-boyfriend (now husband), called me from his apartment by the Pentagon because he heard the noise as the third plane hit the Pentagon, then saw the smoke and devastation. He reported it to me before our reporters did. The next hours are a haze—watching people jump and fall from the towers, watching the towers crumble, being told a plane was headed our way (near the White House) and that we had to leave the building, and then told that the plane was no longer headed our way, calling FBI sources who sounded as scared as I felt, and rushing the White House reporter over to the safe location in the FBI building. I finally called my mother, who was crying, and told me to leave the city immediately. I told her, "I have to stay. This is my job" even as part of me wondered why we weren't leaving the city with everyone else. D.C. took on an eerie emptiness as people fled. Reporters were crying off and on all day, especially when we learned of friends or sources who died or were missing from the planes, in the Twin Towers or in the Pentagon. I left my office very late at night, having written the most important story of my life. My then-boyfriend picked me up and drove me through the city, with armored vehicles on the corners and few people in sight. As I looked out the window, I thought we would never be safe, never be whole again.
BA Communication ’04
I was the photo editor of Broadside, the student-run newspaper at the time. I was taking afternoon classes and working for a litigation support company in the mornings out next to Dulles Airport. We didn't have TV and radio was difficult to tune in at my job and only the team leads had internet. When i got to work shortly before 9, a coworker mentioned something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a Cessna or other small plane and thought nothing of it. An hour later, when I went to one of the team leads, I saw the photo on CNN's home page of the second plane hitting the south tower. Within minutes, we heard about the Pentagon. I went to use the communal break room phone and didn't get a dial tone. That’s when the entire staff took a break en masse to go outside and try and use a cell phone. We were a tad panicked as we couldn't get our cell phones to work.
Ten minutes later I made the conscious decision to leave work for the morning, and the bosses sent us home at the same time. I decided I needed to get to campus, to get a camera and document what was going on at the time. I took backroads from Chantilly to Mason, let WTOP fill me in on what all was happening and arrived quicker than I think I ever drove to find a stunned campus, students in the Johnson Center glued to the TVs. It was the first chance I'd gotten to see the video of what occurred.
I was asked if I wanted to go down to the law school as I was told that was being used as a staging area for the Pentagon. I politely declined as I thought I would get in the way, and there was no way I could get to the Pentagon from there. I did my best to document and photograph the reactions on campus. There were polite discussions amongst students in the JC, sometimes voices were raised. Everyone was at their wits end. I even came across students playing ping-pong in the SUB I basement as Peter Jennings recapped the days events on a nearby TV. I heard from acquaintances in Student Government that they were concerned about family or friends in the Pentagon as they were unable to reach them. I'd checked in with Campus Police as they were concerned about any hatred or violence toward our diverse student population, which thankfully never materialized.
I stayed until President Bush spoke late that night, went back to our offices in SUB I and downloaded my photos and went home. The eerie calm and silence was the worst, as there was always an airplane going out of National or Dulles that was flying by campus.
The next few days passed as a blur. I'm not sure if I slept as everyone was waiting for the next attack to come. I photographed vigils, memorials, reactions. I remember dropping a memory card by the Mason Pond, which I never found—100 or so photos from the night lost.
Two decades later, the memories are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.
Assistant Professor/Associate Chair for Research, Environmental Science and Policy
I was living in midtown New York at the time and my bedroom had a direct line of sight to the twin towers. I had just moved in on Sept. 5 to start a new job at the American Museum of Natural History. I remember my brother waking me up, and as I sat up in bed, I saw smoke billowing from one of the towers and was very confused. I went to turn on the television to find out what was happening and then heard my brother's partner scream from my bedroom when she saw the second plane hitting the tower. As the day unfolded there was a weird mix of panic and normalcy in the air, with some people continuing to go about their business. It was surreal as we saw the towers engulfed in flames and then eventually disappear. Within a few hours, a parade of people covered in soot and dust came marching up Third Avenue looking dazed. I grew up in New Jersey near the city and lived in New York City for a while longer. But that day changed things for me, and I can't really spend time in New York anymore. Too many memories.