In Your Words: Elon Shares Stories of 9/11

As the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the university community recounts emotions and memories of the day.

Members of the Elon community gathered on campus for a candlelight vigil on Sept. 14, 2001


Elon University hosts several programs this week to honor the lives lost and the families impacted by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, starting this evening with a faculty panel in Whitley Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Students, staff and alumni have been sharing on Facebook memories of the horrific day – and how the attacks have changed the way they live.

Visit Elon University’s Facebook page to add your own perspectives. Additional stories may be added to this E-net post in the days ahead.

Here are their stories:

Beth Burns Derouaux: I came way too close to losing two people whom I love very much that day. My father was at the Pentagon for meetings on 9/11. He wasn’t hurt. However, we were unsure of his condition for hours as we couldn’t get in touch with him.

My best friend and her boyfriend were running late to work in NYC that morning. Both were heading to the WTC for meetings. Just as soon as they walked up from the subway, they witnessed the second plane hit. If they hadn’t been running late, both would have been in their respective offices at Tower Two. All three lost many friends, and I came way too close to losing my father and best friend who is like a sister to me.

I learned that life is way too short and unpredictable to be lived as an observer. Participate in things you enjoy, be kind to everyone, love as much as possible and take chances- don’t just take the predictable path in life.

Drew Forte: I’m from New York, so I remember leaving school early that day and coming home and seeing my parents crying while watching the television. Both of my parents, along with an uncle, were in the city that day and I am just thankful that they were able to make it out OK and unharmed. With all the confusion and chaos that day no one knew if there were more attacks planned, and I remember my parents saying how they got one of the last trains out of the city. I am very thankful that they made it home to me and I will never forget 9/11/01.

Jessica Vitak: I was a senior and in JCM 425 (Advanced Reporting at the time) with Janna Anderson. Some editors from the Burlington Times-News were in class that morning to talk about our semester project with them. When class was ending, I remember checking the front page of Yahoo! and seeing a post about the first crash. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I’m pretty sure I thought it was just a horrible accident.

By the time I’d gone upstairs to the lobby, the second plane had hit, and it became pretty clear this was no accident. A crowd was quickly growing as people came to watch in horror at the events unfolding on TV. Everyone seemed frozen, unsure of what to do or say. The feeling of fear and sadness and helplessness was nearly overwhelming. I remember sitting on the front steps of McEwen, unconsciously flinching as a plane flew over. I grew up in Baltimore; could a plane be heading there, too? I wanted to call all my friends and just hear their voices, but the airwaves were already clogged.

I was also the copy chief at the Pendulum and the general manager of WSOE at the time, so there was little time for me to spend in shock. I quickly went over to Moseley and we immediately began broadcasting updates on WSOE as they came across the news. I then turned my attention to the newspaper because we had an issue to finish that night and a lot of the content had just changed. We worked through the night and into the morning finishing the issue and trying to capture what had just happened. I am still very proud of that issue, of how the staff came together and worked so hard when I think many of us just wanted to curl into a ball and cry.

This moment was for me like I imagine the JFK assassination was for my parents: the whole day is forever etched into my memory as a day I knew then would change everything. But I remember how strongly the Elon community came together during this horrible time, supporting each other through it, regardless of whether it was one’s best friend, student or a complete stranger. This is one of the many reasons why I will always love Elon.

Fred Melchor (director of technology support): I was on campus when the attacks occurred. All of us came to a stop. People gathered around TV’s and news websites. Everyone was in shock. I remember one of our students leaning in close to the big TV in McEwen and pointing to a small building across the street from the WTC complex. “My mom is there,” she said. Her finger lingered over the screen tenderly brushing its surface before she drew her hand away. It’s odd how little things like that stick in the mind…

Diana Eat’n: I was a freshman at Elon. It was Tuesday and I was in calculus with Dr. Lee. We left class and headed to College Coffee for a pep rally for our first home football game. My friend and I grabbed food real quick and heard whisperings about a plane hitting the WTC. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who would do that didn’t they see the building?’ We went over to grab our football tickets at the athletic center discussing the plane “accident” with a few people standing in line. We headed into Moseley into the mailroom and saw the TV showing the second plane hit. It was in an instant that we knew this wasn’t a freak accident but we were under attack. We ran back to our dorm (Staley) to wake our roommates. My friend started calling her mom right away because her father was with the FBI and in Lebanon and she knew right away something was up. Then all day was watching TV and trying to get in touch with people I knew in NYC and DC.

Dwight Calvin Watson Jr: I was in the band (and it was) our first appearance before the university (during a pep rally). As big as the opening of Rhodes Stadium was for the school, finally having the opportunity to introduce the Fire of the Carolinas was huge for all of us who were involved. We never really got that chance. I had a hunch that it was a big deal when the rally was ended before we could even really get going. We returned to the band room, packed up, and went our separate ways, only to return to our dorms just in time to see the second plane. Two Saturdays later, we finally hit the field and got our chance, only to be upstaged by the A&T band while we were having a moment of silence. Still not happy about that. Makes me wonder… does the plaque at Rhodes Stadium still say that the stadium was dedicated on September 15, the date of that first home game that never happened?

Madeline Monaco: I was the first person from my third grade class to be picked up from school that day, oblivious to what lay ahead. It was one of the first days back from summer vacation, and I didn’t want to leave. All I wanted was to be with my friends. As I entered the lobby of my school, I saw my older sister who had been crying. She knew what was going on, but in order to keep everything organized, the school hadn’t let her come see me. We went with my mom to my brother’s school, and then sat on a bench on 5th Avenue waiting for a break in the traffic and hustling of parents picking up their children. We tried to go to Long Island, but the bridges were all closed. Friends from other boroughs stayed with us that night. The phone rang off the hook once phone service was regained. Friends and relatives from other states were on the line making sure we were OK.

I’ll always vividly remember 9/11/01. I was only in the third grade, but the memory is still so clear that it feels like just yesterday. I thank God every day that my father’s meeting in the World Trade Center that day was not early in the morning. I pray every day for the lives lost.

Sarah Elizabeth Fuller: I remember getting out of an English class and walking across campus past College Coffee and hearing chatter. I walked into my dorm and every single person down the hallway had their door open and their TV turned onto the news.

Ross Wade (assistant director of Career Services for the School of Communications): At the time I was living in NYC on my way to work. That morning I remember the train was a little slow, and when I finally got to my stop (about 15 blocks north of WTC) and reached the street, I heard a huge explosion. I assumed they were shooting a film, but what I really heard was the second plane hitting the second tower. All I could do was stare south at those burning towers. My brain could not register what was happening…what I was seeing and hearing. Somehow my phone rang, it was my mom – after trying to call repeatedly she made it through. When others saw me on the phone they begged me to use it – “my mom/dad/sister/friend is in that building – I have to try to call her/him!” My phone would not work again. The towers collapsed. I ran north and then back south on the island with thousands of others (no one could tell us what was happening and feared more planes were on the way or that the bridges were rigged with bombs) – finally, about six hours later, after crossing the Manhattan bridge by foot, I was back at my apartment in Brooklyn. My roommates and friends were there. Alive. I can’t believe that was 10 years ago.

Jana Lynn Patterson (assistant vice president for Student Life): I remember the excitement of the morning…. It was to be a special College Coffee to celebrate Rhodes Stadium and the morning was beautiful, a perfect Elon morning. I was at Fonville Fountain making last-minute preparations for the celebration. A few minutes later, Dr. Lambert convened the Emergency Response team and he made the announcement at College Coffee. I spent much of the rest of the day with students from the NYC and DC areas trying to connect them with their loved ones. I just remember the angst in trying to make the calls and the sense of relief when they were able to hear their loved ones voices.

David Smith: I remember walking into the Performing Arts building. The marching band was getting ready to play at College Coffee for the pep rally. As I was headed to the warm-up area, Dr. David Bragg came out of the cultural arts office and said a plane had just hit the WTC. Not knowing what was going on, the band continued to warm up and head over to College Coffee. When we arrived, there was already a very somber mood. I remember President Lambert announcing what had happened. Instead of playing the Elon Fight Song, I believe we played the Star Spangled Banner and all left quietly.

Meredith Kuny: Elon will always be a part of my 9/11 memory and experience. I was a senior that day and just leaving my 8 a.m. dance class when I caught the news on the TV at the front desk of the student center. I remember thinking, “How weird is it that two planes have struck the same building?” How little I knew at that moment how “weird” life was about to come. As I left the student center and headed to College Coffee, you could feel the tension in the air. Something was not right. I spent the rest of the day glued to the television with my roommates, pausing only to check whether my afternoon class was still being held (it wasn’t) and to spend a few hours at my job at Burlington Christian Academy. Later that week, a group of friends gathered by the lake behind Danieley Apartments to hold our own vigil/prayer service. It was a comforting ending to a horrible week. I think it’s fair to say that none of us have been the same since.

Christopher Spires: I was asleep in my dorm my sophomore year at Elon. Right after the first plane hit my roommate, Evan McCauley, woke me up and said: “I think we’re under attack.” We were glued to our TV the rest of the day and all our professors canceled classes. We joined AF ROTC that year and he’s currently deployed in Afghanistan.

Elizabeth Schrauder Ermis: I was a sophomore. I was at the laundry mat that use to be at the corner of Holt and Haggard. The attendent had the little TV on. I thought she was watching some really awful daytime TV movie. It wasn’t until I got back to my apartment at college manor that I realized it was really happening.

Joshua Davis: I was a senior, and I had a late morning class on campus, but I woke up around 8 a.m. so I could do a little reading beforehand. A plane had hit the a tower of the World Trade Center, but I wouldn’t know about it for another hour or so, as I read a chapter or two on international globalization – somewhat fitting? My roommate was watching the news as I entered the bathroom for a shower – some crazy pilot had flown his plane into the World Trade Center. It was a different morning. No one had died. No buildings had fallen. No one was trying to get through to loved ones.

As I left my apartment to drive to school, I turned on the radio. The report from the Today Show was being broadcast. Turns out this was no small plane. The broadcast meandered here and there as live news reports tend to do. Slowly, details emerged. A second plane had hit somewhere or something. Maybe a third? It wasn’t clear. I couldn’t get a clear picture of what was going on because I didn’t have one to see. All I can remember clearly was crossing the railroad tracks and hearing Katie Couric say “The South Tower has collapsed.” I really wasn’t familiar with the WTC layout or names of the towers, so I had no idea what this meant. I also wasn’t sure I had heard correctly. But it was 10:28, and I had class at 10:30.

As I entered the second floor of Powell, a few classrooms were watching the news. My class was not. No one mentioned it. We discussed villages in Africa for the next few hours. Something horrible had happened to our country, but for that time, we were in the dark. No crying, no worry about loved ones. Just class. I always look back and think that my day didn’t really officially begin until about noon.

After class, I spent the rest of the day at The Pendulum office working on the issue that had to be completely redone for the Tuesday night deadline. I’ll always remember it was a Tuesday.

John Pickett: I was a junior living in my first apartment. I was getting ready to go to class and was turning over the bathroom to my roommate when I noticed the video of the first tower on the morning news. In a state of shock I walked into my room and sat on the edge of the bed inches from the small screen. My roommate stood in my doorway. I’ll never forget seeing the second plane and that instant in which we both realized that America was under attack. We both sat on the edge of my bed for hours…watching.

Mauria Anne: I grew up on Long Island and my parents both worked in Manhattan at the time. I was in my 6th grade math class that morning when the principal came to my classroom and pulled me out and told me that there had been a bomb in the World Trade Center. My dad worked in the south tower on the 14th floor and I had visited him in that office a few times. I started crying and was taken to the office. I begged them to let me call my mom and dad, but they told me that I couldn’t because nobody knew where they were. After they told me that I sat in that office for hours watching the live footage wondering if they were alive or not. I kept looking at the people running through the streets covered in debris to see if that was them. Then when the 2nd tower went down I gave up looking.

After a while a friend’s mom agreed to take me to a family member’s house since the phone lines were so busy everywhere. It wasn’t until late that night, around 8 or 9, that my mom finally showed up at my aunt’s house. I remember she was almost covered in dirt and she was barefoot. She had taken off her shoes and left them to run uptown away from the debris after the first tower collapsed. We still couldn’t find my dad so my mom took us home. We pulled up in front of the house and my dad was standing there in a wetsuit holding his cell phone and his surfboard. He asked my mom what happened and why the phones weren’t working, and she had to tell him. He hadn’t gone to work that day thank god, but he didn’t tell anyone that he was taking a day off.

The rest of that night and that week are all kind of a blur, but I didn’t have school for a few days after that. It took us a while to really get back to normal. So many people we knew died. And if you walked down our street to the dock, you could see a cloud of smoke over where the city normally was. That didn’t go away for a long time. But the feeling that we had was almost worse. That our whole world just stopped and stood still in fear, that was almost worse than seeing the smoke in the near distance for days. I’m definitely thankful that my parents are still here. But when I think about 9/11, all the people that died that day in DC and Pennsylvania as well as New York, and how that day affected my family, I still get a chilling feeling. I was only 11, but I remember that day like it was yesterday. It’s like the JFK moment of our generation, but it hits a little closer to home for some people I guess.

Amy Harrison: I was at Andrews Elementary in Burlington starting my second year of teaching. I shared a room with another teacher whose husband worked third shift and I remember him coming to tell us what had happened. We had to act like nothing was wrong because we didn’t want to scare our students. We had a staff meeting that afternoon to update everyone and had an impromptu prayer group. I went to my second job that night and remember just wanting to go home, not filling prescriptions at Eckerd Drugs. I went home and cried myself to sleep after talking with my parents and making sure my grandpa who lived on Long Island was okay. It was a pivotal moment for my generation, like D-Day and the day JFK was shot.