19 Years Later: Remembering 9/11

By Elizabeth Scalzo

This year, on the 19th anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, FDU posted on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook in remembrance. No in-person observations were held on a Metro campus in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think during this time what’s most important is that we still find a way to remember,” Donald Beesley, an FDU alumnus who works as Fire and Life Safety Director at the 9/11 Memorial Museum NYC, told The Equinox via LinkedIn.

Were FDU posts on social media enough? Should there have been more? A total of 2,977 people were killed during the attacks, according to CNN, while New Jersey suffered that terrible day with 704 deaths, according to NJ.com.

“With how close our campus is to New York, I just don’t understand why more wasn’t done,” said Emily Gordon, a junior radiology major. “There could’ve been a president’s email or some form of virtual ceremony to show the community (that) even during a global pandemic, we stand together.

“It’s so important for the university to continue to show support for people who are a part of our community even after 19 years,” Gordon added.

Fort Lee’s Annual Memorial Service Continues Through Pandemic

By James Laughlin

FORT LEE, N.J. — “Evil, mass destruction, injury, death, anger, anguish, hurt, despair – [are] words to describe the events of Sept. 11, 2001,” said City Clerk John Hogan when he spoke at Fort Lee’s annual 9/11 Memorial held in Constitution Park on the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. 

Fort Lee citizens, first responders, the mayor and members of the New Jersey state government gathered this year, as they do every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, to share memories and honor those who lost their lives on that tragic day.

This year’s event drew a smaller crowd than in previous years, however, as the country combats the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 200,000 Americans. 

The speakers’ remarks reflected the urgency of the current situation.

“Failure to contain this pandemic has led to the deadliest year for first responders since 2001 — more than 70 firefighters and 97 law enforcement officers have fallen in the line of duty,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D) said.

Joan Voss’s family has lived in Fort Lee since 1912. Now the commissioner vice chairwoman of Bergen County, Voss was a history teacher at Fort Lee High School on what she described as “a day of great tragedy and a day of great heroes.”

She said she did not expect the towers to fall when news reported that the first plane had crashed.  A triage center was set up in the gymnasium of the high school, though no one was treated there. 

“People didn’t come from New York, people from Fort Lee went to the city to help,”  Voss said. 

“I heard that because of COVID, many towns wanted to cancel their 9/11 memorial service,” said Voss, “I was very angry at this because it is a day we can never forget.” 

She says that it is imperative to continue remembering the events of 9/11 so children learn the history of their country’s mistakes and successes.

Constitution Park, located south of the George Washington Bridge, is home to Fort Lee’s 9/11 Monument, Beam N-99, a steel truss that is identified as coming from the 100th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 

Mayor Mark Sokolich said that “the reason we felt that this beam was appropriate is because it shows the destruction from the plane, but it also shows the stability of the beam.”

The steel beam is charred and warped on its upper segment, supported by the sturdy and unaffected bottom half.

Hogan said, “in a moment of great tragedy came great unity” and that is the same unity that is necessary for the country to fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fort Lee will continue to host its 9/11 Memorial Service every anniversary in Constitution Park.

"Beam N-99" in Constitution Park.  Photo by James Laughlin show a memorial to 9/11 in Fort Lee.
“Beam N-99” in Constitution Park. Photo by James Laughlin

Downtown NYC: The Loss of an Old Friend 

By Gissell Umana

Ricky Yeung, born and raised in New York City, was in his home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, resting on his couch while nursing a twisted ankle, when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

“I heard what sounded like a loud 18-wheeler truck crashing coming from the direction of the Williamsburg Bridge,” Yeung said. “After that, I heard commotion coming from people on the street. As I looked out the window, I saw everyone looking towards the Twin Towers, pointing. I tried scrolling through channels on my television to get a better grasp of everything and that’s when I realized what was happening.” 

Yeung was 2 miles away from the disaster.

“I could smell the smoke. It was really intense. It smelled like a mix of burned plastic and steel,” he said in an interview on Sept. 11, 2020. 

Like many others on that tragic day, Yeung lost someone dear to him — he lost a friend he had since high school. 

“His name is Zhen Zho Zhou, but we liked to call him ZZZ,” Yeung said. “Based on security footage, he went towards the crash sight to help out when the first plane hit, but was never seen again after that. He was intelligent and, without a doubt, a very generous guy.” 

Yeung said that he also knew many people with their own stories and frightening experiences of that morning. From people who walked away physically unscathed, but covered head to toe in soot, to police officers and firefighters who were on the site and later got sick. One such man he knew developed cancer, which, unfortunately is not uncommon. 9/11 is still claiming victims, even today. First responders who were on the scene that day are still struggling with their health 19 years later, with 10,000 suffering with cancer, like Yeung’s friend. 

Yeung says he is extremely lucky to have been so close to the crash but able to say he is alive and healthy. 

“I don’t think I will ever forget where I was at that moment 19 years ago,” he said. “It still feels like it was just yesterday, like a frozen snapshot image in my mind. The experience always reminds me that no matter how bad things get, you should be glad you are alive. Enjoy life.” 

Photo courtesy of Ricky Yeung

A D.C. 9/11 Survivor

By Jordan Sugick

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “We were all gathered around the TV, watching what was happening in New York, and someone said, ‘Oh, they can do that here,’ ” said 39-year-old Lakia Thomas, a former office automation clerk at the Pentagon.

Little did she know that the attack would be coming her way and change her life forever. Thomas is currently a senior executive assistant to the chief information officer of the department of energy at Synergy Solutions, Inc. She gave this interview via Zoom.

Thomas, 20 years old at the time, started 9/11/2001 like any other. She rode the Metro into work. From there, she caught an elevator from the station straight into the Pentagon, where she had just started. 

“This was a movie … this is stuff we hear about in other countries, not here,” Thomas said. 

“Seeing a pull of black smoke from the opposite side of the building … I had never seen smoke up close that dark,” she said.

When Thomas arrived home, she immediately started looking for her family. She started walking around the neighborhood and eventually found them.

“Kia, I thought you were dead,” said Daria, Thomas’ little sister, who was 6 years old. Thomas said her family ended the day at church, where they sought refuge and prayed for the nation.

Thomas worked at the Pentagon for another three years and recalled  the changes that occurred after 9/11.

On Sept. 13, 2001, Thomas returned to work, but she had to change her daily routine as the Pentagon’s safety procedures were strengthened. She could no longer take an elevator from the Metro directly into the Pentagon. She now had to go around the Metro station in order to enter the massive building that houses the Department of Defense. 

“When you walked into the building, there was a smell that I never smelled before,” she said. “You could smell it throughout the entire building. It was actually the burning flesh from the people that died during the explosion. They needed to collect the bodies, count them, identify body parts, and put them in the middle of the courtyard. I did not go back to work for about a week.”

When she returned to work, there was a memorial set up. She then realized that about 10 to 15 people on the victims’ list were people she knew and came in contact with every day.

She also noticed even tighter security within the Pentagon. Before 9/11, people without a badge were allowed to use Pentagon facilities such as banks and the cafeteria. Now, people could not enter unless they had a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card. These cards give people within government agencies credentials to access their work and resist fraud, tampering and exploitation. These cards are now implemented in all government agencies. 

After the 9/11 attacks, Thomas “feared not knowing what is next” and is more conscious of what is happening around her. After 19 years, Thomas said that she is “more grateful, less panicked … knowing all the lives that were lost that day and the current situation with the pandemic, just being in the land of the living you forget how much you have been though.”

There is always something to be thankful for, no matter the circumstance or situation.

Photo courtesy of Lakia Thomas

Tiffani Davis Recalls Rahway-to-NYC Experience of 9/11

By Naniyah McClain

Tiffani Davis and her 1-month-old daughter, Sanaa Davis-McClain, were on their way to visit some co-workers at the World Financial Center, now called Brookfield Place, just across the street from the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 on a perfect sunny day, with clear blue skies

“I was the assistant vice president of the financial department at the time. Luckily I was on maternity leave,” Davis said. She lived in Rahway,  N.J., with her now-former husband and two young children, Brianna and Sanna

Around 8 a.m. she dropped her eldest daughter, Brianna, off at her daycare center before heading to her work in lower Manhattan.  Davis had become accustomed to the bumper-to-bumper traffic of her nearly one-hour daily commute to work but, this time, there was a different reason for the traffic.

The nearer Davis would get to Brookfield Place, the more she could see black smoke in the air and people frantically running in the streets. Once she was a block away, Davis realized that the North Tower of the World Trade Center had disappeared. “I was terrified. I was shook. I didn’t know what was happening. It was chaos getting to and from the building,” she said.

Davis’ first instinct was to take a detour to rush back to pick Brianna up from daycare. She recalls driving as fast as she could while being aware of Sanaa in the back seat.

Later that evening, Davis, safe and sound at home with her husband and children, tried to make calls to her family members in New York and Washington, D.C.

“I remember watching the news later that night and seeing what was actually happening. We were on the phones trying to check in with family members. I had family in Washington D.C., where the other plane hit,” she said.

Now, 19 years later, that day still affects her life. Davis is one of the many people who were in, or in proximity of the World Trade Center, who are now extremely aware of their surroundings. 

“I no longer like being in high-rise buildings,” Davis said. “I’m always looking for the nearest escape route at the time just in case. I have an app (Notify NYC App) for when anything happens.”

Davis continues to be aware of her surroundings, now that she works for the court system in downtown Manhattan, just blocks from the spot that was Ground Zero on that day.

Present at one  of the most emotional days in American history, the moment shapes how she views life.

“That day was one of the scariest days of my life,” she said. “I feared for my children, ex-husband, co-workers, friends who were working at the World Trade Center and family members who lived out of state. It is a strange thing to know that life can be taken away from you at an instant. Life is so short and precious, so we have to make sure that we make the best of it.”

Photo courtesy of Tiffani Davis

These articles were submitted by students in Professor Mo Krochmal’s Fall Semester 2020 News Writing class.