True Story: I Was in New York City on 9/11

This is one of many interviews that make up the True Story series, in which we talk to people about interesting/amazing/challenging things that they’ve been through. This is Nicole’s story. She was in fifth grade when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers.

How long have you lived in New York?
I’ve lived in New York for about 12 years now. I was 7 when I first moved to Brooklyn, and then I moved to Staten Island when I was 14.What were you doing when the planes hit?
At the time, I was in 5th grade. So I remember getting to school, hanging up my jacket and sitting down at my desk, and as soon as I reached my desk the Principal called my brother and I down to the main lobby because we were going home. Not knowing what was going on, I was like, “Yes! no school today!” My father picked us up that morning in full his Army BDU’s (which is Battle Dress Uniform, or the camouflage uniform.) He tries not to do this often because it tends to freak people out a little, so when he showed up dressed like that, my brother and I knew something was up.

He drove us home very quickly, and he was silent the entire ride. My family lived on an Army base in Brooklyn at the time, and we needed to get back onto the base quickly because they were going into a full lockdown. No one leaves, no one gets in.

Can you tell us about what happened in the hours that followed the attack?

I remember getting home and looking at the news right when the first tower fell, and I couldn’t even comprehend what was going on. At the age of 10…I was so confused. My father was very, very stressed about the whole thing, and my mother was crying. I eventually found out that a few of her friends had worked in the first tower that fell. Everything was just chaotic at that point. There’s really no other way to describe it.I was confused because no one would explain to me what exactly was going on, and all I had was images on the news of buildings falling, and fires…it was a mess. A huge, ominous cloud of black smoke drifted closer and closer to Brooklyn from ground zero as the minutes passed, which really added to the general mood of sadness.

What was you life like in the weeks after the attack?
Life was, again, just a mess. People were paranoid, became very racist, and also, they were all very distraught over the whole thing. I didn’t have school for 3 days after the attacks, which was a good thing. Many people I knew lost a lot of friends and family members, and it was incredibly devastating.

What really effected me personally though, was the racism. Many of my friends were Lebanese, and they were constantly hassled and called terrorists. One of my friends was even spit on while we were walking home. It was really just brutal.

Did you ever feel like you wanted to move to a “safer,” less targeted city after 9/11?
Personally, I always felt a little safe, despite everything that was going on around me, because of where I lived. The Army base was incredibly safe and definitely gave you that nice sense of comfort that people desperately needed at that time. There’s nothing like a bunch of Military Policemen walking around with machine guns to make you feel secure, I’ll tell you that much.

Have you suffered any long-term effects from 9/11?
As far as long-term effects, I have been lucky enough not to have suffered anything serious. The only thing I suffer from is slight anxiety while flying that I didn’t have previous to 9/11. I fly quite frequently, so that’s actually kind of a pain…but it’s certainly better than being afraid of traveling by subway or being afraid of Manhattan in general.

Were any of you in New York on 9/11? Any questions for Nicole?

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  1. Sonja

    It's pretty amazing to me that people who were in elementary school in 2001 are adults now. It makes me feel kind of old since I was 20 at the time.

  2. Norwegianette

    To Sonja:
    It's weird, but it feels to me like 9/11 happened about three-four years ago (and while Bush was still president, I always felt like more than two years couldn't possibly have passed). Can't wrap my head around the fact that next year a decade will have passed.

  3. Allison

    I was in 8th grade myself; I empathize with your confusion. I happened to be in the library that morning and so was one of the few students in the school to actually see the attack because the librarians were crowded around a TV watching it. As for the rest of the school, no one would tell us what was going on, although the whole school was buzzing– were we at war on our own soil? The only thing they did was get on the P.A. system and say "don't watch the news when you go home." *Eye roll* thanks, principal Bledsoe, thanks a lot. The whole thing would have been far less scary had they actually bothered to inform us, even a little.

  4. Caitlin

    I was a senior in High School when it happened. I wasn't IN NYC but I live in Upstate, NY. I had gym class first thing in the morning, and we were out on the field playing soccer or something, and I specifically remember looking up at a plane in the sky that caught my attention. Turns out the flight path of the Boston plane went right over where I live. And with the timing. That could have been it. Creepy if you ask me. But the class I had after, we watched the whole thing happen on TV. Such a numb and confusing day.

  5. Vanessa

    I was in Middle School when this happened and I remember being in gym class at the time of the attack. My friends and I took a long time changing, but there'd been an announcement over the intercom about the attack while we were in the locker room; we didn't hear it, so for awhile we were really confused. I remember people telling me a building got hit by a plane in NY and I didn't get why that was a big deal and how it affected us (I live in Mass). It wasn't until I got home that I saw the news and understood what was happening.

    Great interview!

  6. Sara Hari

    i was 12 and i got the day off because my grammy just got sick. I was terrifed because i was in a nursing home 14 miles away! I didnt need to watch it on the tv i could see it happen in the window! And i feeled the vibration off the towers falling and the bang of them hitting the ground! ohhh scaryes day of my life!

  7. somewhere else

    I have a question for Nicole- why did the base go in to lockdown, if the first tower hadn't been hit yet?

  8. Making No One Proud

    Very intense. I am also always surprised to find that so much time has passed since 2001. I guess it's still such a strong memory in everyone's minds…

    And, I really have to say "wow" @ somewhere else's comment. She didn't say the first tower hadn't been hit. She said she got home when it fell. It wasn't simultaneous.

  9. Katie

    I wasn't in New York, I was in Canada. But my father, who was active duty military, spent most of his time in New York and Washington D.C. Because the base where my parents lived went into lock down, I remember panic for hours because I wasn't able to reach them to find out if everyone we knew was alright.

  10. Law Girl

    This was a great interview.

    I was a senior in high school on 9/11 and lived about an hour from DC. My dad works in DC and we couldn't get ahold of him for hours. My uncle works at the Pentagon (retired military) and he fortunately wasn't at work that day. Total chaos is a good way to describe it. My stepdad is an FBI agent and he got called in for 48 hours straight. It was very scary and its hard to believe that its been almost 10 years!

  11. Komal

    I grew up on LI and was a senior in HS when it happened. My mom works 1 block from the World Trade and was there that day. We heard from her as the first tower was hit and she said she was OK and not to worry and that she was out of the subway that went into the World Trade. We knew she was right there and she saw it all happen and after the 2nd tower was hit, we did not hear from her. I was at school and all we did all day was watch CNN and no one was allowed outside since the air quality was bad. I got home from school and my father prepared me for the worst and told me many people would not make it home from work that day and Mom could be one of them. At about 8pm that night, she called from a friends house in Brooklyn. No cell phones were working the entire day. She had seen the planes hit, was in the mess as it happened, fled to midtown and then was told to walk to downtown and across the brooklyn bridge if she wanted to get out of the city. She had a friend's address in her purse and she showed up at her door in Brooklyn and called us from there. Her friend helped get her home to us on LI that evening and at about 11pm that night, after one of the most terrifying days of our lives, the entire family was together and we were so thankful that Mom had gotten out of the subway before the first plane had hit. Had she been a minute late to work that day, everything could have been very different.

  12. Jennifer

    Nicole must be the same age as I, because I, too, was in the 5th grade at the time the towers hit.

    Seemingly the same kind of thing happened with me except we were not on an Army base going on lock-down, and we do not actually live in NY to witness some of the terror firsthand.

    But when you are 10 and in elementary school, the world is your playground. That day, everyone was being checked out of school left and right. We all thought it was weird, but not even the principal or anyone had their televisions on to know why. When I was checked out, my mother AND father were in the car with my little brother and looked frightened.

    I didn't know what to say, but when we got home, it quickly all became clear: the television was playing/replaying and live streaming the attacks. I got home right as the second tower had been hit.

    It was a tragic day.

    Pretty soon, nothing felt safe anymore. The war and the screams that you only see in movies was right in front of me. Ever since that day I have hated being able to say I know what it's like to live during a time of war and terrorism…

    Before that, I had always been obsessed with WWII and Pearl Harbor and all that…
    I had always wondered what it must have been like for those people… For the citizens of America to see/feel/know what is happening.

    I never actually wanted to experience it myself.

  13. awesome

    Reading this, and the comments have been totally intense, because it brings me right back to that day. I live in Canada, and I remember coming home for lunch (I was in the 8th grade) and my Mom was waiting for us. She was shaking and said she was so relieved we were home. I was totally confused until I got inside. I had been in New York for the first time the week before and stayed in the hotel in the World Trace Center. Before that, I'd never even heard of the buildings. I guess my Mom (who had been by herself all morning) had imagined that we were still there. I'll never forget the look on her face, or the feeling when we realized it wasn't just an accident. Thanks for sharing your stories, guys.

  14. alphaandomega

    I'm from Canada so when this happened I was very confused…I think I was in grade 7 when it happened. I remember my teacher sitting down and talking to us about the events that had occured across the border, but I just didn't understand why such a thing would happen. Once I saw the images however, it really hit me hard….I'm a visual person so the images were very powerful things for me. I can't even imagine the horror that people who had to deal with this felt…These attacks were just another reminder of how people can turn on each other.

  15. Luinae

    I was really young (1st grade I think) because I'm only 14 now. We lived in Florida at the time.

    I came home from school and my mother was just absolutely shocked. She said she was watching the news and they cut to showing the first tower getting hit, when everyone thought it was an accident. She went to go get something on the stove and when she came back, the whole tower was gone and then she turned off the telly.

    Being so young, the worst part of 911 was actually the aftermath. The Uni were my father worked and my school were both declared "non free speech" zones. My parents warned me that I wasn't aloud to say anything bad about the president or we could get arrested. It was worrying for my family because my father and my family was very liberal, and not like terorists, but we were anti-Bush, so out house was actually searched for terrorist material.

    I was more scared we were going to go to jail then anything else.

  16. BuzzChild

    Living in Australia, the first I heard of the attacks was when we were all getting up for school early in the morning and the regular morning news show had been taken off air. I remember the TV was on downstairs, and it was much louder than usual, and my mother telling me that something terrible was happening in America. I think there was confusion in the media here and it took a while for anyone to definitively say that what we were watching was a terrorist attack and not just a horrible accident.

    I watched as the second tower fell, and remember telling mum as she called my Grandmother on the phone to check that my uncle, who'd just moved to Houston, was alright. All day he kept sending reports about bomb threats being called through at his work, and that eventually everyone had just gone home. I've never understood why so many people would call in bomb threats on that day, to me that's just so wierd, and I've never been able to ask him about it.

    All over the news they kept flashing pictures of "people in Afghanistan" celebrating the towers falling. The older I am, the more I am disgusted at the media for doing so, remembering the violent racism it sparked in the tiny children at my school…it just did nobody any good at all and I don't even know if the images were accurate or not.

    Along with everyone else I can't believe it was already nearly nine years ago, it all seems so recent. It's good to hear Nicole being so positive about how she's coped as she grew up, though the fear when flying is just something she should never have had to deal with. In all, it was and is just so completely unfair and heartbreaking.

  17. NetochkA


    I really enjoy this series but I think that this person was the not best to choose to interview for this particular topic.

    I understand that since she was living in New York City at the time she was much closer to the event and was most definitely more affected by it. But as she is a military dependent her experiences of that day are exactly the same as every other person connected to the military at the time. I was living in Hawaii on a military base on 9/11 and my experiences are exactly the same as hers and I was living some 6,000 miles away. And there were even more extreme measures taken by the military around the world. My friends living in Germany told me stories about how they had helicopters and tanks patrolling outside of the gate for a week after the attack. Which is not something they did in the US.

    So as you can see, I don't think that her personal experiences were the best to showcase for 9/11 and New York City.

  18. Anonymous

    This poem wasn't written by Mother Teresa, she just used it. so please give the credit to the original writer, though it doesn't minimize its beauty and truth at all.

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