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20 years after 9/11: What do Arizonans remember?

On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, 12 News asked our viewers to recall what they remember about that fateful day.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this file photo of Sept. 13, 2001, an American flag flies over the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York. The Stars and Stripes hasn't always been as feel-good a symbol, depending on the decade and the politics. Defaced by Vietnam War protesters in the 1960s, invoked by politicians on both sides of debates about war and American values and burned by anti-American protesters overseas, it's been alternately reviled and revered. After Sept. 11, 2001, the flag took on a larger-than-life symbolism and brought that unity to a grieving country. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, file)

ARIZONA, USA — Chaos in New York City’s streets. Piles of rubble falling out of the Pentagon. Clouds of smoke hanging over the Hudson River. 

These are just some of the troubling images the country remembers as we think about the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Like the attacks at Pearl Harbor or the John F. Kennedy assassination, Sept. 11 has become a cultural touchpoint in American history. 

Anyone who was old enough to witness that day can probably recall what they were doing and where when they first heard the news two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

12 News asked our viewers what they remember about that fateful day and received a diverse range of responses

Some were young children struggling to make sense of the day’s events. We heard from concerned parents who were worried about the whereabouts of family members. 

Others said they were getting ready to board a plane and were then forced to abruptly change their travel plans. 

Their circumstances may have differed that day, yet each respondent seemed to have the same emotional response: shock and devastation.

'It didn't seem real'

Marty Westerlund of Flagstaff was a middle school student in the fall of 2001 and remembered watching news footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center shortly before he left the house for school. 

After he got to his classes that morning, Westerlund recalled his teachers were not in the mood to teach anything.

“We just listened to the radio and watched the TV news about what happened. It was weird for sure,” Westerlund said. “The teachers were just as shocked as the students were.” 

Amy Starks was attending school in Tempe in 2001 and remembered being on campus when she first heard of the attacks. 

“I was coming in from high school marching band rehearsal at Corona Del Sol High School,” she recalled. “We always had the news playing in the band room after practice … we all just stood there in pure disbelief and crying.” 

As a then-19-year-old, Jill Jacobs Hoag of Phoenix couldn't believe what she was watching on television that morning. 

"I could have sworn I was watching a movie," Hoag said. "As it didn’t seem real. I kept thinking, 'Why would someone do such a thing?'"

RELATED: 'In order to save my soul, I had to remove myself': New Yorker seeks healing in Arizona

Credit: 12 News

'My heart is still uneasy'

Some viewers were close to where the violent attacks occurred and managed to avoid getting caught up in the mayhem.  

Samatha Canuto of Phoenix was attending college in Washington D.C. and remembered waking up late on the morning of Sept. 11. The Pentagon building, where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed that morning and killed 189 people, was on Canuto’s regular route to school.

“If I would have gotten up and out to school on time I would have been close to the Pentagon traffic,” she said. “I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV, phone service had gone out and internet was intermittent. My heart is still uneasy about that day.”

Michelle Denis Gee was living in New Jersey and was planning to take her son into New York City on the morning of Sept. 11 for an appointment. 

She ended up keeping her son home that day due to a cold. Gee later recalled watching television and seeing American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the North Tower. 

In the days that followed, Gee said everyone in New Jersey rallied around the first responders who went into the disaster site to search for survivors. 

“I will never forget our community coming together to buy anything the rescuers needed,” Gee said. “A call would go out for cases of bottled water or dog food for the working dogs and you’d have SUVs waiting to drive the donations to Hoboken.”

Credit: AP
A firefighter touches a portrait of a 9/11 victim during the Tower Challenge at Gila River Arena on Sept. 11, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. Participants recreated the 110 flights of stairs (2071 steps) climbed by New York City Firefighters and other first responders during the attacks on the World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

'I still fight back the tears'

As the events of Sept. 11 began to unfold that morning, panic began to spread across the country as citizens feared their city might next be targeted by the terrorists.

Workers in the high-rise buildings of Los Angeles were advised to immediately evacuate since three of the hijacked planes were originally destined to land in that city. 

Bo Reitz of Phoenix was working on the 33rd floor of a tall office building in San Francisco on Sept. 11. Because the fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, had been scheduled to land in San Francisco, staff in Reitz’s building was told to evacuate.

Flight 93 ended up crashing into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to regain control of the plane from the hijackers. Forty-four people died in the crash. 

Reitz said he continued working as the San Francisco building was being evacuated since some employees needed to reschedule their travel plans as the nation’s airports started shutting down.

“We were rebooking employees that were being diverted to Canada and were one of the last people to head downstairs,” Reitz recalled. 

RELATED: He was a high school student on 9/11 and now he’s making sure his Mountain Pointe students understand the historic day

Some viewers were placed in the position of having to look after children who were probably too young to comprehend the events of Sept. 11.

April Lathrope of Scottsdale found herself in that situation 20 years ago. She was teaching at a preschool in New Jersey and was told by her boss to “act normal” and to not scare her students about the attacks.

“It was so hard to keep it together and fight back tears,” Lathrope said. “I am still a teacher to this day and I do a lesson on 9/11 every year. I still fight back the tears every single year.”

Even before all the facts about Sept. 11 were known, some could foresee the dark days of conflict that were ahead for the country.  

Katrina Filipow-Jones was on leave from the military and spending some time in Arizona when the attacks happened. As she and a friend watched the towers collapse in New York, one of them could already sense how the country was going to respond. 

"All he asked me was if I thought there would be a draft for war," Jones recalled.

RELATED: 9/11 changed air travel: A look at increased security, and less privacy

MORE: Firefighters cycling their way across the U.S. to commemorate 9/11 make stop in Scottsdale

ALSO: Local Navajo pianist revisits 9/11 tribute piece he composed on the piano, at age 12

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