Rider faculty, staff share thoughts and stories of 9/11 tragedies two decades later

By Amethyst Martinez,  Kaitlyn McCormick, Sarah Siock, Shaun Chornobroff, Tori Pender and Zachary Klein

Photo credit to Wikimedia Commons.

9/11’s impact on the United States is still something felt today, even 20 years after the fact. Safety measures throughout the nation, racism, politics and more were shaped by the attack. 

Although many college students were babies or even unborn, it is important to look back on the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 and remember those who were lost or affected by the event. 

The Rider News spoke with many faculty members to recount the experiences that stayed with them from that day. 

“I live in New York City. On Sept. 11, I was teaching high school in Chappaqua, New York, about an hour north of the city. I remember hearing that an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center and thinking that it may have been an accident. Very early that morning, before 7 a.m., when driving to school, I noticed that there was a bit of fog, although later in the morning, the day turned out to be bright and clear. When I heard that the second plane hit the second tower, however, it was clear that this was not an accident. My husband and I could not drive back into the city, because roads were blocked by authorities. We were able to park just north of Manhattan in the Bronx and make it home by subway. It was a devastating day for so many people. While we did not lose anyone in the attack, it was heartbreaking to see ‘missing persons’ posters all over the city and, especially, in the Times Square subway station placed there by family members hoping to be reunited by their loved ones,” said Cynthia Lucia, professor of film and television.

“When the second plane hit the second tower … we were baffled, basically … we weren’t so much frightened as puzzled about what could be going on, because at that time, you didn’t think about terrorist attacks and you certainly didn’t think about planes as weapons,” said Matthew Goldie, professor of English.

‘Everybody was in a mad panic’

“I remember leaving the office. Actually, I was at Howard University. And, you know, we’re right down the street from the White House. And I know the city was up in arms being everything that’s going on, and the Pentagon was talking about being hit. So they wanted everybody to vacate the area. So I do remember driving home, which I lived in for a while. It took me a long time to get home. And everything was bumper to bumper. And everybody was in a mad panic, which is what I remember most. It was very sad … the fact that one of the buildings had already gone down at that point. And the second one was also hit. And just following it, it was first of all, I was shocked that something like that could even happen here in the US and anyone would even try and do something like that to our country. So that took me back. And just devastating, not really knowing. Knowing those people in those buildings … that went down there, we’re gonna lose their lives. And just wondering if someone could get out or not. I mean, that had to be horrific … even be not only seeing it from afar but being part of it. So the families … who lost their loved ones. And so it was, it was really sad that day,”  said Kevin Baggett, Rider men’s basketball coach.

“The word came back that the second tower got hit, and then immediately, no one needed to tell us at that point that it wasn’t an accident. I was with my marine helicopter squadron, and we called the meeting. We were a part of the emergency preparedness. Part of our area for emergency preparedness included New York and DC. When the word got out about the second aircraft, it just exploded. No one was tired anymore. Nobody was grumpy anymore. We knew it was an attack. We had to get our inspections done, get the aircraft ready. So we started configuring the aircraft for medical evacuation. There really was none because almost everyone got killed. We were thinking [of a] mass casualty incident where we’re going to have to be flying out all kinds of people to get them out of the city and get them to surrounding hospitals. We got ourselves ready, but the call never came because they didn’t have enough casualties to need extra assistance,” said Thomas Reddington, coordinator of Veterans Affairs.

‘You’re in shock’

“When the second plane hit, then you said, ‘Oh my god, this is something that’s very serious.’ Then once you turn the TV on and begin to see the pictures and what’s going on, you’re in shock. To see how a building of that size … to see it crumble like it did you say ‘How in God’s name could that happen?’  And you just start thinking of all those people. One of the first things that I still think of to this day is people jumping out the windows, it is the most powerful, scariest vision. They showed that while this is happening live,” said Gregory Dell’Omo, Rider president.

‘We were together as one’

“The shock did go away. But what was always really great was to see everybody come together, you know, it was one time that I’ve been alive to see that the world and the country come together. Regardless of your race, regardless of your gender …  We were together as one, which I always reflect back on when I talk, even talk in a group setting. I talk about how that was inspiring to me. And here we are now. You know, all splintered again, as a country based on diversity and race and everything. And I know we’re coming together based on some of the things that happened with the George Floyd incident, but just being able to, whenever you see a country come together like that, it’s just, that’s what made me proud to be an American … in those days in those times, and I just wish we would be more consistent with that,” said Baggett.

“Only gradually did things turn back to somewhat normal, with heightened security measures everywhere that have remained permanently in place. The Sept. 11 anniversary this year, 20 years after that terrible event, is an important opportunity to reflect, remember and honor those who lost their lives and those first responders who tried to help others, in many cases losing their own lives,” said Lucia.

“So much in the aftermath of that was how the world came together and there was that sense of togetherness. Trying to figure out how we’re gonna move forward as one, again …

 There are times when we really have to be aware of our need to be together as well as a country to support one another. And it’s through these kinds of tragic events, that becomes critically apparent and the balance between individual rights and responsibilities and togetherness really need to be sort of recalibrated to get that balance in the right way … But we think about all that transpired over 20 years now, I think it’s important to recognize the anniversary because I hope that it continues to allow us to reflect on not what happened, but what we’re doing now and how we’re going forward as a country and as a world,” said Dell’Omo.

‘I took a lot for granted’

“One significance is that it gave me, and hopefully a lot of people, greater recognition of what our freedom really means for us in the United States. I took a lot for granted and thought something like this could never happen where I live. I really take for granted the value of living in America,” said Barbara Blandford, director of Student Accessibility and Support Services.

“The huge difference for me is our homeland security posture. I mean, we have an apparatus in place. It did not exist before 9/11. And the cooperation between agencies federal, state, and local are like never before in our counterterrorism capability, and that to me is such a stark difference between before and after. I don’t like calling it an anniversary. I don’t know, I think of it more as a remembrance or a memorial. I think it’s really important to remember it’s like a pearl harbor kind of thing. For our generation, this made an impact on everybody. I think it’s important to remember, and hopefully remember the lessons learned. And you know, most importantly remember those who … sacrificed on that day or who gave everything on that day, the first responders and military,” said Reddington.

“In New York, there were so many stories of people helping each other, you know, strangers helping strangers … and everybody just kind of felt like life was precious after it happened.It manifested most immediately in travel restrictions … I remember when people could walk you up to the gate to say goodbye … and you didn’t get searched at the airport … all of that changed,” said Kelly Ross, associate professor.

‘We’re pretty resilient’

“I think the legacy [of 9/11] is that we as a country, we’re pretty resilient. As a country, we have the ability to just do amazing things, we have a lot of amazing people that when you take out all the other craziness and the nonsense that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, it’s a great country to live in. I mean, there’s no better country than the United States. We’re able to be free and to do what it is that we want to do in our lives, whatever it might be that you want to do, you have the ability to do it here in this country. And so, I still stay into that. Although we deal with a lot of issues with race, and those type[s of] things, there’s no other country that I’d rather be in and be a part of than the United States. It just makes me want to always remember back on 9/11, I think about those families that lost a loved one first or loved ones, you know, so I still never forget that,” said Baggett.

“Right now, the Veterans and Military Affairs office … makes sure that there’s always a ceremony. So in the early days, that was easy, because everybody has directly experienced it. We have a bunch of students now that this is just some abstract thing that happens in a history book. So we have a greater challenge now, to communicate to them. Just remembering that day, what happened, what it did to us, and you know, why we should remember and remember those who were killed, and everyone involved in the rescue … Because we are transitioning, we’re going to pretty soon have an entire student body that was not walking the earth when this happened. So as educators, we have a real challenge to make sure that we remember and memorialize this.

I was flattered the other day when I saw how many students took the time to stop by [to the Rider 9/11 memorial event]. I don’t know how many people know it, but we lost eight members that we know of. We lost eight members of the Rider family, one student and seven alumni. And … we’ve been reading their names for 20 years,” said Reddington.

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