As 20-Year Anniversary Approaches, Teachers Recount Their Experiences on 9/11


In this Sept. 11, 2001, photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York City.

Tyler Chrenka, Editor-in-Chief

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—a devastating event that will forever remain in the memories of those alive during it. 

But for most of the younger generation, our only knowledge about the attacks is through pictures, videos and stories from our parents. 

Here are accounts from various EHS teachers about where they were and how they were impacted on that infamous day.

Ashley Walsh

Geometry and Trigonometry Teacher

“I was a freshman in college, and it was a Tuesday. Class did not start until 9:30 a.m., and at about 8:45 a.m. my roommate and I turned on the news to see what the weather was like. We turned on the TV, and everything on the news was about the first tower being hit. As we were watching, we actually saw the second tower get hit by the plane. That was sometime after 9  or 9:15, so we had to go to class. As we were walking to class, the hallways were packed with people watching the TVs that were out in the halls. No one was in class—everyone was just in the hallways watching the news on the TVs. [When we got to class,] my professor came in and said ‘there is no class today. Everyone just go home.’ Classes ended up getting canceled for two days, and I remember just being glued to my TV for the next few days just watching everything unfold… When the second tower was hit, I don’t think I even realized it was intentional at that time. You were kind of just struck—it was a dumbfounded feeling. You did not know how to react. I couldn’t even comprehend what was going on, but I knew it was something serious and something terrifying.”

Julia Doll

Biology Teacher

“I was eight months pregnant with Claire, my second child. I was currently a captain in the army, but I was inactive. I walked into room 340 [at EHS] to eat lunch with another teacher, and that was when I saw the second tower get hit. In my brain, all I could think about was that I was eight months pregnant. I had another month until I delivered. It was going to be a cesarean section (C-section)—that would give me two months [for recovery]. I could possibly pull two more months due to the Family and Medical Leave Act, but after that, I thought I would be sent overseas. My thought process immediately went to ‘how much time do I have to deliver this baby before I have to leave.’ I also had a lot of friends who were active duty in the military… and I knew immediately that they would be sent… Fear is not the right word… but major concern. On that day, my family and my army friends were the two things that were on my mind… I thought I was going to have to leave my newborn daughter and my 3-year-old son…” 

Jeffrey Gall

US History Teacher, US Foreign Policy and Civics Teacher

“I was sitting right here in this same exact classroom. There was an English teacher who has since retired, her name is Mrs. Gentry, and it was passing period, and she walked by and said ‘a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.’ Back then our TVs worked, so then I turned on the TV. We all thought it was some weird accident… We were all watching it, and the class was Honors U.S. History. We were all sitting there watching, and then the second plane hit. At that point, we all knew it wasn’t some weird accident anymore. We had never heard of Al-Qaeda or anything. I remember just looking down and the kids said ‘Mr Gall’ and I looked up to see that the first tower had come down. It was a freaky day. Everyone in every classroom just watched the news in disbelief.”

Mark Heiderscheid

Accounting and Business and Economy Teacher

“I remember teaching in a classroom right here at the high school, and my department chair came around to talk to me about something. She peeked her head in and said that a plane had flown into one of the twin towers and that all indications showed that America was now under a terrorist attack. My feeling at that point was complete confusion because we had never had anything like this… it seemed so surreal because these types of things only really happened on foreign soil… the next strange thing happened a little later. I was in the teachers lounge, and I remember that the TV was on. I was there, Mr. Paur and some other teachers were there, and we were all glued to the TV watching the events unfold. We were all watching and hoping that people would get out alive, and then we saw the tower just crumble right before our eyes. Nobody said a thing. Everybody just stood there stunned in silence… We were so happy and content that we lived in such a safe country, but at that point this idea was essentially stripped away.”

Dave Boedeker

Geology, Astronomy and Earth and Space Teacher

“I was in the classroom next door to mine, and another teacher came in and told me to turn on the news. We were watching CNN, and at first we thought it was a horrible airplane accident. We kept watching, and then we saw a plane enter the frame and crash into the other building. At that point I knew something was up; it’s one thing to have one plane crash into one building, but when another one hits, that becomes suspicious. We kept watching, and then the buildings collapsed. Suddenly, we all realized that thousands of people just died… stunned is the right word to describe how everyone felt. I don’t know if anyone was necessarily afraid, but it was almost surreal that this was happening… I remember for a week or so after that they grounded all airplanes, and it was just really weird not seeing a plane in the sky when you usually do so often…”

Jamie Kupferer

World Geography and Civics Teacher

“I was in my college dorm getting ready for my class, and I shared a dorm room with my best friend who I had since I was 8-years-old. I remember our TV was under her loft, and she was still sleeping, and I turned on the TV to watch “The Today Show.” At that point, the first plane had hit, and all the commentators were saying that it was an accident and a terrible tragedy. Then I saw the second plane hit live on the TV, and I just screamed at my roommate to wake up. My college ended up canceling classes, and for the rest of the day we spent time in the dorm’s common area. Our neighbor’s uncle worked in the North tower, and all communications had gone down, so we just sat with her to try and keep her mind off whether her uncle was alive or not. Thankfully he was alive…. I also remember my dad had told me that I needed to get gas in my car, and I waited in line at the gas station for almost three hours to get gas. No one really knew what was happening, but we all seemed to have had the same idea that if we went to war with the Middle East, there could be a gas shortage. It was all just crazy and very surreal.”

Ana Harris

Spanish Teacher

“I remember it like it was yesterday. I used to work in downtown St. Louis, and I was driving into the city. I was almost at the Poplar Street Bridge, and I heard somebody on the radio say that there was a drunken pilot who crashed into one of the twin towers. [They thought he was drunk] because nobody could even fathom that this was a terrorist attack. I eventually got to work, and one of my coworkers came in running and said to me ‘I think that the United States is under attack.’ I asked him how he knew that, and he told me that he was on the phone with a credit card person in New York City, and the person he was on the phone with told him that he just saw a plane crash into the twin towers. My coworker said that he thinks it could have been done on purpose, but he didn’t know. We then turned on the TV, and the people on the TV also had no idea what was happening. Then at about 9 o’clock, we saw the second plane hit the other tower, and that is when I got really really scared. My son was 6-years-old, and he was at school at N.O. Nelson by the nature center. I called his principal crying, and I asked if we should go pick up our kids. He said not to panic and said to pick him up later at the regular dismissal time. It was a very very scary day.”

Mollie Rice

Calculus Teacher

“I was a freshman at college, so I had only been at college for two weeks. It was a Tuesday so I had a chemistry lab called molecular world. I got to class at 9:00 a.m., and the professor came in a few minutes late just sobbing. He then started praying for the whole world, and then said ‘class dismissed.’ It was a little bit bewildering because we did not know what was going on. Then we left and went to the dining commons where they were projecting the news up onto the wall. Classes ended up being canceled for the next two days, and the whole campus pretty much just stayed in the dining commons most of the day just watching what was going on.”

Tricia Gray

Spanish Teacher

“I was in college at Illinois State University, and I had spent the night at a friend’s place. That morning the other roommates woke up and said to turn on the TV. I went back to the dorm, and all the girls on the floor gathered together and watched the news. I remember when the tower collapsed just yelling ‘Oh my gosh did that really happen?’ because it was so shocking. I went to class that afternoon, and out of the entire lecture hall, only five people showed up. My professor said ‘I know this day has been very shocking, but we have to march on,’ and we still took notes that day… At the time, my brother was in the Navy, and he was stationed in Japan. I remember he emailed my sister and I and told us not to go anywhere… His ship ended up being deployed to [the Middle East], but it was only for a few weeks just as backup… I also remember that all over the country many people just wanted to get home to their families, but there was a rental car shortage. Because of the shortage, you would hear stories of complete strangers renting the same car and taking turns driving with each other to get home. Something like that would normally be very out of the ordinary, but given the circumstances, people were willing to do anything to get home to their families.”

Cara Lane

American Literature, Debate and Public Speaking Teacher

“I was 21 when 9/11 happened, so I was a junior or senior at Purdue. I remember it happened in the middle of the week, and I had class. I don’t remember watching the news before I went to class, but once I arrived on campus, I realized that something catastrophic had happened. I had a film studies class, and my film studies instructor, who was a graduate student from I think Turkey, was reenacting his reaction to the news earlier in the morning. He just showed a very slow, open-mouthed face where he seemed like he could not believe his eyes. That is definitely my most vivid memory: sitting in class watching him as we decompressed about what was happening. I also distinctly remember being outside on campus and running into other classmates and talking about what was going on and what this would mean… one of my friends from junior high and high school, who also went to Purdue, was studying abroad in New Zealand, and I wrote him an email from the Purdue Writing Lab… I remember sitting in the lab and thinking ‘yeah this is worth sharing a random email with him’… the thing, however, that definitely does stick out in my mind the most was being at the morning class with my graduate teacher’s assistant. In retrospect, I worry about him because in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 people were so cruel and racist in the name of patriotism, and it would not surprise me if he was someone who was targeted as a direct result of it.”