A sports reporter just into my second year in the news business, I rarely had an assignment at 9 a.m. But on September 11, 2001, the Detroit Pistons Caravan was making its way to Chippewa Middle School in Okemos and I had to get up early and get over there. After all, the big news that night in sports would be hearing from the Pistons hot new draft pick Rodney White. As usual it was tough to get a camera for a sports shoot, so I was just leaving at 8:50. I walked up to the desk, glanced at a TV picture of a building on fire and asked our assignment editor Meymo Lyons what was going on there. She said, "Oh, some idiot drove his plane into the World Trade Center." Thinking it was a small plane like many did early on, I didn't give it a second thought and headed to Okemos.
The caravan wasn't memorable-- a speech from White, Pistons head coach Rick Carlisle and the team's president. Afterward I interviewed all three on the the Pistons' future. I needed to get some video and an interview with a student, but I walked down the hall first to talk to a teacher. Just then, another teacher with a radio clenched to his ear ran by frantically telling me, "We're under attack! Terrorists are attacking us!" Thinking I had the inside track on this info being in the media and all, I just rolled my eyes, gave him an okay, and thought how ridiculous he looked thinking it was the end of the world when it was just a small plane crash. At that moment my phone rang. It was Meymo. "Get your ass back here! This thing is a terrorist attack! I need you back here now!"
I think I said okay, but I kind of stumbled back to the gym looking for my cameraman and now wondering how serious this thing was. We jumped in the car to head back when I realized we were at a school and wondered if kids were watching this. I called back and asked Meymo if she wanted me to get something to that effect. She gave me the green light and we walked into the school. I walked into the office and couldn't believe my eyes. Teachers and administrators were standing around looking at a mounted TV in silence. I was watching the twin towers on fire and before I could even ask what happened, one collapsed. The woman next to me began crying. I was wondering how this was real, who could attack us and if I was in danger. Was this the start of World War III? I stood there watching, wondering for what seemed forever. Then the next tower fell. Finally, my mind clicked back into work mode. Are the students watching this? What are they thinking? I found the principal and he hand picked two students for me to interview from a class watching the events unfold. Not surprisingly, the kids weren't nearly as shocked as the adults who were thinking of the big picture. I made my way back to the station where it wasn't chaos, but it was close. Anyone who wasn't watching in silence was on the phone. All I heard was questions like 'Was this going to be wall-to-wall national coverage,' 'Will we have any local news coverage today,' and if so 'What would we cover?' I felt so out of place. Mainly, because I was in sports and really didn't know how to help out in such a breaking "news" situation. I just hung around and tried to help in any way I could.
We first went on the air just past noon with David Andrews. At that point, it was a recap of what happened and that we were following another plane crash somewhere in Pennsylvania. I remember thinking, "What's in Pennsylvania?" The first and only local news in that first show of the day for us was my interview with the Chippewa principal and a student. I felt like I belonged a little after that. As it turned out we had another newscast that night, but no sports. I don't think we had sports in the shows for the next 3 days. My Pistons Caravan stuff never aired-- not that you missed anything special. You probably don't even remember former 1st round pick Rodney White.
My only other thought on 9/11 is why not show the horrific pictures we lived out that day? I know they're burned into our memory, but nothing makes the emotions I felt that day rush back like seeing what happened. I think we all need to see at least part of that today to remember how we changed as people and as a nation forever that day. I found a few clips you should see. Yes, included are the graphic explosions, pictures of people jumping, and heroes trying to help in any way they can.
As it happened on NBC's "Today":
"How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?"
Not everyone who fell jumped.
Disturbing 911 call ending in the collapse of the tower: