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Remembering those lost in the 9/11 terror attacks 20 years later

23 mins read

People around the world are marking the 20th anniversary of the coordinated September 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Loved ones and leaders will pay tribute to the victims at memorial ceremonies across the US and around the globe this weekend.

Each September 11, communities across the United States commemorate the lives lost during the 2001 terrorist attacks that took place on American soil. On Sept. 11, 2001, four commercial airplanes were hijacked and sent to various targets in the United States. Two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one plane crashed into the U.S. Pentagon Building near Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane was intercepted from the hijackers and crash-landed in rural Pennsylvania.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, President George W. Bush declared Friday, September 14, 2001 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the terrorist attacks. But many people felt there should be an annual event dedicated to preserving the memory of the victims and the heroism of the first responders. A bill to make September 11 a national day of mourning was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on October 25, 2001.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. On Sept. 11, 2002, the country recognized the first Patriot Day. On this day, the U.S. flag is flown at half-mast. In addition, a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. is observed to correspond with the attacks. While not a federal holiday – schools and businesses remain open – memorial ceremonies are held for the 2,977 victims, including an annual reading of names of the people who lost their lives.


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The memorial

Among the more indelible images to emerge on Sept. 11, 2001 was the sight of two planes crashing into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. Still photos and video footage of those planes flying into the Twin Towers were the first images of the attacks many Americans saw, and no one who watched events unfold that morning will ever forget those images.

Though both the North and South Towers fell on that day, today the site where each tower once stood is a serene retreat in the bustling lower Manhattan neighborhood that was shaken to its core on the day of the attacks. The 9/11 Memorial was designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum notes that Arad and Walker’s proposal was chosen in a design competition that featured 5,201 submissions from 63 countries.

The 9/11 Memorial is located on the western side of the formal World Trade Center where the Twin Towers once stood. Two enormous reflecting pools are part of the Memorial Plaza, which is where the North and South Towers once stood. The pools feature the two largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Around the edges of the pools, the names of people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Pentagon, on Flight 93, and in the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center are etched in bronze.

In recognition of the crash sites, 400 swamp white oak trees were selected from nurseries located in New York, Pennsylvania and near Washington, D.C. These trees are located throughout the Memorial Plaza, providing a peaceful respite separate from the surrounding city. The Memorial Plaza also includes one Callery pear tree. That tree was discovered at Ground Zero weeks after the attacks and it was severely damaged. The tree, now known as the Survivor Tree, was nursed back to health by members of the New York City Parks and Recreation Department and returned to the World Trade Center site in 2010, where it still stands as an enduring symbol of resilience and perseverance.

The 9/11 Memorial is free and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information about the 9/11 Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum can be found at http://www.911memorial.org. 


Headlines from around the world

The terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 shook the world. People across the globe, including men, women and children from all walks of life, reacted to the attacks with sadness, horror, shock, and anger. Newspaper front pages throughout the United States and the world reflected those emotions on September 12.

  • The New York Times: U.S. Attacked: Hijacked Jets Destroy Twin Towers And Hit Pentagon In Day Of Terror
  • New York Post: Act of War: World Trade Center destroyed; many dead
  • New York Daily News: It’s War
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Horror Mounts
  • The Washington Post: Terrorists Hijack 4 Airliners, Destroy World Trade Center, Hit Pentagon; Hundreds Dead
  • The Boston Globe: New day of infamy: Thousands feared dead after planes hit towers, Pentagon
  • Chicago Tribune: ‘Our nation saw evil’: Hijacked jets destroy World Trade Center, hit Pentagon; Thousands feared dead in nation’s worst terrorist attack
  • The Dallas Morning News: War at home: Shaken nation awaits tally from Pentagon, Trade Center attacks; Bush vows to track down terrorists and ‘bring them to justice’
  • Houston Chronicle: Terror Hits Home
  • Los Angeles Times: Terrorists Attack New York, Pentagon
  • San Francisco Examiner: Bastards! A Changed America
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer: ‘None of us will ever forget’
  • USA Today: ‘Act of war’: Terrorists strike; death toll ‘horrendous’
  • The Australian: War Of Terror: Bush vows to hunt down perpetrators of world’s worst terrorist attacks
  • Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia): America Attacked
  • The Sydney Morning Herald: Terror war on US: World Trade Center Razed; 10,000 feared dead in suicide attacks
  • The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia): World Terror: Hijacked Jets Hit Trade Centre; 10,000 Dead
  • The Age (Melbourne, Australia): War on America
  • The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia): US Attacked
  • The Daily Telegraph (London): War on America

President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on September 11, 2001

On the evening of September 11, 2001, United States President George W. Bush addressed a nation that earlier that day witnessed the deadliest terrorist attacks in world history. That morning, hijackers took control of four airplanes, ultimately crashing two into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in a field near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers and crew attempted to regain control of the plane from the hijackers. All passengers and crew on board all four flights died on September 11, and thousands of others on the ground lost their lives that day as well. It was under those conditions that President Bush delivered the following speech to a shaken nation.

Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers; moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.

A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

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Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America – with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.

Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, D.C. to help with local rescue efforts.

Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.

The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight, and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business, as well.

The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance.

America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism. Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.”

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Thank you. Good night, and God bless America.


A timeline from that morning

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes bound for California. The planes departed from airports in Boston; Newark, NJ; and Washington, D.C. September 11 would become an infamous date in American and world history, and the events of that day would forever change the world. As the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the following timeline, courtesy of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, can help people fully understand how events unfolded on that late-summer morning two decades ago.

5:45 a.m.: Two of the hijackers pass through security at Portland International Airport in Maine. The men will take a short flight to Boston Logan International Airport, where they will join three other hijackers and board American Airlines Flight 11.

6:00 a.m.: Two of the hijacked planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, will eventually crash into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. The day was a significant one on the New York City political calendar, as polling stations opened at 6 a.m. for primary elections.

7:59 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston with 11 crew members, 76 passengers and five hijackers on board. The plane, which will eventually crash into the North tower at the World Trade Center, is filled with more than 76,000 pounds of fuel.

8:15 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 175 takes off from Boston with nine crew members, 51 passengers, and five hijackers on board. This flight also is loaded with 76,000 pounds of fuel.

8:19 a.m.: American Airlines ground personnel are alerted by flight attendant Betty Ann Ong that Flight 11 is being hijacked. This call lasts roughly 25 minutes and Ong reports that the cockpit is unreachable. In the moments before Ong’s call, one of the hijackers stabbed Daniel M. Lewin, who was sitting in front of him in first class. Lewin is likely the first person killed in the 9/11 attacks.

8:20 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77 takes off from Washington Dulles International Airport. The flight has 49,900 pounds of fuel and is carrying six crew members, 53 passengers and five hijackers.

8:21 a.m.: The transponder on Flight 11 is turned off. This device is meant to allow air traffic controllers to identify and monitor the flight path of a plane.

8:24 a.m.: One of the hijackers of Flight 11 unwittingly broadcasts a message to air traffic controllers alerting them to the attacks. The hijacker was attempting to communicate with passengers and crew within the cabin.

8:30 a.m.: Around this time, roughly 80 people have already begun gathering on the 106th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center for a financial technology conference. The conference is one of many events on the Trade Center schedule that day.

8:37 a.m.: The Boston Air Traffic Control Center alerts the military that a hijacking is under way.

8:42 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 93 takes off from Newark International Airport. The flight was due to take off at roughly the same time as the other hijacked planes, but was delayed due to routine traffic. Seven crew members, 33 passengers and four hijackers are on board. The flight is filled with 48,700 pounds of fuel.

8:46 a.m.: Five hijackers crash Flight 11 into floors 93 through 99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Hundreds, including everyone on board the flight, are killed instantly. The crash severs all three emergency stairwells, trapping hundreds of people above the 91st floor.

8:46 a.m.: Police, paramedics and firefighters are sent to the North Tower.

8:50 a.m.: While visiting an elementary school in Florida, U.S. President George W. Bush is notified that a small plane has hit the North Tower.

8:52 a.m.: A flight attendant aboard Flight 175 reaches a United Airlines operator in San Francisco and reports the flight is being hijacked. By 9 a.m., various passengers on Flight 175 have called family members.

8:55 a.m.: The Port Authority informs people inside the South Tower via a public address system that the building is secure and there is no need to evacuate.

8:59 a.m.: The Port Authority Police Department orders both towers evacuated. One minute later Captain Anthony Whitaker expands the order to include all civilians in the entire World Trade Center complex.

9:02 a.m.: An evacuation order is broadcast in the South Tower.

9:03 a.m.: Five hijackers crash Flight 175 into floors 77 through 85 of the South Tower. All onboard the flight are killed, as are an unknown number of people inside the building. Two of the three emergency stairwells are impassable and most elevator cables are severed, trapping many people above the impact zone and inside elevator cars.

9:03 a.m.: A second call for mobilization brings the total number of New York City Police Department officers responding to the scene to roughly 2,000. In addition, the FDNY issues a fifth alarm and deploys several hundred additional firefighters to the scene.

9:05 a.m.: President Bush is informed that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.

9:12 a.m.: Flight attendant Renée A. May calls her mother and tells her that hijackers have seized control of Flight 77. When May’s call is disconnected, she calls American Airlines.

9:30 a.m.: Amidst reports of additional hijacked planes, the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management at 7 World Trade Center is evacuated.

9:37 a.m.: Hijackers crash Flight 77 into the Pentagon. All 53 passengers and six crew members perish, and 125 military and civilian personnel on the ground are killed in the fire caused by the crash.

9:42 a.m.: The Federal Aviation Administration grounds all flights, ordering all civilian planes in United States airspace to land. Departures also are prohibited.

9:45 a.m.: Evacuations at the White House and the U.S. Capitol begin. Both the House of Representatives and Senate are in session at the time the evacuation begins.

9:58 a.m.: Flight 93 is flying so low to the ground that passenger Edward P. Felt is able to reach an emergency 911 operator in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

9:59 a.m.: The South Tower collapses after burning for 56 minutes. The tower collapses in just 10 seconds.

9:59 a.m.: Continuity-of-government procedures are implemented for the first known time in American history.

10:03 a.m.: Four hijackers crash Flight 93 into a field near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All 33 passengers and seven crew members on board perish. Passengers and crew had stormed the cockpit, and the plane ultimately crashes just 20 minutes’ flying time from Washington, D.C.

10:15 a.m.: The E Ring of the Pentagon collapses.

10:28 a.m.: The North Tower collapses after burning for 102 minutes. More than 1,600 people are killed as a result of the attack on the North Tower.

11:02 a.m.: New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urges the evacuation of lower Manhattan.

12:16 p.m.: The last flight still in the air above the continental United States lands. Within two and a half hours, U.S. airspace has been cleared of roughly 4,500 commercial and general aviation planes. 

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