Commissioners reflect on tragedy
For many, Sept. 11, 2001, was a turning point in their lives. Many people lost loved ones, many people lost their sense of safety and New York City lost a piece of its skyline.
The unprecedented attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the country and how governments manage terror threats on a daily basis. Things have changed drastically since, and security is more intense than it was before the attack.
Charles County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) said he can remember a time where people could walk into the U.S. Capitol building without having to be screened.
“Not long after the attack I was with a friend and we were walking on Capitol Hill. And the number of law enforcement
people out with dogs, with rifles, was really very striking to me,” Murphy said. “I hadn’t seen that in Washington in a long, long time. It just brought it closer to home with the threat we were living under at the time.”
Murphy, the director of mediation services at the circuit court in Prince George’s County at the time, said he was in a staff meeting when word came in that the Twin Towers were hit.
“When the word got to us, it was just dead silence initially. And then, lots of questions like ‘Well, what do you mean?’ trying to understand what happened,” Murphy said. “Everybody was just kind of stunned into silence.”
The meeting broke up shortly after that and everyone went to check on their loved ones, Murphy said, to make sure things were all right. He stayed at the office for the day, but after the attack “it was not business as usual anymore.”
Commissioners’ Vice President Debra Davis (D) said she was in her law office in Largo when she received news of the attacks. She heard about a plane crash on the radio, and, shortly after, she realized it was not an accident.
Davis turned the television on in her office to watch the news and see what happened. But what
she and her paralegal staff saw was “devastating.”
“We watched the second plane hit the towers,” Davis said.
After that, panic ensued. People were calling her office to check on Davis and check on her staff. There were rumors “swirling around,” she said, about the Capitol being the next target and the Washington Monument being another target and the Pentagon being hit.
After that, Davis said, she shut down the office.
“We were in a total state of disbelief,” she said.
“I really wanted to circle the wagons. My kids were at school. We were really in a state of emergency in this part of town. My friends from Florida, they don’t remember it like we do in this region,” Davis said.
On her way home, she said, things were still in a panic. She drove past Andrews Air Force Base (now called Joint Base Andrews) on her way home and was stuck in traffic because the base was on high alert. “Why’d I do that?” Davis said. “I just wasn’t thinking. I was just on alert.”
Dealing with the tragedy professionally was one thing, Davis said, but dealing with it as a parent was another challenge. The principal of the school Davis’ daughters went to mandated the televisions in the classrooms were turned on.
“My kids had so many questions,” Davis said. “And they were questions that I had. And I didn’t have any answers.”
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), who lived in the District of Columbia at the time where he hosted his radio show “The Travel Minute,” said the attacks struck him especially close as a native New Yorker.
“I called a friend of mine, a very good, close friend of mine who lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, right across from the towers and asked him if he saw what was going on. He said, ‘Am I seeing it? I’m watching it right outside my window,’” Robinson said. “While I was on the phone with him, the second plane hit. He literally gave me a play by play and screamed, ‘It just hit the other tower.’”
Just a few minutes after that moment, Robinson said, he felt something that felt like an explosion. And then he realized that was another plane hitting the Pentagon.
His wife was scheduled to teach that day at George Washington University, but he would not allow her to go despite her objections. “We were under attack. Things were different,” Robinson said.
But what will always resonate with Robinson, he said, is the fact that the Twin Towers are no longer present in the New York skyline.
“When I went back to New York for Thanksgiving that year, not seeing the [World] Trade Center was almost like a catch-yourbreath moment,” Robinson said. “Being so familiar with the skyline and seeing how it changed in person really, really affected me.”