Remembering 9/11 20 years later — Tragedy into triumph of spirit

Published 8:00 am Saturday, September 11, 2021

Sitting in a barbershop, drinking coffee at home, going about the day’s business or sitting in a classroom. The people of Brookhaven and Lincoln County were going about their normal routines, as were Americans everywhere, when the world turned upside down on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

Bill Jacobs, then-publisher of The Daily Leader, was in his office at the newspaper meeting with an employee. The managing editor came in and told him to turn his TV on real quick — something had just happened.

“The mood was very scary, disconcerting,” Jacobs said. “We saw the first building and within a few minutes saw the second building go down. We all were just in shock sitting there. And then we got a paper out.”

The mood throughout the office was shock, wondering what was really happening.

Jacobs called his wife who was out of town and told her she needed to get home, something was going on.

“I remember we worked all day to put the paper out. It was really that evening when the reality hit us,” Jacobs said.

He remembers soothing the nerves of an employee, telling her it was going to be OK; getting phone calls all day with people asking what was going on; and getting a call from a good friend at the bank, wondering about finances in the days ahead.

“Remember 20 years ago, we didn’t have smart phones, iPhones, per se. The Daily Leader was still the single news source,” Jacobs said. “People were calling us — What do you know?”

They learned several people from Brookhaven were in DC at the time and were stuck there, like WorldCom Board members Carl Aycock and Bernie Ebbers, and former Congressman Mike Parker.

“My brother-in-law had just left the Pentagon the night before,” Jacobs said.

He was in Naval intelligence and had been in the area of the building where the plane struck the next morning.

“It was one of life’s ‘moments’ watching all that go on … and the impact of how it hit us from that point on,” Jacobs said.

The fears — of the money system shutting down, what the government was going to do, what are we going to have to do here now — were pervasive and so were rampant emotions.

Jacobs said he remembers being shocked at the anger toward Muslims from Christians.

“Sure, we’re angry at what happened, but we can’t let our emotions take over. We needed to help one another and not destroy one another,” he said.

The following was originally printed in The Daily Leader that fateful day.

Locals get word of loved ones’ safety

As the nation reels from the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Brookhaven citizens this morning kept television and radios tuned in to get the latest reports of damage and injuries.

The safety of loved ones in either New York or Washington was on the minds of many.

Former Congressman Mike Parker was at the Pentagon this morning for talks regarding his nomination to a Corps of Engineers post, said his mother Pauline. However, he was at the Capitol during the explosion at the Pentagon.

“We’ve heard from both of them, and they’re OK,” she said about Mike and his wife Rosemary.

Also in Washington for a WorldCom Board of Directors meeting were Carl Aycock and Bernie Ebbers. Susan Aycock said she had received word that both were [alright], but they were making hotel reservations to stay the night because of closed airports following the attacks.

“They won’t be able to fly out probably,” Aycock said.

City Clerk Iris Rudman said she received a call from her son Jerry who works at the Johnson and Johnson plant in Allendale, NJ, which is near the New York border. The plant was shut down this morning and New York citizens were being advised to stay away.

“They told people from New York City to not try and go home,” Rudman said.

Many people dialed their telephones and cellular phones furiously in search of loved ones when they heard the news.

Ronnie Porter of Brookhaven was relieved when his brother, Terry, called home safely from his apartment in New York City this morning.

“His apartment is about a mile from the World Trade Center,” Porter said. “He heard the first plane hit and went out on his balcony and saw the second plane.”

At the government complex, Mayor Bill Godbold, Rudman and other office employees watched events unfold on television.

“It looks like an act of war from some means, we don’t know yet,” Godbold said.

In tragedy-related local activity, the Brookhaven Airport has been closed, said manager Benton Furlow.

“We cannot let anybody leave the ground,” Furlow said.

Furlow said he has no control over anyone who needs to land, but once on the ground they can’t go up again. He said there have been no landings today.

A helicopter left the airport around 7:30 a.m. today headed for South Carolina.

“That’s all the traffic we’ve had today,” Furlow said.

Furlow was expecting an update from Greenwood Flight Service, which oversees airports and flight plans for the region, around 11 a.m.

“It looks like a bad situation,” Furlow said.

Steve Melancon (Col., Ret.) served in the Pentagon with the director of the Army National Guard during his Army career.

He said his office in the Pentagon was “very close to that. I could look out the window and see the heliport.”

Melancon said he believed Tuesday morning’s actions needed to be treated not as a terrorist action, but as an act of war.

“I think we need to treat this exactly the same as Pearl Harbor,” he said. “They need to be treated as a military enemy. If it happens to be a civilian (terrorist) organization, so be it.”

Melancon urged patience. He said “we need to take our time, not be hasty, and be very sure” of who committed the acts. Once that is done, he said, Congress should take an active role.

“Let me be very clear,” he said. “At that point we need an actual declaration of war.”

In response to the acts, military bases and personnel across the nation have been put on alert.

Sergeant First Class Lee Mathis of Company C, 1st Maintenance Battalion, said Brookhaven is not different. Members of the unit have been alert, which means they must remain in contact with the unit at all times in case it is ordered to respond.

“It’s a standard procedure for something like this,” Mathis said.

Many local residents are ready to counteract the horrific acts that swept across America.

Some were angry that such terrorists acts could happen in this country. One Brookhaven businesswoman even blamed the government and its loose regulations on people coming and going from the United States.

“I think our customs need to be tougher,” said Jill Davis. “When I lived in Kuwait, they fully searched everyone coming into Kuwait and you were only allowed in the country for certain reasons.

“We should have been more prepared. We let our guard down.”

Davis, along with several other hair stylists, ceased their daily routines, just as most other local residents did this morning.

“We’ve been watching since the first plane hit the World Trade Center,” Davis said as she gathered around the TV in her barbershop in the downtown area.

Despite the shock many people were experiencing, business continued in the downtown area, but most talk centered around the national events.

“We’re all stunned, but we have kept the bank open. We did stop and have prayer this morning,” Lavern Hardin, vice president of a local bank, stated.

Several bank employees watched television and updated other employees periodically.

Officials at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson canceled classes this morning and night sessions will not meet, spokesman Natalie Davis said. Classes will resume on schedule Wednesday, she said.

Blood drives

The very next day after the attacks, nearly 200 Brookhaven residents showed up at a blood drive at Brookhaven High School to donate for victims of Tuesday’s attacks.

Mississippi Blood Service officials had to turn away more than 70 because they did not have enough staff or supplies.

“None of our students were able to give because of the overwhelming response from the community,” BHS science department head Amy Rutland said. “Students were very disappointed.”

The drive had already been scheduled as a regular event, but changed its focus after the attacks of 9/11. Some people waited patiently up to six hours to make their donation. Four additional MBS drives were scheduled in the following weeks in Brookhaven area.

Prayer

Prayer vigils were organized and conducted, including one the following Monday on the steps of the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex, organized by then-U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows.

“Mississippians are a praying people because we know the power and strength and healing that comes with prayer,” Shows said. “Personally, I need to join with my fellow Mississippians in prayer and I know that others may feel that way as well. So I am providing this opportunity to come together in prayer for our nation, those we have lost and for healing and guidance.”

Volunteers

Then-Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey said local residents and people all across Mississippi had responded to help people in New York with “an overwhelming response” that exceeded the current demand for rescue and recovery efforts.

People wanted to donate goods, money and their own physical efforts to help out, with volunteers lining up to go to NYC if needed.

“I feel like if we put out the call, people here will respond,” Galey said then.

Triumph of spirit

“Our nation’s innocence was lost Tuesday morning,” former publisher of The Daily Leader Bill Jacobs wrote a few days later. “Lost to the fanaticism of a group of individuals whose intention is to destroy that with which they disagree; to inflict hatred and anarchy on a country that believes in freedom and democracy; to destroy the basic ideals that make this country so great and to allow good to fall victim to evil. They did not and will not succeed.”

“We regained something more important — our spirit,” Jacobs continued. “It is that spirit that will lead us through this period, because we are a nation united by God and a nation that believes in the freedom of its people.”

 

A TIMELINE OF MAJOR EVENTS OF 9/11

5:45 a.m.: Two hijackers pass 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.

7:59 a.m.: AA 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.: UA 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.

8:20 a.m.: AA Flight 77 takes off from Washington Dulles Intl. 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.

8:24 a.m.: One of the hijackers of Flight 11 unwittingly broadcasts a message to air traffic controllers alerting them to the attacks.

8:30 a.m.: Around this time, roughly 80 people have already begun gathering on the 106th floor of the North Tower of the WTC for a conference.

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

8:42 a.m.: UA 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 WTC. 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.

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 NYPD 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.