Teachers recall moments of 9/11

Back-to-School Mass being held when news broke of events in New York


Meghan Kerr, Senior Coverage Editor

20 years ago on September 11, 2001, The John Carroll school community was enjoying a normal day. The sky was bright blue without a cloud in sight, and the sun shone brightly over the campus. The Back-to-School Mass was occurring, and students and faculty had crowded in the gym to celebrate the beginning of a new school year.

Anthropology Teacher Gary Scholl, an assistant principal at the time, said, “While the Mass was going on, Mr. Mullin, the Director of Guidance grabbed me and said something really bad had happened. Just through his tone and his look, you could tell that was true. (Mr. Mullin) explained about the plane hitting the Twin Tower, and they were worried about another plane. And that’s all we knew.”
“They made the announcement that a plane had hit the first tower,” said Religion Teacher Tom Vierheller, “I think it was shortly after the readings.”
By the end of Mass, news that a second plane had hit the Twin Towers was announced to all students and faculty members, sparking confusion and concern over the campus.
Social Studies Chairman Rodney Johnson said, “There were definitely folks who were anxious about loved ones being in harm’s way.”
Initial reactions regarding the general idea that such a tragic event could have occurred was difficult to comprehend and led to a lot of confusion all over the school.
“I think the reaction was pretty naïve; we had no idea,” said Mr. Vierheller, “I think the reaction was, ‘Well that’s too bad.’ We had no visual.”
Shortly after Mass ended, students returned to their designated classrooms where teachers were able to turn on the television and watch the news to fully understand what was happening only a few states away.
It was not until after seeing the catastrophic visuals on the television that many students and faculty members began to feel emotions of fear, dread, and concern.
The news showed scenes of the Twin Towers collapsing and people falling to their deaths. Additionally, images of the Pentagon being destroyed began to appear.
Mr. Vierheller said, “By the time we got to our classrooms and the students began to see the visual, that changed everything. That’s when fear set in.”
“It was sullen. It was somber. It was serious. The students were really affected by this because they were afraid. They didn’t know what was going to happen next, and the adults felt the same way,” said Mr. Scholl describing the mood of the school after seeing the tragedy that was unfolding live before everyone’s eyes.
Students waited in their classrooms, eyes glued to televisions and feelings of fear and nervousness piling up in their stomachs as they anticipated what would happen next. Would another attack occur?
Eventually, an announcement was made by the administration to dismiss school.
“We stayed in homeroom for a while, and then we made an announcement that school was dismissed for the day. We said, ‘You need to be with your parents; we’re getting calls; you need to be with your families,’” Mr. Scholl remembered.
Due to cell phones being much less common than they are now, phone lines were crowded as students attempted to get in contact with their parents to go home.
“We just needed to be with family and know at some point that we were safe,” said Mr. Scholl.
The rest of the day consisted of anxiety and fear of what would happen next. Students scrambled to make sure that their parents were alright and vice versa.
Unfortunately, however, there were two John Carroll connections who passed away due to the tragic event. Ninth grader Lauren Maggitti lost her father who had been working in the Financial District that day, and Patrick Welsh, an alumnus, lost his spouse Deborah Jacobs Welsh, a flight attendant on Flight 93.
The days following 9/11 were surrounded by feelings of uncertainty.
“The feeling in the school was sort of different,” said Assistant Principal Mrs. Danica Attanasio who was a Spanish teacher at JC at the time.
The United States had never experienced a terrorist attack to this degree. 9/11 destroyed the country in a way that no other tragedy had before.
“I would say it was a combination of fear and something like we had been punched in the gut,” said Mr. Vierheller.
“This was about a deep-seated fear in which the fear lasted hours and days,” he added.
The JC community continues to speak about 9/11 and commemorate the lives that were lost that day. This year, JC commemorated the victims lost in 9/11 via the morning prayer on Friday, September 10.
Close to 3,000 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001 in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and on United Airlines Flight 93.
The day was one of the most impactful tragedies in American history.
While it caused the deaths of thousands of Americans, it negatively impacted families all over the country.