On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airplanes and attacked the United States. Two crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York, causing them to collapse. Another plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania because passengers stopped the terrorists from reaching their target. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks. L.A. Youth asked teens to share what they remember of that day and how the attacks have affected them.
Visiting New York made the attacks more real
I was 5 years old on Sept. 11. I woke up to the TV on, and when I walked into the living room, my mom was crying and my dad looked shocked. I had no idea what was going on, and when they saw me they immediately shut the television off. My dad took me to school and all I can remember is seeing my first grade teacher crying, and a confusing announcement about something awful that happened.
For years, the only time I would think about 9/11 was on the anniversary every year when we had a minute of silence for people who died. Kids in my class would start giggling, and no one would take it seriously. I didn’t start to understand what had happened until I was 10.
My family visited New York, and one day we went to the World Trade Center site. I saw a list of names on plaques on a wall that stretched almost as far as I could see. My mom began to cry, and it hit me that these were the names of those who had died. My mom told me that terrorists had taken control of planes and flown them into the twin towers, causing thousands of innocent people to die. I cried even harder realizing that all these people had families, and that they all should be alive today. That visit made me realize that there are bad people out there who can harm you. For years after that, I was terrified for my mom to get on a plane.
This past school year our English class studied 9/11 when we read a novel called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is about a boy who lost his dad in the attacks. We also had to read an article called “The Falling Man,” which is about a photo of a man who jumped out of one of the towers to avoid burning to death. No one knew who the man was and they still haven’t figured out his identity. It made the attack much more real. We had to write a response, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. I wrote that I believe the picture is a metaphor, symbolizing all of the lost lives as one, because most bodies were buried under rubble and never found.
The attacks had a lasting impact on me. Even now, when my mom leaves on a business trip, I tell her how much she means to me because I think of the kids who kissed their parents goodbye, not knowing they would never see them again.
Camille Didelot-Hearn, 15, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
I read all the news I could to understand
At first, Sept. 11 was just like any other day. When I got to my grandma’s house after school, I turned the TV on to watch Pokémon. But instead I saw two buildings in flames. I was angry that some “grownup TV show” was taking over Pokémon. Before I could figure out what was going on, the adults in my family took the remote from me and glued themselves to the television.
I had no idea what building was on fire, why it was happening and where it was occurring. I didn’t figure out what was going on until the next day when my second grade teacher said that terrorists had hijacked airplanes and crashed them into the twin towers in New York City.
She didn’t give us details, which made me curious. I went to websites I had never gone on before like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Still, because I was only 6 I didn’t get what was going on—I thought the twin towers and the World Trade Center were different things. For the next couple weeks, I would spend my recess in the library on CNN.com or any site that would give me information about Al Qaeda and 9/11.
The media kept saying that something could happen again. Throughout elementary school my main fear was that Osama bin Laden was watching me or that he could crash a plane in my city or sneak into my house during the night and kill me.
The Sept. 11 attacks made me more interested in politics and what was going on outside my neighborhood. I still go on CNN.com almost every day and I watch CNN on television. I feel like I should know what’s going on. I like to learn different perspectives and form my own opinions. I don’t want to be ignorant. If it wasn’t for the attacks, I don’t think I would care about the news.
Kevin Ko, 16, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)
‘A shadow over most of my life’
I remember the morning of Sept. 11 very clearly, even though I was only 7 years old. I knew something was going on because my parents had the news on. They never had the TV on in the morning. I tried to ask my parents what was happening but they rushed my sister and me out the door, told us everything was fine and drove us to school.
That day at school the headmaster told us what happened. I’m not sure I fully understood it at that point, but I must have watched enough news over the next few days with my parents to understand the fear that everyone felt.
No more than a week or two after 9/11, I was in my parents’ bedroom as my dad packed to leave for a business trip. Footage of planes crashing into the towers was playing on the TV. I began to cry and when my parents asked me what was wrong, I begged my dad, “Please, please don’t go. Don’t get on the plane.” He told me everything would be fine, but I didn’t believe him.
While my parents have seen a lot of history in their lives, 9/11 was the first major historical event that I experienced. My grandfather on my dad’s side was killed in the Islamic Revolution in Iran when my father was only 18. Knowing that my father came to the U.S. to escape the violent Muslim extremists and still has to be reminded of that here, I often wonder how safe we really are.
9/11 and the war has been a shadow over most of my life. It wasn’t until Osama bin Laden was killed that I realized the war has been going on for nearly a decade and how normal it is to see footage of soldiers on the news. I ask myself when the war is going to end.
Chantelle Moghadam, 17, Viewpoint School (Calabasas)
I was living in El Salvador so I don’t feel as connected
The Sept. 11 attacks weren’t a big event in my life because I was living in El Salvador. I remember hearing the news and asking my mom if our family living in the United States was OK. She told me they lived in Los Angeles and that was really far from New York City.
Now that I’m living in the United States, I still don’t feel connected to 9/11. My friends and family never talk about it. The date usually flies by me. At school, teachers never discuss it. I’ve learned things about the attacks from the news, especially around the anniversary. Now I know that Osama bin Laden was responsible and that the Pentagon was also attacked that day. I care about what happened because people got killed but I don’t feel 9/11 affected my life as much as it affected others.
Victor Beteta, 18, University HS
I could smell the buildings burning
At 9 a.m. on Sept. 11 I was looking out of my classroom window in Brooklyn, N.Y., noticing what I thought were dark clouds filling the sky. For the next few hours my classmates got pulled out of school one by one. When I was in gym class, I was told to go to the office. When I got there I saw my mom and dad. I knew something was wrong because my dad was supposed to be at work. I asked why they were picking me up, and they told me the World Trade Center had fallen down.
When I started to realize people had been hurt, I felt so upset. My friend Duncan had a father who was a chef on the 101st floor of one of the towers. I saw his mom in the office waiting for him, crying hysterically. At that point I became even more upset as I thought about one of my best friends losing his father.
I still remember going home and watching Katie Couric talk about what had happened. My parents didn’t hide anything from me. They explained that bad terrorists had crashed the planes into the towers on purpose, so they could hurt people. I remember watching very closely, thinking maybe they would find Duncan’s father in the rubble and he would be OK. For the next couple of weeks I would ask my mom if they had found him, but she told me he was really high up and unfortunately they probably wouldn’t find him and he might be dead.
The day of the attacks my babysitter took my brother and me to the playground. Papers were falling from the sky, and there was a horrible burning smell. It wasn’t the smell of wood burning, but metal. For a few years every once in a while there would be a similar smell and I would look for smoke in the sky to make sure nothing had happened.
Every year at school we would have a moment of silence that would set a somber note for the entire day. I would think about Duncan, and about all the other kids and adults who lost loved ones on 9/11. When we declared war in 2003, I remember being petrified that planes from Iraq were going to fly over New York and drop bombs on us.
9/11 took part of my innocence. I realized that not everyone in the world is good, and lives can be taken so quickly. I remember going to the site of the attacks a few months later, and seeing all of the flower memorials that had been set up. 9/11 was an attack on the whole country, but no other city came together in the wake of the destruction like New York. Part of me is upset that I won’t be in New York for the 10th anniversary. I would like to go to the memorial site and see what is in place of the towers. Seeing what was built up from the total destruction would give me some sort of closure.
Matt Sweeney, 17, Campbell Hall (North Hollywood)
It took years for me to understand the significance
I was in second grade when 9/11 happened. I was getting ready for school in my parents’ room and the TV showed fire and smoke coming out of a building that I didn’t recognize. Since I grew up watching action movies, I thought the scene was from a movie, not the news.
When I got to school I noticed that the other kids weren’t as loud as usual and the teachers kept looking at the clocks. I asked a kid what was going on and he told me that some people blew up some buildings in New York. That was all he knew. I felt sad, but I didn’t think that people had died.
Every year after that on Sept. 11, there would be a moment of silence in school. I slowly began to understand: if we were taking time out of our day to respect an event, then it must be important. By seventh grade, I wanted to know what adults meant when they said it was the “anniversary of 9/11,” so I searched “9/11” online. I learned that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were responsible and that people died.
The next day I asked my parents what they remembered and how they felt. Hearing my parents tell me about terrorism and bin Laden made the event real. I was appalled that someone would attack my country. What had America done to deserve being attacked?
After researching and talking to my parents, I felt as if I understood why 9/11 happened, but I didn’t truly understand the significance until my junior year. Our U.S. history teacher taught us about 9/11 by grouping it with other events of recent terrorism, like the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He wanted to make sure that we learned about why 9/11 happened rather than focus on our fear of terrorism. It helped me see that there were two sides to this: America was a victim that day, but since then a lot of Americans have unfairly blamed people in the Middle East whenever there’s a terrorist threat.
Ten years later I’m mostly reminded of 9/11 when I’m in an airport. In July, I went to Mexico with my family and the airport checked every piece of luggage we had. I understand the need for security, but all the security at airports only makes Americans believe that terrorist attacks can happen at any time. I don’t want to live my life in fear.
Kristy Plaza, 17, Duarte HS
I was so young at the time
that it’s hard to feel closely connected
I was 6 years old on 9/11. The only thing I remember from that day was that I wasn’t able to watch my cartoons. Instead there was a guy doing a news report and images of a smoking building. A few weeks later I saw that people in my town were putting up American flags outside their homes and on their cars, and buying stickers that said, “God Bless America.”
I wasn’t emotionally connected to the attacks, mostly because I was too young. I sometimes would hear about 9/11 when my classmates were having a conversation about the Middle East or when the principal would make a speech every year, telling us to think about the attacks and those who were fighting for our freedom.
The attacks really hit me in sixth grade when my English teacher talked to us on Sept. 11. The classroom was silent as he talked about the fear and the shock he and the other teachers felt that day. He told us that his friend’s son had “died for our country,” and his friend had asked him to talk to his students every year on Sept. 11 so that we wouldn’t forget.
Listening to my teacher gave me a deeper understanding of how horrible the attacks were. I wish that other teachers would talk to their students about what happened on 9/11, because not a lot of kids I know understand why the attacks happened and how much they affected our country. One girl in my PE class thought that the only reason we were in the Middle East was because we needed oil, and one boy in my history class thought that the 9/11 attacks were bombings. A few kids in my grade were also unsure about how many people died in the attacks.
This summer I took a political science class and we spent a few days discussing terrorism and 9/11. We watched a documentary about the firefighters who got trapped while trying to rescue people stuck in the towers and saw the towers fall and people running from the dust. Watching the movie made me cry because it was sad to see so much panic, destruction and death. We discussed radical Islamists who believe that it’s their duty to kill non-believers. Even though they are a minority of the Islamic faith, they are very powerful. They are also hard to fight because they are spread out throughout the world.
9/11 hits me a lot more today because I’m more aware of how and why it happened. In class we were taught that the radical Middle Eastern media portrays the United States as the enemy and says that Allah would reward the people who attacked us. I have realized that something like 9/11 could happen again.
But after everything that I’ve learned about 9/11, there’s still a part of me that doesn’t feel emotionally connected to the attacks because I don’t really remember what happened that day, and I don’t know anyone who was directly affected. At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel pride when I think about 9/11, because every year the whole country stops to remember those who died on that day, and we celebrate the fact that even in the face of disaster we as a nation are still able to come together to support each other.
Heidi Carreon, 16, Gladstone HS (Covina)
Here’s how teens reacted to the attacks 10 years ago
America under attack. Teens respond to the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. (September – October 2001 issue)
My soul hurts. L.A. Youth alums share their thoughts about the attacks. (September – October 2001 issue)
We remember 9/11. L.A. Youth staff members built a “Day of the Dead” altar to commemorate those who died in the attacks and they found that it was a healing experience. (November – December 2001 issue)
Why do they hate us? Students from Venice HS discuss why they think America is hated. (November – December 2001 issue)
That’s not funny. Eze, 17, can’t stand it when his classmates joke about the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath. (January – February 2002 issue)
T-shirt patriots. We’ll wave flags, but join the Army? No, thanks, says Daniel 18. (January – February 2002 issue)