Nineteen years later and almost 2,000 miles away, the 9/11 attacks weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of many locals as they recall the events of that day.
“That was a long day,” Justine Williams of Wharton said. “All you could do is just watch and cry.”
Four planes were hijacked on that day by 19 terrorists from the extremist group Al Qaeda. Two were crashed into the World Trade Center’s towers in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one into a Shanksville, Pa. field.
Williams has lived in Texas for 42 years, but she grew up in upstate New York and still had many relatives and friends living there. The day of the attacks, she had just dropped off her children at school when she heard the news.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” she said. “My phone started ringing because all my friends in Texas knew I was from New York and my family lives there. So they were like, ‘have you seen the news?’”
All of Williams’ New York friends and family were accounted for through panicked phone calls, but for the rest of the day, she, like the rest of the country, stayed close to her TV and phone.
At 8:40 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, the first plane struck the north World Trade Center tower. By 10:28 a.m., the north and south towers had collapsed and all four planes were crashed.
Local Kimberly Denise was a student at Prairie View Texas A&M University at the time. She was waiting for her English class to begin, but that day the classroom was unusually empty.
“Only about four or five students were in class when the professor came in and said to go back to our rooms and be safe,” Denise commented on the Leader-News Facebook page. “I turned on the TV and couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Also in class that day, El Campoan Nathan Schroedter was a high school student when the attacks occured.
“I was walking into government class at ECHS and the TV was on,” Schroedter said via the Leader-News Facebook page. “We sat and watched, not sure what exactly was happening.”
About 3,000 civilians and first responders were killed during the terrorist attacks, not including those who have died from 9/11-related illnesses in the decades since.
El Campoan Jennifer Hubenak was a junior in college living in Waco in 2001. Interning for Minute Maid, a plant that was normally in operation 24-hours-a-day, she was surprised how eerily quiet the building was on that day.
“That morning they shut everything down,” Hubenak said. “People were crowded into the cafeteria. They were trying to look at computer screens and a small television. At that point, the news was just circulating over and over with information as they got it.”
Websites for some major news organizations crashed because of the immense number of people logging on for updates. Hubenak remembers relying on newspapers and smaller websites, constantly scrounging for any information she could find.
“The biggest shock to all of us was this happened in the U.S,” she said. “This was something you saw overseas. You heard about this happening in other places, but this had never happened to us.”
A silver lining that emerged shortly after the tragedy was the rallying sense of patriotism that followed soon after, according to Hubenak.
“It brought people together,” she said. “Everybody had (U.S.) flags on their cars and hanging outside their buildings.”
Over one decade later, in 2014, Williams’ daughter visited the Ground Zero memorial, which honors those killed on 9/11, in New York City. It’s at the top of Williams’ bucket list, she said, to visit the site herself and pray for those who died.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day,” Williams said. “I hope a lot of Americans feel that way, and that they’ll never forget.”