Editor's Note: Peggy Shaw was a reporter for The Tennessean on Sept. 11, 2001, and edited localized articles on the terrorist attacks for the paper. Now director of public relations for Holy Innocents' Episcopal School, she began interviewing and archiving these comments from school faculty, staff and alumni, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The school will observe a moment of silence at 9:11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 12, for victims of the terrorist attacks.
A Day of Shock
“It was a day of shock and awe,” said Associate Headmaster Rick BettsBetts, who was then Holy Innocents’ lower school principal. “The next few days were spent processing it.”
TV’s were set up in the Upper School’s Senior Commons and other areas on campus so that older students could watch events as they unfolded. Meanwhile, at the Lower School, many parents arrived quickly to pick up their children. No formal announcement of what had happened was made at the Lower School.
Jennie Wilson, Class of 2002, Remembers
“I was a senior and was in Mythology. We were watching a movie and Mr. Copen came in and told us a plane had flown into one of the towers, and they thought it was a terrorist. We immediately turned on the TV to see the news coverage. As were watching, we saw the second plane hit the second tower.
“At this point we were all kind of stunned and couldn't take our eyes off the screen. When Mythology was over, they put a TV in the Commons and the entire high school was in there watching.
“The rest of the day we didn’t do anything. I think we attempted to go to classes but in Mr. Swan’s class, at least, we all just talked about what had happened ... One of my classmates, Matthew Nickerson, had an uncle who worked in the Twin Towers and he kept trying to get a hold of him the whole day. I honestly don't know if he survived or not.
"Around lunchtime, I called my dad. In a weird way I just wanted him to say everything was OK, even though we were miles away from New York City. My family is from D.C. and has many family friends still there, so I asked my mom if she had heard from them.
“A lot of people left school early that day. I left about 2:30, and I remember walking to my car with my best friend and she looked at me and said something along the lines of, 'Everything is going to be OK, right? The world isn’t going to end.' I looked at her and said, "Yeah, it will be fine," even though I had the exact same thought as her."
Matthew Nickerson, Class of 2002, Lost a Godfather in the Attacks
“It was a difficult day for me. My godfather ... was on the 104th floor working for a financial firm.
“I remember walking through the halls all day and everyone being upset and concerned. I was trying to speak with my family to get updates. A TV was set up in the Commons room to keep us updated with news. You could tell the staff was worried but kept up a good supportive front. Difficult day but we made it through."
Faculty Member Kept Teaching
Dr. Chris Swann teaches English, oversees the school literary magazine and is the 12 grade dean of students.
“I was teaching AP English when it happened. Wes Clarke, a math teacher and later a grade-level dean, opened my classroom door and, when I paused in my teaching, apologized for interrupting and said a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. One of my students who was bright and irrepressible turned to look at me. ‘Can we go watch?’ she asked excitedly.
“Right away, before I could even see the screen, I knew something was wrong by the looks on people's faces. It's the same look people get when someone has died. The second plane had just hit. Students and faculty slowly drifted into the Commons to watch The Today Show's coverage. The bell rang for the class change, but hardly anyone left.
“We were still watching when news came a third plane had hit the Pentagon. There were a few gasps ... One student, a boy, was nearly in tears. Another teacher was next to me. 'I'm scared, Chris,' she said in a small voice. So was I.
“I went back to my classroom with my students. We were all dazed. I felt the urge to cry. Instead I told them that, while I was upset and knew that they were, too, I was going to go ahead and teach, because I didn’t know what else to do. We all settled in. I don't recall a word of what I taught, only that the familiar routine was welcome.
“I remember driving to K-Mart to buy some rabbit-ear antennas so we could hook them up to the TV/VCRs mounted on the walls. Every single television in K-Mart was turned to the catastrophe unfolding in Manhattan and D.C.
"By lunch time, phones were ringing off the hook and parents were swooping in to pick up their children.
“Incredibly, life went on. Students came to class and we taught. I changed my curriculum for that year; my senior research paper topics changed from being literary-based to focusing on terrorism, states that supported terrorism, American counterterrorism agencies and strategies, and the nature and identity of Islam, both mainstream sects and fundamentalist strains."
Principal Reflects on the Aftermath
Theresa Jespersen was a teacher in 2011 and is now Principal of the Fred Rowan Family Middle School at Holy Innocents’:
“There were several people I knew who had ‘near misses’ that day: a cousin whose 9/11 breakfast meeting at Windows on the World had been cancelled, and a friend from college who worked at the WTC but was not in his office that day. Other teachers who had friends in finance and wondered if they were there that day.
“The weird thing was that the entire Upper School had retreats planned for the end of that week. There was a lot of discussion about whether we should still go or not. A lot of people did not want to go, thought we should stick close to home and keep an eye on what was happening; but the Head of School thought we needed to stick with what was planned. For the sake of the students we should go on as normally as possible, so the retreats were all on."
A Coach Recalls
Cross Country Coach Dunn Neugebauer, who still coaches cross country at Holy Innocents’ today, had just finished running 23 miles in training for the Chicago Marathon when he turned on the news.
“When I got to school, all the kids were just walking around. It was surreal. They found TVs that the kids could look at, and they let the Lower School go home about noon. And for the rest of the week there were no more sports, and everything after school was cancelled.
“There was still an element of fear that if we went out we could be the next target. The thinking was to sit tight, do your job, and go home.”