(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of new stories marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A story featuring two current student veterans and a story outlining events to commemorate the anniversary are also available from WVUToday. They are part of a comprehensive media tool kit with photos, video and other resources in the WVUToday Media Center.)
Twenty years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an associate professor in West Virginia University’s College of Law still has “the most vivid pictures” in her head of that morning in New York City.
At the time, Caroline Osborne, now the director of the law library and associate professor of law, was working as a corporate finance attorney and trying to get to her law office in Lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center, for a scheduled 9:30 a.m. conference call.
Osborne had taken the subway from her apartment on the Upper East Side on what she described as a beautiful morning.
“The sky was just this brilliant blue. The weather was just perfect. It was one of those early fall days and it just was glorious,” she said.
That soon changed.
At 8:46 a.m., hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93 to 99 in the North Tower, One World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m., hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 struck floors 77 to 85 in the South Tower, Two World Trade Center.
Hijacked planes would also crash at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“When it was originally happening (in New York), I was literally standing, coming out of the exit of the subway, when the second plane hit and my mind just would not wrap my head around why this building was bursting into flames,” Osborne said.
“There was a lady just ahead of me on the stairs and there were just tears streaming down her face. Nobody knew what was happening.”
Osborne made it to her office, but emerged hours later, after the towers had collapsed, to what she described as “nuclear winter.”
“It was just white. It was what I would have expected if a nuclear bomb had exploded. You couldn’t see the sky,” she said. “I still have the most vivid pictures in my head of that morning. That’s a loop that I try not to focus on because they’re horrible.”
Because the subway was not an option after the attacks, she walked home that day – a walk that took hours.
“When we were walking out, if you think about it, we were walking out of a crematorium. There was ash everywhere,” she said. Along the way, strangers offered Osborne and many others water, shoes and additional items.
“The stories are of everybody coming together that day which is phenomenal. I mean, that’s one thing I will always remember – the juxtaposition of something so horrible with something so good. It’s pretty profound,” Osborne said.
“New York at that point was amazing. The best of the best.”
For city residents, though, Osborne said the effects of 9/11 were not isolated to that single day.
“It wasn’t just one day for New Yorkers. It was an expanded period of time and the smell, the smell was just indescript,” she said, recalling the burning of the World Trade Center site that continued for months amid worries that additional buildings would collapse.
Each year, the anniversary day is “a really hard day for me. It’s just a sad time,” Osborne said.
“It’s not something I really talk about a lot but, to me, it’s really important that we remember it. There were so many people that died. There were so many people that were impacted.”