This is a piece that a former Youth Journalism International student, Courtney Pendleton, wrote for The Bristol (Conn.) Press shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, detailing her experience that morning in New York City where she was an art student at New York University:
Tuesday morning I was going to the donut shop at the World Trade Center when my dorm’s receptionist accosted me about some package I needed to pick up.
Half an hour later, I left the building. Cursing the inept receptionist and my missed breakfast, I ran to the university’s bus stop.
I heard a ‘pop’ somewhere.
The girl next to me looked up and asked, “What’s that?” She pointed to a cloud of confetti hanging in the sky behind us.
The bus turned a corner, and the north tower of the World Trade Center came into view.
“The Trade Center’s on fire!” someone shouted.
The flames were barely visible under the smoke. As the bus inched forward, we could see part of the second tower.
A fireball exploded from its side.
The whole thing was so cinematic, I couldn’t believe I’d just seen what the world would be watching on television later on.
Cars and buses had pulled over. People stopped on sidewalks, watching the destruction. Some people ran to buy cameras and record the whole event.
Classes were held as usual, but not with any normalcy.
Sirens and horns headed to lower Manhattan drowned out the professor. Finally, he gave us a short break.
In the lobby, a radio was on. All of us huddled around it, trying to hear what was going on.
Over the static something was said about the Pentagon, and the towers falling. That was enough for some of us.
My friend and I headed to her apartment further uptown.
Once we arrived there, we realized it was only a few minutes from the United Nations building.
Her cell phone and the apartment’s phone line wouldn’t work. Then her boyfriend met up with us.
We took a hammer, her cat, and a bottle of juice and set off for the Bronx on foot.
Midtown was gridlocked along every major avenue out of the city.
We linked arms and climbed over car hoods to cross Fifth Avenue.
Someone’s radio mentioned nuclear winter. We didn’t hear the context, but we hurried up just in case.
People were standing on sidewalks outside bars. There was no more room inside anymore.
Some citizens took the opportunity to consume illegal drugs a few blocks from police barricades.
We reached Broadway and walked north. The sirens kept heading south.
Past Central Park we saw a fire station. Inside, firemen were huddled and praying. Their uniforms sat on the sidewalk. Even the clothing looked defeated.
We turned around. The downtown sky was almost black.
As we walked we heard snippets of radio news. None of it was good.
A man passing in the street mentioned Chicago. Someone else mentioned Texas. None of us knew what was going on outside the city.
I’d never thought of the city as an island until Tuesday. It was always just Manhattan, or New York City. Until I wanted to leave, it didn’t matter that the city was surrounded by water.
The only way we knew to leave the island on foot was via the Bronx. The bridge was at 207th Street. We’d started walking at 10th.
Novelty stores were packed with customers. Everyone wanted postcards of the World Trade Center.
One poster from the cancelled primary had a picture of the New York skyline. People ripped copies of it off telephone polls.
In Harlem, we saw a father and his three sons walk ahead of us. They all had backpacks.
“Where are we going, daddy?” one boy asked.
“Just walk, boys. Daddy will buy you ice cream when we get there,” he replied.
We didn’t know where we were going either.
At 181st street, we finally got a bus.
“Where’s this bus going?” I asked the woman next to me.
“North,” she said.
That was good enough for us. At 207th street, we got off and headed east.
From the bridge into the Bronx we could still see the smoke over lower Manhattan.
We’d made it.
There was still a train to take, and a car ride to the suburbs, but that didn’t matter. We had walked off Manhattan.
A white bird flew off a building in front of us.
“A dove!” my friend shouted.
But it was just a pigeon.
Watching the news later on, it seemed appropriate.
Pendleton, a Plainville native, is now a surgeon in Philadelphia. She attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University.
You can read YJI's coverage of 9-11 here.
You can also read YJI's pieces on the 10th anniversary of the attacks here.