Vindicator reporters, editors, staff remember 9/11

Staff report


The Vindicator newsroom looks back on Sept. 11, 2001. Reporters, photographers, editors, graphic artists and composition clerks who were here then and now look back on that day in their own words:

Ernie Brown Jr. | Regional editor

I remember watching a “breaking news” update from one of the national TV broadcasts on the newsroom TV in our conference room. A person was telling the newscaster he believed a small plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

As the newscaster was trying to get more information, I noticed what appeared to be a second airplane flying into the second tower, shortly past 9 a.m.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could a

pilot make such an egregious mistake?

Then Senior Regional Editor Tony Paglia instructed all reporters to continue watching the TV report as editors began trying to decipher what was happening.

Meanwhile, Jon Baker, who was wire editor that day, told me an airplane had crashed near Pittsburgh, and he was receiving another report, shortly past 9:30 a.m., that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

We would not know until hours later that this was a planned terrorist attack on the U.S., but we knew it would be a long day at The Vindicator trying to get information on four plane crashes and the likelihood some Mahoning Valley residents would be included in the massive death count.

Denise Dick | Education writer

I was working in The Vindicator’s Niles Bureau back then. The day started like so many others. I was visiting the police department and city hall, trying to gather news for the Trumbull Edition.

When I came back to the office some time after 9 a.m., Tim Yovich, with whom I shared the bureau office, had the television on.

“The Today Show” anchors were talking about a plane that hit the World Trade Center. At first, people thought it was an accident. I was watching the screen when the second plane hit. Then came the Pentagon and everyone worried what would be next.

I don’t think the gravity of it really hit me until much later. We were running around trying to get our work done for that day’s paper. I’m sure I collected information about what people thought about it for the story, but I don’t remember anything in particular.

I remember calling my mother to check on her and finishing my day feeling kind of numb. It wasn’t until I went home and watched the footage that the significance really set in. How could this happen? Who could hate so much?

I watched one piece of footage that was especially powerful, but I only saw it once. The camera was shooting upward as someone in the tower jumped to escape the flames. The camera caught the descent. The networks must have judged it too graphic.

From then on, people viewed their lives in two sections: before that day and after.

Linda Hartzell | Composition clerk in 2001

Mary [Voytilla] and I arrived at 8 a.m. as usual on Sept. 11. A few minutes after 8, a reporter, who was watching TV news at the time, remarked that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York. Of course we had to see for ourselves. While we were watching , the second plane hit the second tower.

We were dumbstruck! What could be happening? We watched as often as possible and were shocked and saddened to hear of the other attacks. The scariest moments were when we heard there was a plane from Cleveland possibly headed our way that had been hijacked. Would it crash here? Of course that was Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. We wondered several times that day where and when the next plane would hit.

I don’t want to forget, nor our children and grandchildren to forget, what happened that day. Remember 9/11!

William D. Lewis | Photographer

The most memorable assignment I had Sept. 11, 2001, was photographing a local family whose son worked in the New York Twin Towers. They had been unable to contact him after the attacks. At one point during the visit, their phone rang, and it was their son calling to say he was OK. Their sense of relief was dramatic but was tempered by thoughts of those who didn’t escape.

In the days following Sept. 11, I photographed many memorial ceremonies, flag raisings and acts of patriotism.

Robert McFerren | Graphic arts director

As odd as it sounds to say, for journalists, the worst of times are when reporters, photographers and graphic artists excel – gathering information, photos and graphics under tight deadlines – while seeking the local angles to the 911 tragedy.

An adrenaline rush came over the newsroom – people rushing around, shouting out updates as the wire services tried to keep up with at that point was unknown – who was responsible, how did they accomplish this – and when will it end?

The Vindicator staff got that day’s editions on the street and came back with an extra edition, something we had all seen in movies from the 1940s but never actually experienced.

As the day’s news all came to a close, we knew that our day was just beginning. I was planning out a double-page informational graphic that recapped all the events of 9/11.

A daunting task to pull off, I started gathering information needed, while the art department staff – Ed Yozwick and Aaron Gray – began handling their specific assigned tasks.

We worked throughout the night – gathering information on the buildings, the attacks, the airliners used, a time line of the day’s events, flight paths, information on the WTC and Pentagon attacks and a time line of previous attacks against the U.S.

The Vindicator publisher, Betty Brown-Jagnow, and her husband, managing editor Paul Jagnow, came around earlier the next morning to find us still here – working 33 hours straight.

While taking on such a task, under extreme pressure of the ever-looming deadlines of the newspaper business, it was also one of the biggest and most successful challenges The Vindicator has ever covered as it happened.

Journalists never have time to reflect on the events a during the moment – we all have a job to do. Although the horrors of the day were and still are quite apparent – Sept. 11 has always remained in my mind, as a day that reminds us that what we, as journalists, do is truly important – not for ourselves, but for our readers.

Peter H. Milliken | Courthouse writer

I was working in The Vindicator’s New Castle Bureau on Sept. 11, 2001.

After learning of the terrorist attacks from Lawrence County Courthouse workers, I interviewed some courthouse officials there and retail merchants in downtown New Castle, whose expressions of shock and anger I submitted to our Youngstown newsroom for inclusion in a local reaction story.

During the 48-hour national ban on flights after the attacks, I heard from the New Castle Bureau the roar of one or more fighter jets that had been scrambled into the air over New Castle to force down a plane that had reportedly violated the ban.

Our senior regional editor accurately told me over the phone on 9/11 that the attacks would be a most memorable part of my journalism career and that they were a watershed event that would sharply divide the American experience into life before, and life after, their occurrence.

Cynthia Rickard | Regional editor

I was city editor on that fateful Tuesday morning. It was my eighth wedding anniversary.

We desk editors were at our posts, listening, as usual, to police scanners and radios as we edited copy, assigned stories, talked to reporters. We were less than an hour into our day when suddenly, an announcement about the first crash jarred us from our routines.

At that time, my newsroom cubicle was next to that of my longtime friend and colleague Ernie Brown. We glanced at each other with raised eyebrows and fixed eyes, a facial expression understood in any newsroom to mean: Pay attention! Be ready to react! Because, in any crisis, goes our newsroom legend, no matter where in the world, there will be a tie to the Valley to report. But then, just minutes later, came the second announcement: The second tower was hit.

My eyes darted nervously, at Ernie, around the newsroom – who’s in house to make some calls?

Our TVs at that time were in a corner conference room, and quickly a beehive of journalists rushed in to watch three news programs as everyone began to brainstorm coverage.

And then, about a half-hour later, the biggest shock of all: The Pentagon was hit. The Pentagon? The Pentagon!

Adrenalin started pulsing as my eyes flashed at my colleagues, many faces mirroring my own thought: Is this our Pearl Harbor?

By then the entire newsroom was transfixed on the news; shock, horror and disbelief were reflected on every face as we struggled to steady ourselves for the obviously long task ahead of determining what it was; how many were dead, injured; whether Mahoning Valley residents, natives, dignitaries were among them; and perhaps the largest question of all, who would do this – in order to get the information out to our readers, our community.

Everyone’s bleary-eyed morning was over.

And yet, still more was about to come: a little more than an hour after the initial attack, one of the towers collapsed and a plane making a U-turn above our very own heads came crashing down just air-minutes from us, in that Pennsylvania field in Shanksville.

It would be many months of exhaustive reporting before we knew those heroic passengers had likely just saved the U.S. Capitol or White House.

David Skolnick | City hall and politics writer

At the time, there wasn’t a television in the newsroom. There were several TVs in a conference room attached to the newsroom, and a few of the editors and reporters were watching.

I wasn’t paying attention as I was on deadline writing an article for that day’s paper, and I had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. Even hearing about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers didn’t register with me, or really anyone else. I initially thought the pilot had to be drunk or really bad at his job. When that second plane crashed into the other tower, I realized the nation was under attack.

I quickly canceled the doctor’s appointment. It was time to get to work on the terrorist attacks, and the entire staff did that. I remember sitting at my desk with this terrible feeling in my stomach that this was part of an invasion, and we were going to war. I’ve never experienced it before or since.

Tom Wills | Regional editor

I was working the night shift, so I got up late. My mother-in-law called: “You had better turn on your TV,” she said.

I tuned in and saw the second plane hit. The phone rang again and it was The Vindicator – the managing editor wanted to have a staff meeting ASAP.

I had one of those boxy Motorola cellphones at the time, and tried several times en route from Warren to get through to my dad and wife. It seemed like

everyone was vying for what little bandwidth we had at the time.

Eventually I got through and told my wife, Patty, to get the kids out of school, buy gas and go to the store. The schools were letting the girls out early, it turned out.

In the newsroom, we mapped out coverage based on what sparse information we had. We decided right off to send a reporter to Shanksville, Pa., and we perused the city directories once passenger lists were released, trying to reach relatives.

My job was to help assemble content from several reporters. The wife did get the kids, the gas and got the groceries.

Everyone fully knits together without reservation during such events. Sadly, a newspaper rises to its finest hours in times of great tragedy.

More like this from