Rebecca Boyle summed up her reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks succinctly: “Horror, complete shock and grief.”
And in the middle of it all, Boyle had to report to work.
Boyle, a junior at the time, was the features managing editor of the Collegian on Sept. 11, 2001. She and the Collegian staff were charged with providing local perspective on that fateful day, all while experiencing the same emotions being felt by Americans nationwide.
Just after 6 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, and 8 a.m. Eastern time, terrorists had hijacked four planes, and word spread quickly.
“By the time we started reporting (for the Collegian), I don’t think there was a student around that didn’t know about it,” Boyle said.
Boyle, who now writes for the Greeley Tribune, vividly remembers standing in the Lory Student Center, near the former Cam’s Corner Store, watching TV with a group of stunned students.
“Everyone was mostly silent, but some people were crying and others were on cell phones trying to call family members,” she said.
Maria Sanchez-Traynor, Collegian editor in chief at the time, said everyone was glued to the TV.
“Everyone was shocked and stupefied,” she said.
By that time, most classes that day had been canceled. For those that weren’t, students debated whether or not to go as they watched events unfold.
By 8:10 a.m. Mountain time, after three planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the fourth hijacked plane crashed into a wooded area in Pennsylvania.
“I stayed at home until the second tower fell, then went to the Collegian,” said Annie Schninck, a 2002 CSU alumna and a former Collegian and Campus Media staff member. “There was nowhere else I could have imagined being. I remember I had a copy editing and design class that morning, and I debated whether or not I should even go. The instructor said she didn’t feel right having class that day and dismissed everyone a couple minutes into class.”
For the next six hours students and faculty would wait to hear from family and friends, and to find out more details on what had happened that morning.
“It was really crazy,” said Sanchez-Traynor, who now also works for the Greeley Tribune. “But it was especially important to get the student perspective. At the Collegian there was not much time to think; we just needed to run and rush.”
For Boyle, one of the most important things to do was to “provide a student view of the attacks.” So the Collegian wrote several campus reaction stories about students from New York and Washington and students with family in New York.
“The Collegian played a vital role for students in the days after the attacks,” said Schninck, who helped design and report on 9/11 for the Collegian. “(Students and faculty) were getting their up-to-the-minute news from the television, but the Collegian was able to put it in perspective locally and how it was affecting daily life at CSU, from what students felt to how it affected the sports schedules.”
By the end of the day, the Twin Towers had collapsed, a section of the Pentagon had fallen in, the fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania and the entire nation awaited the words of President George W. Bush, who addressed the country and the world that evening.
In the days that followed, students held a rally on the Lory Student Center Plaza to boost morale, Boyle said.
In the months and years to follow Sept. 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan became a reality for those who had grown up without war.
“After 9/11, we looked to our president as a leader,” said Sanchez-Traynor. “Even the most cynical ones turned to him.”
“For students who had grown up without wars, we had security, and then people our age were going off to war. It was a really big transition.”
The very way students looked at the world changed that day, Boyle said.
“I think the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, changed the way everyone felt about terrorism,” she said. “It wasn’t just something that happened to other nations, or just in the Middle East, it could happen here.”
Staff writer Valerie Hisam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.