TORONTO [Peter Paul Media] — There are only a handful of events where you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard the news–the JFK assassination and the deaths of Princess Diana and Michael Jackson to name a few.
September 11, 2001 was one of those days.
I was at home, in bed fast asleep when I received a call from mom telling me about a plane crashing into a New York skyscraper. “Turn on the TV,” she said, which I did immediately. For reasons unknown to this day, I panicked and surprisingly, couldn’t find a news station for a few seconds.
Finally to my relief, CNN came up and I watched in horror like thousands of others. I couldn’t believe what I was watching and judging from the commentary being made, not many others could believe either.
The reporting was just coming in but made no mention of a terror attack. That would change just a few minutes later when the second plane sliced through the South Tower.
At this point, there was no doubt what this was—even to me, someone so disconnected from the world around him and how it worked—a deliberate event, an attack against America and from what I felt, the world.
Growing up, I had no interest in world history whether it was where I came from or what was going on around me or in my own country of Canada. I was a self=centered 19-year-old concerned only with working, making a buck and finding a good girl for myself. When 9/11 unfolded, just days after my birthday, I didn’t even know who the sitting President of the United States was. Nowadays, I can speak about all of them.
My first thought was to offer prayers to those who died which then changed to wanting to know everything, all the facts, figures and what led up to this. I would start from nothing and go from there. I began researching and realized throughout the day that by looking to the past, there were many things that led to this event. The 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre was one of them.
Surprisingly, I was now fully in the middle of my own history and knew this would change my life, forever. Even though I didn’t know anyone personally who perished on that fateful day, I felt as though I did. In 2001, the internet was at a basic level and television would be how I first started to learn about the world around me.
On 9/11, I was scheduled for an afternoon shift at Planet Hollywood—a celebrity-themed restaurant located right beside the C.N. Tower. As I made my way to my shift passing through a packed Union Station, I saw thousands of office workers headed home.
I later learned that everyone was sent home as a precaution because nobody knew if we were next. It’s usually packed around rush hour, but it was really dense and it took me a while to navigate through everyone going the opposite way.
When I arrived, there was nobody in the restaurant. I huddled with a few employees in a makeshift garage next to the convention centre and over a cigarette and coffee, we briefly discussed what had happened. Everyone was in shock and we couldn’t find words.
My manager told me to go home after our discussion as the restaurant would be closed for the remainder of the day. As I left the restaurant, I decided not to go home but to take a short walk, out of curiosity, to Eaton Centre which was just a few blocks away. When I arrived there, the skeleton staff that was still there were glued to their televisions. As people walked by, they watched in horror and moved on while being urged to go home.
Arriving at home later that evening after 9 P.M., I decided to meet a few friends near my home while discussing the tragedy. One friend said that he just saw on CNN that up to 20 planes were still missing and I vividly remember all of us just staring at each other, speechless.
It turned out, this was not true. United Airlines flight 93 was the last confirmed hijack of the day. It crashed at 10:03 A.M. in a Pennsylvania field when passengers fought back in what became known as the first victory in the war on terror.
In the months that followed and to this day, I became the go-to guy among friends for the latest information, including the history of al Qaeda, bin Laden and the geopolitical world. My friends were impressed and so was I.
My television stayed on for at least a month after 9/11, non-stop and always on CNN. I absorbed the rolling-coverage and the unbearable images that came with it. It came to be known that the leader of a shadowy group known as al Qaeda was responsible and their mastermind—Osama bin Laden—became the world’s most wanted man.
In the days, months and years afterwards, I bought countless books on the subject and built a mini library which has grown now to over 200 books of primarily historical context. Surprising even myself because the only time I read entire books was in school when it was required. Now, the more I learn, the more I want to know just like the morning of 9/11.
On a hot summer day in July 2017, I visited Ground Zero for the first time. Although I had been to New York on many occasions post-9/11, I could never muster enough strength to go. I had seen the Freedom Tower when it was halfway done, from the Top of the Rock observatory in Midtown Manhattan. Other than that, I never went close to the site.
As I made my way to the footprint of the Twin Towers, there were hundreds of people there to pay respects. There were people everywhere. It struck me because I was only used to seeing a crowd there during remembrance events when I watched on TV but never thought of how many people came during days outside of the anniversary.
I walked up to the first fountain and stopped before reaching the outline where the names of the victims are inscribed. I said a quick prayer for all the victims and walked up to start reading the names and take it all in. As I approached, I looked up and tried to imagine what the people in the planes and towers were doing at the instant the planes flew in.
When I looked down, I was taken aback. For whatever reason, the first name I saw was that of Betty Ong—an American Airlines flight attendant who was on board the first hijacked jetliner. She stayed on the phone for 23 minutes while relaying information to the ground.
She first alerted the world of the hijacking exactly 10 minutes after takeoff and stayed on the phone until her flight crashed into the North Tower. I took the picture below to remember the somber moment.
It’s something I’ll never forget seeing her name and realizing that by chance, I had walked up to the exact side of the first crash. Memories of my mom’s call came back and now, I was in the exact spot where it all began, hundreds of kilometres away from my bed and television where I had first heard the news.
Nowadays, I literally think about 9/11 on a daily basis and can’t imagine what the next-of-kin go through. I always pray that they find comfort within this tragedy. The sacrifices of their loved ones are remembered everyday and they did not die in vain.
I began Peter Paul Media on that fateful day with a few, now obsolete blog posts on Yahoo Groups. Now, we have a full-blown website and have done many interviews since then both related to 9/11 and unrelated. I followed my dream of information overload by becoming an independent journalist while watching history unfold since 2001—a tribute to those who perished on that terrible day.