Students and Staff Share 9/11 Experiences
King’s has transformed over the last decade. In 2001, the 330 building was a thing of the future, and no students lived in the Herald Towers, Vogue, Ludlow or on Clark St. We have changed presidents three times. The faculty and student body was exponentially smaller. Most students were commuters.
And we had no emergency action plan.
On September 11, 2001, King’s, like the rest of the country, was blind-sided by disbelief. It can be said that remembering a single day ten years ago with absolute clarity and crispness is rather unusual. The following stories from three members of the King’s community do just that.
The morning of the 11th, current Dean of Students David Leedy was with four King’s students at the United Nations for a prayer breakfast that was to mark the beginning of the UN session. Current librarian Christina Rogers was in transit to the ESB from her home in Astoria. Sophomore Rebecca Doudak, or Phoenix, was beginning her first day of 3rd grade home schooling in Brooklyn. Doudak’s uncle, a Columbia student, had a 9am meeting with his professor in one of the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings.
At the UN, a professor from Yale Divinity School was speaking to the audience, Leedy and students included, a message entitled “The Will to Embrace.”
“Dr. Miroslav Volf described the only way to overcome hatred, ethnic prejudice, and terrorism – through supernatural love that only God can impart,” Leedy said. “Ironically, during his message, terrorists were flying hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center.”
When the breakfast ended and the UN staff became aware of what was happening, the building was evacuated. The UN closed immediately in fear that they may be the next target.
September 11th was an election day. Christina Rogers left her home in Astoria that morning hoping to cast her vote before heading in to work. After a frustrating wait, she left the long line at her polling station with the intentions to vote later that night. She took the above ground N train to work.
“As we were approaching the Queensboro Express, we saw the one tower burning from the train,” Rogers said. “People were looking out the window freaking out, but I stayed seated. I didn’t want to think terrorism.”
Rogers stayed on the train until 34th street where she got off and walked to work.
Meanwhile, Doudak’s family, friends and neighbors gathered around the TV in Brooklyn. Immediately they thought to call her uncle. They could not get through.
“At one point he miraculously picked up,” Doudak said. “We heard a lot of screaming, and then the line went dead.”
It was not until the next day she found out her uncle was alive. He had arrived home via the Brooklyn Bridge covered in ash. He looked “like a homeless man,” Doudak said.
Doudak’s uncle later told the family that he had stopped to get a bagel for breakfast before entering the WTC when he heard a loud crash. He ran home.
When Rogers finally reached work, the ESB was already evacuating and the second tower had been hit. She met a few colleagues on the street and they stood on 5th avenue looking downtown.
“We could see [the towers] burning,” Rogers said. “The atmosphere of the whole city was strange, you felt it wasn’t quite real. At this point there was no question in my mind it was terrorism.”
While walking home to Astoria, as all public transit had been shut down, Rogers “made new friends.” Along the way they stopped by stores with TV’s in the front. This is where she learned about the Pentagon and flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
“I’m not in touch with the people I walked home with anymore, but I remember them very well,” Rogers said.
She never voted that day.
When David Leedy and students were ushered out of the UN building, they were immediately met with fire truck, ambulance and police sirens bellowing through the air.
“From United Nations Plaza, we looked toward lower Manhattan, only to see massive clouds of dust and ash rolling over the city,” Leedy said.
With nowhere to go and unsure of what to do, the group wandered down 2nd Ave to a restaurant with a TV to catch the news. This is where they watched the twin towers come down.
“I felt like I was watching a Die Hard movie, not actual events right down the road from me,” Leedy said.
After some time, Leedy and the students teamed up with staff from Christian Embassy to pass out bottles of water to people walking up from lower Manhattan. The group talked and prayed with a few of them.
“Many of the people were completely covered in ash,” Leedy said. “No one was talking. The city was eerily quiet. People were in shock; their faces showed it.”
Miraculously, while handing out water, Leedy ran into his wife, who had been getting a root canal in Midtown at the time of the attack.
By mid-afternoon, the group still had nowhere to go. The students lived far away in other boroughs. Eventually, they all decided to walk to Leedy’s home in Astoria so the students could have a place to stay overnight until further steps were planned.
“The Statue of Liberty was closed for a long time after the attacks,” Doudak recalls. “My mom took us first thing when it reopened. She wanted us to see it again.”
In the days following 9/11, The King’s College published a 16-page booklet through Campus Crusade for Christ called “Fallen But Not Forgotten.” The booklet contained stories that pointed people to hope in God.
“After 9/11 people were looking for hope and were more open to spiritual issues,” Leedy said. “I remember hearing NBC and ABC news anchors asking the question, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ during their newscasts.”
The book has since been translated into five languages and distributed to 14+ million people around the globe. In the weeks following 9/11, King’s students alone distributed over 30,000 copies of the booklet. Students would hand the booklets out in lower Manhattan to anyone willing to receive one.
“When we offered the booklet, people would snatch it up and start reading it on the spot,” Leedy said. “One King’s student gave a booklet to a fire fighter. A minute later the fire fighter ran up to the student and asked for 30 more to give to all his co-workers. A Wall Street worker did the same for her colleagues. It was incredible.”
An enlarged version of the booklet hangs framed in the Student Services conference room.
Rogers recalls then New York City mayor Giuliani telling everyone to get back to their everyday lives – to live life again.
School was back in session the following Monday.
How we have grown
“Whether students realize it or not, 9/11 has changed life at The King’s College in several ways,” Vice President of Student Development and director of emergency response Eric Bennett said.
Prior to 9/11 King’s had a very basic emergency action plan: gather at a meeting point on 34th and Park. Yet now, with Hurricane Irene as a recent example, the college has developed a mature plan.
Bennett recalls during the northeast blackouts of 2003 when members of the college evacuated campus in an “every-man-for-himself” style with little thought to the whereabouts of others.
“The most important development since 9/11 in the emergency action plan is that we have created a culture where members of the College take responsibility for the safety of one another,” Bennett said.
Changes and precautions now include a number of faculty and staff issued with go-bags. These bags include all student, faculty and staff lists; flashlights, water, dust masks and knives. In accordance to advice from emergency preparedness professionals, the college purchased a campus alert notifications system and tests it regularly. The first test this semester is Tuesday, Sept. 13th.
Bennett has also created an Emergency Operations Team. Each floor of the ESB and the 330 space has been assigned two Fire Wardens each. There is increased communication between the college and city services, such as law enforcement and NYC government.
“We are light years down the road from where we were on 9/11,” Leedy said. “It has taken time to develop, but we now have a plan in place for most emergencies. We are much more prepared now than ever before.”
To learn more about the King’s emergency action plan, go to "Resources for Students" under "Campus Life" at tkc.edu.