Recounting 9/11: experiences from local journalists

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By Jeremy Hopkins, West Editor


Local journalists recount the events after 9/11 from New York City.

Photo courtesy of John Kerezy
Photo courtesy of John Kerezy

For some of the students just entering the college years, their memories of the events from twelve years ago are buried among warmer, fuzzier memories of childhood.  Others have the events chillingly carved into their memories forever.  This day has been called one of those pivotal days that people will always remember where they were and what they were doing.  Let’s set the scene for those who want to learn or those who have the strength to remember by reviewing this video by Tri-C West professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, John Kerezy.

On Tuesday, September 10 2013, Tri-C West hosted “Recounting 9/11: local journalist recount historic event.”  This was a presentation by Michael Heaton, the Minister of Culture for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and Evelyn Theiss, formerly with the Plain Dealer and now with WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland.  They graciously shared memories of their coverage of day now most commonly known as “9/11.”

Mr. Kerezy presented the video, and then Ms. Theiss started the discussion by recalling the assignment that had her in New York City to begin with.  At that time, she had been the Fashion Editor for the PD, and was in town to cover the Fashion Week events.  The night before the attack, she had been attending a release event, and had turned off the phone to recover from the long night.  She stated her first awareness was from her editor contacting

Photo by Jeremy Hopkins
Evelyn Theiss describing scenes from 9/11
Photo by Jeremy Hopkins

her saying “obviously, we need to cover” the events.  From there, she was on a different story than glitzy gowns or snazzy suits.  She described several evacuations as citizens with raw nerves reacted to every shadow, giving her a sense of some Middle Eastern city for a brief moment.  Her hotel gave an overhead view of Times Square that she stated resembled a scene from “Vanilla Sky” at one point – vacant and eerie.

Mr. Heaton was in Cleveland at the fateful times.  He recounted that he did not get the assignment until about 10

Photo by Jeremy Hopkins
Michael Heaton describing scenes from 9/11
Photo by Jeremy Hopkins

o’clock that evening, and he and the photographer were headed into New York City while the city itself had been closed down and people were trying to leave.  They had a company car, a tank of gas, and a job: get the story.  Mr. Heaton described some of the stress involved in getting to a closed city, including running out of gas and trying to find a way in.  Thanks to what he describes as the first miracle of the story, the gas tank led him to NYC via a helpful attendant at a gas station that was normally used by commuters heading in to New York for their work day.

Michael Heaton’s passport for 9/11
Photo by Jeremy Hopkins

For the next two hours, the two wove together separate tales of personal emotions, amazing tales of a city proving it’s humanity, and going through a surreal landscape where the city that never sleeps held its breath in fearful anticipation.  We got a peek at the top of the journalist’s bag of tricks as they recounted stories of construction workers, empty restaurants, National Guardsmen, and personal friends living in the city.  In a time when most cell phones did not have a camera, and signal coverage was spotty, they had fantastic luck in meeting up and finding subjects.  Mr. Heaton described another miracle of getting into the city (this included the company car, an unmarked Crown Victoria that every good undercover agent drives), his acquisition of key components letting him get close, as well a further miracle of entry accompanied by lunch for the rescue crews.  Ms. Theiss recalled many personal encounters with people looking for relatives, most of whom held out photos of the happiest moments of life.  (She said this was the hardest part.  “You knew in your heart they would not be found,” adding that she had to cover the story.  Even Mr. Heaton had moments of conflict, when he mentioned he was “giddy about the assignment,” yet there was still the horror of the story.)

Both indicated that horrible things make great stories, but you have to put the feelings aside to cover them.  [pullquote align=”right” textalign=”right” width=”30%”]They had a company car, a tank of gas, and a job: get the story.[/pullquote]Afterwards, you can deal with them when you have the opportunity – much like Ms. Theiss did when she got home, resting uncomfortably on her sofa on that Monday, or Mr. Heaton had done when he arrived home to take his daughters out to dinner at his harried wife’s request.  Slowly, they started to resume the semblance of a normal life.

As then-President Bush is quoted in the video, “(w)e will go back to our lives and routines, and that is good.  Even grief recedes with time, and grace.”  We have come back to a routine.  We have not forgotten.  But we are not the same.  Thanks to Michael Heaton and Evelyn Theiss, those of us on the outside of New York City got a chance to see more of the human side recovering from this tragedy.  Humanity is resilient.  Wounds heal, fear fades, and the human spirit recovers.  Sharing these moments with each other, with the world, lets us all heal and get back to who we once were just a little faster.


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