A Brentwood High School student stared at a TV screen in class. A Long Island commuter and former Baldwin resident exited the Wall Street subway station and witnessed a jet slam into Two World Trade Center. An Eastport kindergarten teacher continued to instruct students after receiving a call from school officials.
Twenty years ago, New York City became Ground Zero for one of the deadliest days in U.S. history. On Sept. 11, 2001, in a string of terrorist attacks, two commercial jets crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
That sunny crisp morning, Long Islanders from students to teachers to commuters began to learn firsthand about the attacks, in which a third jet hit the Pentagon. A fourth plummeted from the skies and crashed in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In all, the attacks took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
During interviews with Newsday, current and former Long Islanders recalled where they were that fateful day.
He was commuting to Wall Street.
“Just as I got out at that moment was when the second plane hit” Two World Trade Center, said Bryan Glass, then 27 and a bond trader. “I didn't run. I was just in complete awe.”
Bryan Glass heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center from a stranger at Penn Station.
Glass, then 27 and living in Baldwin, continued on from the Long Island Rail Road to the subway and got out at the Wall Street station.
"Just as I got out at that moment was when the second plane hit" Two World Trade Center, Glass said. "I didn't run. I was just in complete awe."
Glass arrived at his job as a bond trader at the TD Waterhouse office, where employees were told to go home.
He went to One World Trade Center to help colleagues at Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm that occupied floors 101 to 105. But he and others were stopped by firefighters, Glass said.
"We look up and a tower is falling toward us," Glass, 47, said, adding that they ran until "a mushroom cloud of soot and smoke just overran us. It just knocked us to the ground."
They all made it to the Hudson River, where a ferry was taking passengers to Jersey City.
"It’s completely silent," Glass said about the ride. "No one is saying anything and the ferry took off in zero visibility because of the cloud of soot. Then it emerged from the cloud and you could see the one building that was still standing. Just as we got there, the next building fell."
Mary Ellen Pantaleo
She was teaching Kindergarten.
“The school was contacting every parent to make sure because you didn’t know where the parent was when this happened and if they would be home to get the kid,” said Mary Ellen Pantaleo, recalling how Eastport Elementary School was releasing students that day.
Mary Ellen Pantaleo was a kindergarten teacher at Eastport Elementary School in Eastport on the morning she learned about the attack in Manhattan.
"They sent an aide out to each classroom to keep filling us in on things," Pantaleo, then 52, said. "My kids, they were only kindergartners. They really didn’t know what was going on."
Pantaleo continued teaching, calling the day "frightening," and soon grew "concerned" on a personal level. Her son was a senior at Westhampton High School.
"I knew they were going to let the kids out of the schools and sometimes the kids don’t take it seriously when they’re that age and I was just trying to contact him to tell him ‘go straight home, don’t dillydally at a friend’s house or anything else,’ " she said.
Pantaleo, of Center Moriches, said parents started coming to classrooms and taking their children out of school. Some went home on buses.
"The school was contacting every parent to make sure because you didn’t know where the parent was when this happened, and if they would be home to get the kid," Pantaleo, 72, said. "There were some children they weren’t sure about, whether they were home or what happened."
Pantaleo was among the teachers who watched the students in the cafeteria as school officials continued to contact parents.
When Pantaleo left school "I just remember thinking to myself ‘I better go to the ATM and I better get some cash,’ " she said, "You just didn’t know."
She was in her high school ROTC class.
“I didn’t believe it,” said Kelly Alvarado-Young, recalling the moment the teacher turned on the television and she saw that United Airlines Flight 175 had just hit Two World Trade Center. "Then the newscasters were saying it was real and happening.”
Kelly Alvarado-Young remembers a television on a cart getting pushed to the front of the classroom during third-period Air Force ROTC class at Brentwood High School.
When Air Force Tech Sgt. Arthur Burgess, the teacher at the time, turned on the television, United Airlines Flight 175 had just hit Two World Trade Center.
"I didn’t believe it," Alvarado-Young said. "Then the newscasters were saying it was real and happening."
Classwork didn't continue, she said, adding that the day felt "frozen."
Some students screamed and cried, said Alvarado-Young, then 15.
Now 35 and residing in Washington, Alvarado-Young said that in each class teachers informed them about the attacks.
Her twin brother also attended Brentwood High School.
When Alvarado-Young left school that day, she waited for her brother and took the school bus home.
"It was so quiet walking to the buses and there were people at the buses just crying because they didn’t want to get on because they weren’t sure if their families were home," Alvarado-Young said.
The bus ride home, which is 15 minutes from school, was typically rowdy with students saying goodbye to each other for the day.
"Everybody just walked off the bus real solemnly," she said.
He had a meeting at the WTC.
“I felt like I had been attacked,” said Julian Arbus, who was working at an investment company and had been scheduled to attend a breakfast meeting that day at the World Trade Center. He said he didn’t attend because he arrived home late from a work trip.
Julian Arbus was working in a midtown Manhattan office for an investment company when his office phone rang.
"My wife called me to see if I was OK," said Arbus, of East Patchogue, "because she had gotten a call from a friend of mine who knew that I worked in the city and finance and saw what was happening on TV."
Arbus, who was then 43 and working at Zurich Scudder Investments, had previously been scheduled to attend a breakfast meeting that day at the World Trade Center, hosted by his co-workers and former colleagues. Arbus said he didn’t attend because he arrived home late from a work trip in Boston.
"I felt like I had been attacked," Arbus, now 63, said. "How could an accident like this happen? It wasn’t apparent that it was a real directed attack until the second plane hit."
Arbus said he was waiting for the stock market to open but "we received notice that it wasn’t going to."
He then left work and walked up to his parents’ apartment on East 87th Street/ between First and Second Avenue.
"There was almost no cars on the street, no people," Arbus said. "Every time I looked back over my shoulder, I saw this huge plume of smoke way down lower Manhattan."
Around 6 p.m., Arbus left his parents’ home and took the subway to the Jamaica Station to take the Long Island Rail Road home.
"It was probably the most crowded train I’ve ever been on in my life," he said. "Nobody wanted to be left behind."
She was driving to work.
"I pictured in my mind a little Cessna or something that crashed through one window," said Leslie Salerno about first hearing on her car radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. “The scope of it was not imaginable.”
Leslie Salerno drove along state Route 25A in Suffolk County to North Coleman Road Elementary in Centereach when she heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Salerno, then 49 and a reading specialist, thought the remark was "a sick joke." But, she said, "I pictured in my mind a little Cessna or something that crashed through one window."
When Salerno arrived at the school, residents were casting votes on a school board election, she said.
As school officials learned about the attacks, voters were no longer allowed in to vote.
"They put the school on lockdown," said Salerno. "I was assigned bathroom duty because a kid could not go alone."
During the school day, Salerno called her daughter a student at Rutgers University, but couldn't reach her.
"I wanted to go home to see my family and my husband," she said. "I was still in shock. It was not the same drive home."
"The scope of it was not imaginable," said Salerno, 69, of Wading River.
He was in elementary school.
"We were anticipating going outside for recess," but didn't, recalled Shaun Hantzschel, who was in the fifth grade. "It was weird because it was such a nice day outside.”
Shaun Hantzschel was days into the start of fifth grade at Westbrook Elementary School in West Islip.
A 10-year-old at the time, he and his classmates were in music class.
"Because we had lunch right after, we were anticipating going outside for recess," said Hantzschel, who is now 30 and lives in Massapequa.
Music class was cut short as school officials told Hantzschel and other students they would not go outside "because they were spraying fertilizer."
Hantzschel said he "thought it was weird because it was such a nice day outside."
Later, his mother came to pick him up and his brother, an 8-year-old third-grader, up from school.
"We didn’t take the bus home, which again was odd," he said.
At home, their mother explained to them that the World Trade Center had been attacked and collapsed. He said he remembered going there with family from Arizona.
He remembered "looking down out the window … cars looked like ants and for me, at that age, it was just ‘Wow’ I had never seen anything like that before."