"'In that moment, our lives changed forever'"
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:28 AM
"Editor's Note: Former Independent staff writer Nicole Dyer now attends law school at the Rutgers University branch campus in Newark, N.J. She was an eyewitness to Tuesday morning's terrorist attacks.8:45 a.m. As the first of two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, my friends and I were headed into our classroom for a class on contracts. Oblivious to what was going on directly across the river, our professor kept us in class past the allotted time, as two administrators lurked outside the door. We knew something was up, but no one could have guessed what the deans were waiting to tell us.Not until 10:45 did we finally learn what had happened.We have a serious situation, one of the deans said. Nervous students looked about. Was the law school on fire? Were we being held hostage? What was going on?There has been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the dean continued.Immediately, students whipped out their cellphones and frantically tried to contact loved ones. Some fled the classroom. I looked at my phone to see that my mom had tried repeatedly to contact me.In that moment, our lives changed forever.Although our law school is in downtown Newark, N.J., Manhattan is just a 20-minute train ride away. We can see the New York City skyline from the windows of the school. If any of us had been paying attention as we walked into our classroom Tuesday morning, we would have immediately known that something was seriously wrong. But no one looked.As I called my mom from a pay phone to reassure her that I was OK, I looked out the window to see smoke billowing from the place where the World Trade Center had once stood. When I heard her voice, we both started to cry. It's hard enough to live across the country from friends and family. It's even worse when tragedy strikes.A couple friends who were unable to make it home stayed at my apartment for the afternoon. We were glued to the television set. In fact, my television was on from the time I returned home at 1 p.m. until I went to bed at midnight. Classes were canceled at most schools on Wednesday, including ours. I don't think any of us would have paid much attention anyway. One classmate I spoke to was angry that something like this could happen to the United States. Another was in shock. Still another was waiting to hear if family friends had escaped the World Trade Center safely. As of Thursday, one had. The other was still missing.Trying to keep some sense of routine to my day, I decided to go to the laundromat. There, 15 televisions were turned on, with every station broadcasting news of the attacks. One woman in the laundromat was folding clothes with her two children. She said she had been on maternity leave, and she was supposed to return to work on Monday. She worked in the World Trade Center. The woman's eyes welled up with tears as she told me how she could have easily been at work the day of the attack. Those people (the terrorists) knew what they were doing, she said. They didn't get us the first time (in 1993), so they had to try again. This time, they were successful.That evening, a friend and I headed up to Blockbuster, looking for a movie that would create a diversion. We ended up back at his apartment, flipping back and forth between the cable news channels and the local stations. We couldn't get enough. We watched clips of firefighters covered in dust and forlorn family members pleading with viewers to call in with any information concerning their loved ones. We watched New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani holding back tears as he told of losing the city's fire chief, deputy fire chief and fire chaplain, as well as countless other public servants. We watched building seven of the World Trade Center fall and the Empire State Building evacuated. Thursday morning, as I prepared to go back to classes, I paused in my living room as I heard a plane pass over - the first in almost two days.Passengers on the train to Newark were eerily quiet. On a typical day, it's standing-room only on the morning trains. Thursday morning, there were more than enough seats for everyone.When I stepped off the train, the first thing I noticed was the garbage cans. All of the garbage cans in the Newark Broad Street Station had been covered up for fear that someone would leave a bomb inside. After I arrived at school, I learned that the other train station in Newark, Penn Station, had been evacuated on account of a bomb scare Wednesday afternoon. Another bomb had been called in to a building adjacent to our school. No one in our class was ready to return. Thursday morning was spent in our Legal Writing and Research class. I don't remember much of what we learned. Right out the window, military helicopters were flying back and forth across the Hudson River. We watched as the aircraft landed on the riverbanks, less than a mile from where we sat in the computer lab, wondering what was going on. Two days ago, we could see the World Trade Center from those same seats. Now, all we see is a gaping hole and a cloud of smoke.As we wait to see how the United States will react to Tuesday's attacks, we try to go back to our regular routines. We are being urged by the President, Giuliani and Secretary of State Colin Powell to stand tall, to not let the attacks affect us. How we are expected to do such a thing is beyond my comprehension. "