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Remembering 9/11: A conversation between colleagues forever changed by the terrorist attacks in NYC

Both Russ Mitchell and Maureen Kyle were living in NYC when planes hit the Twin Towers. The 3News colleagues share memories of what they experienced in 2011.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — A quiet spot at the Shaker Nature Center, is where 3News colleagues Russ Mitchell and Maureen Kyle meet to talk about an event they rarely share with others. 

Kyle was a student at Fordham University in the Bronx. Mitchell was in his 8th year with CBS News.

They didn't know each other at the time, but both were witness to the tragedy that unfolded on September 11, 2001.

Here is their conversation:

Kyle: "I can't believe it's been 20 years, honestly. I mean, it feels like, I don't know if you feel this way, like that first year after it happened, it felt like 20 years. And then every new thing since then has just felt like a blur. Like it really did.

Mitchell: "Now. It's interesting. You were there on 9-11. You were in college,

Kyle: "I was in college and I know you were there we've you and I have talked about this over lunch."

Mitchell: "We talk about this, we don't talk about it with a lot of people."

Kyle: "I mean, I probably told you details about that day that I never told my husband or any of my family. And it's strange because when you were there, there's a deeper understanding of what actually happened that day and nuances that I don't think anybody who wasn't there would really have lived through and understand. 

Mitchell: "I think when I do talk about this, I tell people that there is, every day of my life, there is some thought in my head, some reference somewhere, something that reminds me of that day and looking back at it 20 years, it does feel like yesterday, but the memories is kind of pile up and all the things you remember about that day and the days beyond."

 Kyle: "I do want to say, I feel like I, I don't talk about it because I hold it sacred. Somebody I recently interviewed mentioned that she never wants it to become sensationalized. Yeah. And, and that's not why I'm sitting here talking to you about it. It's only because it's 20 years later. And I'm, I think that it's good to talk about it for history sake and to let everybody know what it was really like that day. But it's one of those events that when, you know, people who have died and, you know, people who it was really who it really impacted it's, it's such tough memory."

Credit: WKYC
It took awhile for it to sink in that NYC and Washington DC were under attack.

Mitchell: "It's a memory and you're right. Everybody knows someone who was affected in some way. And everybody knows someone who had a near miss who was almost there that day, but was not right. There was a chef, the executive chef of windows in the world, which is the course of the top floor of one of the towers. He would have been there every morning at seven o'clock to make sure everything was okay, that particular morning he had an eye doctor appointment and wasn't there. Right? you hear stories like that all the time. There was a woman I worked with whose father was a paraplegic. He worked on the top floor of one of the towers and could not get out. And I can remember when we first got news of the first tower being hit or running out of her cubicle and it's uncontrollably sobbing, which you never forget images like that. Can I ask you about that morning? Where were you that morning?"

Kyle: "I probably forget 90% of the mornings that I've had in college, but that morning I went to breakfast and one of my friends, he had a newspaper out. And I remember, I don't remember what the headline said, but I remember teasing them Wolf slow news day. And I walked home from getting breakfast with him and another friend of mine he said to me, Hey, did you hear a plane hit the world trade center? And I remember thinking it was probably one of those tourist, like prop planes, where they give you a view of, of Manhattan and an accident. But by the time I walked up the stairs to probably the fourth floor of my dorm and we turned on the TV, we realized it was much more serious than that. And you could see the, I think we had the today show on and Katie Couric was....it was unfolding."

Kyle: "We were hearing, you know, it was a commercial airline and that was strange. And then the second plane hit and that's, I just, I don't even know if I had the realization. I mean, I think I needed them on air to tell me that this was an attack. And I think I still didn't believe it when, when it was happening. I, I kept thinking, no, this has to be an accident. I just did not have the frame of mind. I mean, I was still a kid and, but on my own in this world, I mean, I just did not have the frame of mind to think that this could be an attack that can't happen to us on American soil. I just, I couldn't believe it. 

Mitchell: "That was the same thought I had as well. I was walking to work at the CBS broadcast center between 10th and 11th street. And as you remember, that was a beautiful day, crystal clear sky, little tinge of fall in the air, kind of like today in terms of the temperature, see, I'm walking to work, you know, kind of skipping because it's just a beautiful day. And as I'm walking in the broadcast center, a friend of mine who worked across the street, which was the Inside Edition offices runs out, he and his crew are running out and we're in the car. I go, I go, where are you going? Oh, a plane hit one of the towers. We think it was an accident. Yeah, same thing. Yeah. So I walk in the broadcast center and the 20 or 30 yards, it takes me to get from the front desk of the newsroom.It was clear, it was not an accident. And then a few minutes later at 9:01 the second tower was hit. Mass chaos in the newsroom. Bryant Gumbel was on the air. I believe the morning show at that time was called the early show. He anchored the coverage early and then Dan rather came in and before I was called to duty, of course the first thing you think about it, as well as my family safe is my mom in St. Louis gonna know that I'm okay. My daughter was in sixth grade in DC at the time, and I hope she's okay. And later, of course we knew that playing it hit the Pentagon and there were all sorts of rumors that morning. Right. That's America was under attack. So those are my initial moments. Yeah. And before I was called into duty and to the anchor desk to be a Dan Rather's anchor buddy, what we call it.

Credit: The Kyle Family
Worried for their daughters: both Maureen and her sister were college students in NYC on September 11, 2001. Pat and Chuck Kyle spent frantic hours trying to reach their daughters.

Kyle: "Yeah. So then what happened next? I mean, what did you do?"

Mitchell: "At that time, at that time Dan Rather was there and he was doing his usual masterful job of anchoring, you know, that coverage. And they would put someone up with him just so he would have someone to bounce off, you know, with there if he had to take a break. And that was me, you know, for the first few hours. And I can remember sitting with him with all these thoughts in my head, what the heck is going on. Of course, you know, you can't like say this, you're trying to be calm. But I thought America was under attack. Yeah. I thought this is it. The American empire, the American experience, whatever you want to call it is ending today. Because as you recall, there were hours,  we didn't know what was going on. There were all these rumors of planes all over the country that were going to attack specific targets, some proved to be true. And the President was not around. He was, as we know now on a military jet going to undisclosed locations around the country. So I remember sitting there, you know, with this incredible responsibility of sitting on that set with, with Dan Rather. So, which is one thing, knowing what is going on in the world at that moment and worrying about your family. And I can tell you, it was again, surreal moments. I'll never forget. But you know, we got through it."

Kyle: "Did you feel like you were doing something or did you feel helpless in that moment."

Mitchell: "I thought I was doing my job. You know, my job that day was to to help inform people. We didn't know what was going on. I mean, no way at that point, no one knew what was happening. So I thought it was serving a purpose there of helping my daughter, or helping people understand that I was okay and they were okay. Yeah, I felt helpless. And I believe I was on the desk with him for several hours that day. And then was dispatched to areas around Manhattan. But, you know, as you know, when you're going through something like that  it hits you, but you kind of compartmentalize it. And I think that's what I did that day. What did you do after you, you left that breakfast and you found out what was going?"

Kyle: "The whole city was stuck. We were stuck. I don't know if you remember there was... could you get a hold of your daughter by the way?"

Mitchell: "There were no smartphones at the time."

Kyle: "Yeah. But there were, I mean, we had our cell phones."

Mitchell: Pager is what I had, and I can remember calling Aiden Montessori school, which is where (my daughter) went to school in DC. And they said that the kids were being let out, because at that point, the Pentagon had been attacked and there were thoughts - The White House was under siege and the Capitol was too.. So yes, I finally got ahold of her and other folks in my life. So it was, that was good. How about you?"  

Kyle:  I went up to my dorm and and the hard part was my roommate and I,  I feel even like, this is not my story to tell, but I was sitting with her. This is the part that I can talk about. And her whole family worked on Wall Street. Her dad was in one firm. Her uncle was in Cantor Fitzgerald. And somehow at that moment, cell phones were still working.  And I just remember her getting hold of her dad and they couldn't find her uncle. And there was, there was hope at that point. I mean, I just remember there was some hope like, well, he's probably away from his phone. They're probably rushing out the door. Like it's chaos down there. Of course he can't get a hold of him and I, her dad was okay."

Kyle: "So we knew that we had aligned to him. But once the buildings fell, this is my tough no-nonsense roommate. And I just remember her just crumbling. Like she just knew that he was gone and me being naive. I was thinking, "No, I mean, people had to get out. There is no way. And her dad kept, he kept in touch throughout the day. He was stuck. He was in a different building, but he was saying the soot was so thick that they weren't leaving. They were kind of stuck in place. So there, they were probably a block or two from the collapse, but it was just so much debris that they couldn't get out for awhile. And I don't remember when he could finally leave or that's a blur. And I remember trying to call my mom and trying to call my sister who moved to New York to go to NYU on September 5th."

Kyle: "So this is her first week in New York. And for anybody who's not familiar with Manhattan. I mean, I was in the Bronx at Fordham. She's at NYU, which is a quarter mile, half a mile to, to the World Trade Center. So I was more worried about her not knowing where she was going, not really knowing the city. And, and I'm thinking, is she, where was she? Is she running around NYU? Doesn't really have a campus. It's just building scattered all over lower Manhattan. And I couldn't get through because the cell phone towers had fallen. So I could not, we just got busy signals all day. And again, I mean, just hearing there a plane on the way to Cleveland. And so then my anxiety is going up. And then my friend was my other roommate was on a shuttle that was, that had gotten diverted to the George Washington bridge.

Kyle: "And somehow she got a message to us. I think it was a text that they thought there might be bombs underneath all the bridges. So they stopped traffic and she was stuck on the bridge. And so I just remember everywhere you turn, it was, you know, an attack in DC. There's a plane on the way to Cleveland there's rumors, rumors, bombs, everything. We just didn't know what was happening, but it seemed like mass attacks everywhere. Yeah. And busy signal. I couldn't get ahold of anybody and I'm stuck in my, my one room, you know? Well, you know, I'm stuck in the dorm. And I remember finally the call that got through and probably I wanna say it was like two or three o'clock in the afternoon. Isn't it funny how you remember like, details like this? I finally got ahold of my Grandma that went through and I feel like divine intervention.

Kyle: "I needed to get ahold of somebody that had already been through Pearl Harbor and World War II and her voice on the other line, just saying, you're going to be fine. Don't worry about it. And she got ahold of my mom to let us know, to let her know like that she got in touch with me and I'm fine. And because I remember my mom not knowing where I was either. So it was one of those days where you just, you were trying to reach out to let people know and check in on people and, and we were stuck with no communication is what I remember."

Mitchell: "What amazing perspective from your grandmother?"

Kyle: "I know she was always a calming voice, but at that moment was I'll always remember her. Just, I don't even remember what she said, but it was sort of like, you're going to be, it's fine. You're going to be okay."

Mitchell: "Say you're a parent, I'm a parent. Pat and Chuck Kyle have two kids in Manhattan. Can you imagine what their day was like?"

Kyle: "If I ever choke up, this is where I start, because they were worried about us. And my mom, she ran out of her classroom crying and my sister ran out of her classroom and crying and just like," gosh, they were worried about me.?" And that's what it's like. I feel like I didn't go through it anyway. And I don't know if you feel this way where I was fine. And it was all the other people, the 3000 people that did die. That weren't okay. It was, it's just, I don't know. I guess I feel like why were they worried about me when I don't know if you experienced this, you know, with my roommate experiencing a death in her family, there was another girl down the hall that she knew her father got killed. She couldn't go home. She was stuck on campus, surrounded by friends, but we couldn't go anywhere. No trains were running, you know, buses, there were, there was no way to drive anywhere and we were trapped and I just don't think I've ever experienced. And I hope I never experienced this again where you couldn't turn somewhere without somebody who lost a loved one that day. And there was so much grieving, no matter where you turn. And so I feel guilty almost that my family was worried about me because really I didn't, I was fine."

Mitchell: "I know you're saying that hit me a few days later, they sent me to the armory in Manhattan, which had been set up for folks to come to with pictures of their relatives who worked in the World Trade Center, they hadn't seen.  
Have you seen Uncle Joe? Have you seen my dad? Have you seen my sister?" And I can remember them coming up to us. We were doing live reports out front and begging with us to put their pictures on television. And they would walk in this armory, which was, you know, not exactly an inviting building to begin with. And I would see them walk out just in tears and they would come to us and plead and talk about helplessness. Like I could do nothing for these people. All I can do is try to tell their story. And I'll just never forget the faces that I saw that day and the stories that I heard. And I can tell you, we were there for two days  and of the people we talked to there were no great outcomes. No, not at all. No. And I think about those people today and I, hope they're okay. And I wonder are they alright? What do they deal with?  If you and I are having this discussion. And we're both getting, you know verklempt over this and choked up, I can only imagine, you know, what they're going through. Yeah.

Kyle: "I remember grand central had faces just lining and I've walked past them every day. And the families, I remember some family members, even just still standing there near the picture of their loved one and it said missing. And I feel like we all knew in our heart of hearts that it wasn't missing, but there was that hope that, that, you know, we haven't found any, any sign of the many pieces of them. So maybe they're in a hospital somewhere. And, and I think that was what was really tough. I also, we had we had a friend my group of friends, we had a friend, he was a little older than we were. And he got his first job out of school in the World Trade Center. And it was maybe two days later that my guy friends walked in again, cafeteria or wherever we are eating, with puffy eyes and just dazed. And they just said, we can't find Nick. And the story I heard from them is a story that I heard a million times. And you probably heard similar stories where he was from what I understand. And of course this is hearing from friends and through friends that he was in the second tower that was hit."

Kyle: "And so the first plane hit and then my friends had told me that he called his mom and said, I'm okay. That was the other building. And then it was probably his floor that got hit. And for a college student, you know, going through seeing a friend who was supposed to go and start his life I think that was really hard. Those stories were hard for us. And thinking about here's somebody we were just with, and now they were just among those faces on, on the billboards."   

Mitchell: "And I think about how people went to work that day, like it was any other day, people went to school that day, people left their families and got on planes and thought it was like any other day. And you're right. But I think one thing that it's taught me in the long run is just how fragile life is you. You, you really never know when those people who left their homes that morning think he was going to be just any other day. Clearly it wasn't. I think about that almost every day. Life is incredibly fragile and you never know. Yeah. And then when I left the, they had us working crazy hours. Of course I've been, and I remember leaving the broadcast center to go home for a few hours, maybe four in the morning, the next day and walking outside. And they were guys with machine guns. I finally got to my apartment across the street was an Irish pub and I needed a drink. So I walked in and place was packed, you know, at five 30 in the morning. And I don't know if you experienced this, but New York really came together. It, at that time, it was interesting to see how New York became almost a Mayberry, like for that period of time."

Kyle: "I remember days after, one of my friends, he had a car on campus, which was rare. It's rare to even have a car in New York. We hopped in his car cause he just said, well, I just want to drive around the city. And like I said, proximity-wise, we were miles away in the Bronx. So we didn't really go into the city. Cause at that point I'm not hopping on a subway. I'm not going downtown, but we drove around the city. And I remember on Fifth avenue, one of the buildings had a huge American flag down the side of the building and for monitoring after I'll never forget, we were living our normal lives and I was at some restaurant or bar. And I remember walking down the street and then coming into this, this, this restaurant firefighters in full gear just covered in sweat, but full gear, just walking down the street and people would step aside to let them walk and they would clap and cheer them on and they didn't have a look on their face. Like they felt like they were heroes. They had such, just a grieving sullen look on their face from what they've just been through. But I'll never forget. I mean, they didn't, they didn't change right after the job, they went out, kept working and covered in dust and soot."

Mitchell: "Horrible images to say, certainly, yeah. As you know, you know, in this business, we have to compartmentalize a lot of things because we see so much stuff. And I don't think I compartmentalize things as much now, now any other time as I did during that time. And I can remember about a month later leaving work, it was a Sunday and we'd worked every day. And I remember one of my bosses said, you know, "Russ, there's not much there today. Why don't you go home?" So I walked home and I said, I'm gonna have a nice meal. So I'm sitting in a restaurant and finally people were coming back to New York and a few people walked up and they saw me and they said, Hey, I'm from Des Moines. I saw you guys on TV. Thank you so much. You know? And you know, you think nothing and it's very nice, but for whatever reason at that moment, all that stuff I had put aside came crashing down."

Mitchell: "So I'm sitting at a table at Maloney and Porcelli restaurant by myself, you know, crying like a baby. Yeah. Cause it just, it just hit. Yeah. You know, all of a sudden and it's, I'm glad it hit, you know cause we have to put everything in a box. It, it took a while for all of it to, to come through. But, but it did, I ask people, this people who were there, that the people I know who were there that day asked, I asked the same question. Was there a moment where you thought, okay, this is going to be okay, everything's better now that everything's better. But was there a moment where you thought to yourself, you know, we're back it's okay?"

Kyle: "I don't know if you remember this, but and maybe it's because I was so naive on September 10th and then September 11th, I got reality just crashing down on me that day too. And I don't know if you remember this. I mean, we were getting all this information about everything stopped and they stopped airspace. You know, no planes were flying over New York, but even that night, as we're going out to a candlelight vigil on campus, I'm hearing planes fly over New York and I'm getting, I'm getting scared. Like, what is this? There's there's not supposed to be planes anymore. Why are there planes? And it was fighter jets. And it took me a while to realize that sound was fighter jets. And so I went to bed that night, not feeling back to normal. One of, one of my first apartments was about a block from ground zero. And we might've moved in like around the first anniversary. And so, I mean, it was constant jackhammering and, and lights. And there was a mangled traffic light that still hung right outside the building where I first moved in and it was just, it had gone through the world trade center, falling down on it. And I remember looking at that mangle with traffic light and thinking 20 years from now, this will all be a fuzzy memory, lone it like we're going to be okay. So one day it'll be 20 years from now and we'll be okay, but it still didn't feel okay. Even just that, that year after, I mean, we had to go on living life and we had to go on. But that's when I was interning at networks and we had constant cameras on ground zero and there were constant. We saw the cleanup all the time and all of the changes to flying just the way life was lived. I feel like that whole year was, was never normal again, 20 years later. I know I, and I told her that the other day that, that I just remember thinking in 20 years, I'll be some old lady with kids and, and living my life. And, and I'll remember this time. And that's why I say that first year felt like 20 years. And then ever since then has just gone by so fast."

Mitchell: "Yeah. I mean, I covered the 93 attack on the World Trade Center. The first time somebody tried to blow it up. So when that happened again, it was like, I can't believe they did this, but they've done it before. It wasn't the unusual, any of these, obviously two symbols of capitalism that someone wanted to make a point of. I thought the moment I thought, okay, everything's going to be okay. I was driving down the street. This is maybe three months after 9/11. And I cut a guy off turning a corner and he honked his horn and flips me the bird. I said, you know what? We're back. We're back in so many ways, it was an incredible moment."

Mitchell: "New York city has recovered. Obviously there's a long way to go. But the essence of New York city, that spirit that getting through it is back. Right. And that's why you never count New York city out. Even now after the pandemic, people were saying, people aren't going to come back. Don't count that place out."

Kyle: "And 20 years later, these people are still just part of our thoughts every single day and the way life changed, especially for anybody who lived there. Anybody who, if you weren't touched by you, there's no way there's nobody who isn't touched by it. The world changed so much, but the way you could be, you know, an innocent student one day, and then the next day find yourself basically in a war zone was big lesson to me too. You mentioned too about like, when it hit you and when everything came crashing down and I remember we were at my friend's uncle's funeral and there's, it was more of a Memorial service because there wasn't a casket or that it was an empty casket, I think. And then hearing like, th this family was like my second family in New York. And at that funeral, we all, I just remember, we all just lost it. Like, we'd just going to the funerals of those people is where it all came, crashing down. And, and just the realization of what was lost that day. And to think that, you know, that was just one and 3000 that happened across, across such a small area."

Mitchell: "I get that way today when I hear the names on nine 11 and it all kind of comes back the Memorial services, the tributes, all those things. And I really do hope it's, it's easy to, for many people, you know, who were not alive that day, or weren't impacted in some ways that day, they kind of take nine. 11 is just another day. I sincerely hope that this year, no one does that, right. That people take the time to realize what happened that day. Our lives have changed, how people died that day and how we all survive. Yeah. We're all here today. And when people say "never forget," it is easy to say, but really we should never forget that day. I know you and I won't never, but I, I sincerely hope that that the world remembers it."

You can watch Russ and Maureen's extended conversation below:

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