Nineteen years ago, Russ Mitchell was preparing for a typical day on the job when he saw a friend.
"I was walking to the office at 8:47 and a friend of mine who worked at Inside Edition, whose offices were right across the street, was running out of his building and I said, 'Where are you going?'" the 3News anchor recalls. "He said, 'A plane hit the World Trade Center, but we think it was an accident.' I said, 'Oh, that's something.'"
Of course, the collision was no accident and proved to be the start of what would become the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history. Working in New York City as a national correspondent for CBS News at the time, Mitchell had a unique view of September 11, 2001, which he spent working alongside Dan Rather.
"The next 18 hours were totally a blur. They stuck me on the anchor desk with Dan Rather. I was Dan's 'anchor buddy,'" Mitchell remembers. "I was on set with him when the towers fall. I remember watching it in the monitor and saying to myself, 'what the hell is going on here?' And Dan Rather, who was and is one of the best in the business at that was speechless."
That blur of hours turned into days and eventually weeks and months of reporting amid one of the United States' most trying times. Mitchell said the gravity of the moment didn't hit him on a personal level until approximately a month and a half later, as he was eating dinner one night at Maloney & Porcelli.
Of the pieces Mitchell reported during that time, one of the most memorable came as a part of CBS News' continuing coverage just a few days after the Twin Towers fell. Searching for missing friends and family who may had been killed in the attacks, several gathered at the Manhattan Armory in hopes of finding -- or even identifying -- their loved ones.
"That was one of the toughest days of all of them. And there were a lot of tough days, obviously. That one was certainly up there with one of the toughest ones," Mitchell says. "You had people who had not seen their loved ones and had loved ones working in the World Trade Center, who were told to come to this location and bring a picture of your loved one and maybe we can identify them. You had people frantic. We had people walking up to us on the street and crying, 'Have you seen my uncle? Have you seen my mom? Have you seen my son? Here's his picture. Please put this on TV. I have to know where he is.'
"It was just heartbreaking."
Even now, Mitchell says there's not a day that goes by that he doesn't think about 9/11 at least once. That rings especially true on its anniversary.
"It's an emotional day. I think of where I was that day. I think of what I saw that day. I think of what I saw in that period of my life in those weeks and months after that," Mitchell says. "I think about the people who I know that lost people. I think about people I know who saw it, who actually watched it from their apartments and saw it from a totally different angle than I did. I think about those people who jumped out of that building that day because they were just so helpless. They knew that was it and in a bizarre way, in their head, the only way out was to jump out of one of the tallest structures in the world.
"It's an emotional day. I wake up on 9/11 with all these things rushing back and I think of also how lucky I am and how blessed I am and how I am able to share these stories with people as someone who was there to maybe help them understand a little better about what that day was like and what that period of time was like."