Like most people who lived in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, former Challis residents Jane Naillon and Karen Peek said the first notable thing about that morning was the beautiful weather.
“What was crazy was that your day started out so normal, and two hours later the world had changed,” Peek, daughter of Challis residents Jean and Lewie Frost, said.
Jane, daughter of Challis resident Carolyn Naillon, said she was working in the Empire State Building, 3 miles from the World Trade Center, that fateful morning. When the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., Naillon and her coworkers thought it was an accident involving a propeller plane. They used their express passes to get to the top of the building to see what happened.
“The doors to the elevator opened and it was havoc,” Naillon said.
Peek was on the ground when a coworker told her what had happened. Getting coffee 15 blocks away, she looked up and saw the smoke and debris from the first hit.
Something that sticks with Naillon about that day, and the week or so after, is how well she still remembers everything, 20 years later. Naillon, who was 36 at the time, said she can still hear President George Bush fly over her SoHo home in Marine One.
For days, “you could smell it, hear it,” Naillon said, referring to the destroyed buildings and the emergency vehicles that relayed first responders to them.
For Peek, what solidified the terrorist attack in her permanent memories occurred the following day. “There were posters everywhere of missing people,” she said, put up by people trying to confirm if loved ones had died in the attacks.
Alongside the misery, Naillon and Peek recalled moments of kindness and camaraderie. While people outside New York were furious at the time and wanted to lash out in anger, Peek said people in the city and surrounding areas were just trying to recover. Trauma can lead to compassion, she pointed out, which she saw a lot of from her Middle Eastern neighbors in Brooklyn.
When she wants to remember the more noble moments of Sept. 11, Naillon thinks about a rescue dog holding area set up near her home. Something about seeing the exhausted animals being fed by volunteers with donated dog food stuck in her mind, Naillon said, and still brings up the extreme emotions she felt at that time.
Both women said they can’t help but notice a shift in the country’s attitude and behavior since the terrorist attacks two decades ago. Whereas people were compassionate and had a one-country, one-team mentality following the attacks, Naillon and Peek said Americans now seem more combative and fractured.
Splitting her time between Boise and New York now, Naillon said emotions about the attacks aren’t as intense as they once were, inside or outside the city. Peek, who stayed in New York for a year after the attack, but now lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, said Americans now focus those emotions online and toward each other, which is not something anyone would have seen in 2001.
After the events of that tragic day, both former Challis women said they’ve tried their best to move on. They said after the planes hit the towers they watched the news every minute they could, but at a certain point “it was too much,” Peek said. She eventually had to shut if off.