RMHS Teachers Remember September 11, 2001: An Oral History, Part II


Image by David Z from Pixabay

Honors Journalism Class

Students enrolled in Honors Journalism class interviewed some of the current teachers who were working for RMHS on September 11, 2001.  In the days leading up to the twentieth anniversary of the attacks of that day, they recalled what September 11 was like at 62 Oakland Road.

Photographs originally appeared in the 2002 issue of Pioneer, the yearbook of RMHS.

Mr. DeBenedictis, Social Studies

“I was teaching a sophomore Honors history class. I remember this vividly. I had let a kid go, named Dennis DeCicco. He played football and had a cast on his arm. He wanted to go see the nurse and get ice. Dennis was gone forever. He walked back into class, it had to be 15 minutes after the first plane hit the first tower. And of course, as a teacher, my first reaction was, ‘Dennis, where you been? I let you go to the nurse and you’ve been gone for literally an hour.’ And his reply to me was, ‘Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.’ I couldn’t process it in that second. There was only one TV in the building… that had like a signal that came in with cable. It was the school store in…one of the business classes. And, I went in there because I noticed as I walked up to the Social Studies office, teachers were like all abuzz in the hallway, going into Mr. Levesque’s business classroom. So I followed and there it is on ABC news and we’re watching it. I was actually in that room when, I think the South Tower  is the tower that came down first, when it fell. And it was like…unbelievable.

“And then I remember going home, and to this day I’ve never seen anything like this:  Every cable channel including Nickelodeon, including, like, QVC, like those channels that sell you stuff, you know what I mean, those shopping channels–every single channel was a news feed. So like if the parent company of  QVC was ABC, they were showing ABC news… Literally there was nothing. There was no children’s TV. Nothing else was programmed. It was all news.

“I remember, because I’m an early riser, coming into the school at 6 in the morning. And there’s an F-15 fighter jet flying over Reading. That’s just weird. There’s nothing else in the air. There’s no commercial traffic, there’s no Channel 5 helicopter doing the traffic. I distinctly remember walking from my car, at the old building. It’s not the RMHS of today. Going towards the doors, where there used to be a tower and I look up and I can hear it. It’s wicked loud, it’s like 6 in the morning, and it’s racing over the Boston area. It was kinda unnerving. You don’t see warplanes flying over America. It was the only time I really did in my whole life, other than going to a show.

I remember on 9/11 a parent showed up–I don’t fault this parent–everybody reacts differently and nobody knew what was going on on that day–demanding to see his daughter. This guy showed up to the door. He was a little obviously emotional, then his daughter got emotional. She didn’t want to go, she wanted to stay here and process it with her friends. It got a little, I wouldn’t call it an incident, but it got tense between child and parent. She eventually relented and went home with her dad.”

Reported by Will Adams (’22) and Jason Luu (’22)

Ms. Gilbert, Fine & Performing Arts

“It was an incredibly beautiful day, and I remember the skies were incredibly blue and it was really- like super clear and crisp and it was my first year teaching and I remember going through two period that day and then we heard that something happened.  And I just remember us just trying to make sure that students were okay and not freaking out. We were kind of just running down like really quiet halls and talking to administration. Then we were just finding out who had family in New York City, and people were trying to get in touch with people that were in the city. I remember administration just being empathetic about it, you know?

“I’m in this context and this is my job and then you know that other voice is just like ‘Oh my god,’ you know? ‘Is everybody okay there?’

“I know when we were here, students didn’t even have cell phones at that point so I don’t know exactly how we found out because it was definitely after first period.

“I think we were worried about people’s mental health and like now I guess- I feel grateful that people didn’t have phones then because it would have been traumatizing I think, you know?  I mean just the numbers of loss of life are really hard to wrap your head around.”

Reported by Lindsey Branga (’22) and Julia Delaney (’22)

Mr. Strout, Math & Business

“The only real memory that I have is when I first heard about it. I was in the hallway and another teacher, who doesn’t work here anymore, Mr.Vickers, came up to me and told me about the first plane hitting the first tower. When he described it, he didn’t know at the time, he had heard,and it’s pretty interesting since at the time we didn’t have any internet or anything like that, and he described it and made it sound like it was accidental. He didn’t really know.  And I remember an announcement being made about the whole thing but that’s all I pretty much remember being at the school at the time. But I vividly remember Mr. Vickers came up to me and told me that a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers. “

Again, when you think about it, it was 20 years ago, kids didn’t have cell phones, some of them might have but for the most part they didn’t, they didn’t have the internet. The school didn’t really have the internet, there was some internet run down but it wasn’t like today when we have computers everywhere.”

Reported by Dylan Wolter (’22)

Mr. McSweeney, English

“I remember it really vividly. I’ve been here over twenty years. I don’t remember every day vividly, but that day I remember. Right down to who told me about what happened. One class, I think it was the first class of the day, had just ended. The second class was starting to trickle in and a student named Dan Callahan said, “Hey, Mr Mcsweeney, did you hear?’ and I didn’t. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I said no. “New york.  Did you hear about New York?”

And I said ‘No, I haven’t.’

“They flew a plane into a building.”  And I remember thinking, you know, ‘If this is true this is really significant–this is world news right now.’  And it was only 20 years ago but it was a very  different time. Students did not have cellphones and if they did they weren’t readily connected to the internet. The school had only some computers that were hard wired to the internet. I had one in my room–not all teachers did–but i had a desktop computer in my room but it’s not like I went right to that and logged in.  I must’ve waited until that period was over and then I remember getting on there, and by then of course teachers were in the hall, students were in the hall talking about what happened. 

“And it didn’t take long before people were really concerned and really upset thinking about people who they knew were in New York. Slowly word got out that the flights had originated in Boston and that really shocked people, and it just raised questions and uncertainty that had people really unsettled.

“I remember going home that day–and like–I think everyone was in this mode of just trying to get in touch with people, maybe people you haven’t talked to in a long time that meant a lot to you. And you’re checking on everyone’s well being.  I had one friend who was living in Manhattan at the time and getting in touch with her to make sure she wasn’t affected at all, and she wasn’t, luckily.

“It was a very scary time…you didn’t know if a similar thing was going to happen two days later.  I remember it was early in the NFL season. You didn’t know if the Pats games would get cancelled.  You didn’t know if there was going to be an attack in a big place like the NFL game.  So it was very unsettling and very sad.”

Reported by Sara Hass (’22)

Mr. d’Entremont, Social Studies

I have a very unusual story… I was not in the country for 9/11. I was actually in Saudi Arabia. You might know, that I believe 17 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

My wife…Mrs. Dent, and little Luke who was 8 months old in August of 2001, traveled to Saudi Arabia to teach. We were there for 3 weeks before 9/11 came–we got there right before. And… everything changed from that point forward.

We had just gotten back from school that day, I believe it was a Monday. And I remember getting back to our little compound with our apartment there and we had a TV with a VCR back then. Little Luke was 8 months old and I was going to put on a Raffi tape for him…you might have heard of Raffi before. I put it on because I was going to get dinner started, cooking and all that stuff. I remember turning on the TV and the last channel it was on happened to be CNN international. So I clicked on the TV to turn on the tape and as I turned it on, one plane had already gone into one of the towers and the tower…it was on fire. The other one wasn’t there yet.

And it was like…a situation where…’Oh ok…what’s this?’ I didn’t understand it at first. Was this a video tape? And then we saw the second plane go in and we’re like ‘What the heck is this?! This is kind of big news!’. And then the reports came that something had happened at the Pentagon… and then something happened in Shanksville Pennsylvania… a plane went down. And I remember saying to myself, ‘When is this going to end? What’s next? Was there something else planned because of this?’… thank goodness nothing else happened because after that you were just glued to the set. Then we went out for a walk on the compound and Luke was in a stroller-type thing and you see people and you say ‘Did you see what just happened?’ And so that was my recollection of that day.”

Reported by Lauren Koulouris (’22) and Ben Regazzini (’22)