What You Need to Know: Marking 20 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11

Written by on September 10, 2021

What You Need to Know: Marking 20 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11

By Brad Klein and Jen Rehill

September 10, 2021

The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York, Sept. 11, 2001. In a horrific sequence of destruction, terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center causing the twin 110-story towers to collapse. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

In our regular Friday feature, “What You Need to Know,” WLVR’s Brad Klein speaks with News Director Jen Rehill about the week’s top local news. This week: a remembrance of 9/11 20 years later. Klein worked for NPR News in New York City that day, and Rehill, who had been based in Harrisburg, spent weeks covering the aftermath of Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Somerset County, killing all aboard.

Listen to the story.

Brad Klein

“Hi, Jen.” 

Jen Rehill

“Hi, Brad.”

Klein

“Of course, this weekend marks 20 years since 9/11, 2001 and today, instead of looking back at the week’s top local stories, we’d like to reflect a little on the events of that day. I was in New York City on 9/11 and we’ll get to that in a moment. But first let’s focus on the story as it unfolded here in Pennsylvania. This is NPR from Washington D.C. Just hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. 

NPR (recording from 2001)

“This is special coverage from NPR News in Washington. ‘I’m Linda Wertheimer,’ ‘and I’m Robert Siegel. In New York, of the four planes that were hijacked today, one did not reach its target. United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco crashed in Pennsylvania…’” 

Klein

“You were in Harrisburg when Flight 93 went down in western Pennsylvania.” 

Rehill

“Right. I was the state capital reporter for a group of Pennsylvania public radio stations like this one and scheduled to actually cover a debate in the governor’s race that morning. That debate never happened. They shut down the state capital and we were locked in and that’s when I started filing my coverage for our statewide network. The next day, 9/12, I drove out to Shanksville and started filing then for NPR from the crash site.” 

Klein

“Here’s a moment we have from one of your first reports from there. Jen Rehill of Pennsylvania Public Radio reports.”

Rehill (recording from 2001)

“So far, officials have not been able to identify any of the victims. Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist on the disaster and mortuary response team says the impact of the crash caused extreme fragmentation of the human remains. And then…”

Klein

“I’ve never been to the crash site in Shanksville. Tell me what you saw when you arrived.” 

Rehill

“Well, when I arrived the day after the plane went down, it was to see essentially a huge black crater in the middle of a huge wide open field and there were men and women in white hazmat suits working at the site, collecting evidence.”

Klein

“It’s just impossible to imagine really. I know it’s also impossible to summarize the weeks of emotionally wrenching reporting that you did in the days to come. But I wonder what story has stuck with you most?”

Rehill

“I’ll tell you what stuck with me most: that one moment that’s really seared in my

 memory. You know, we kind of kept our distance from the family members, but they decided to call a press conference one night and talked to all of the media together at once. And we were in this ski chalet hall with these wooden ceilings and it was really the first time that we heard from the family members themselves describing what later became famous: the phone calls that they got from their loved ones on the plane. Flight 93 was the last to crash. It went down at 10:03 a.m. on the morning of 9/11. So the passengers knew what was happening. They knew who the hijackers were and they knew what had happened in New York. And so they were able to call their loved ones and this moment in this hall at night listening to the stories of the people who talked about what they heard from those passengers on the plane. I’ll never forget it.”

Klein

“It must have been just emotionally devastating to hear.” 

Rehill

“Now Brad, as you mentioned at the top, were in New York City 20 years ago and I know you played a role in NPR’s coverage there. What sticks with you about that day?”

Klein

“There is a moment that sticks with me and it’s kind of a curious one. I had worked previously for both the network NPR and WNYC. That morning I wasn’t working for either, but I got on my bicycle to try and render some assistance to my colleagues who I knew were working in the field. I couldn’t make it all the way down to the World Trade Center. I stopped at the NPR New York Bureau near 42nd Street. It was almost empty when I arrived just after the second tower fell with just a receptionist and an engineer present. The journalists were all out in the street. I worked as a producer there for most of the morning and then Barbara Mantel, who was a longtime economics reporter for NPR, returned and handed me open reels from in a Nagra portable tape recorder and asked me to prepare audio for some of the first new spots to come back from the field in New York. I cut that tape with a razor blade, a grease pencil and adhesive splices just as I’d learned back in the 1990s. And somehow it cemented that moment to me. It was the last time I cut tape with a razor blade. It was truly another era for New York City, for the U.S., for the world and for journalism.”

Rehill

“Brad, so much has changed since then. But I think one of the things that really endures at least for the story of Flight 93, the Pennsylvania version of 9/11 is that story of heroism from the passengers and crew that folks will always remember, honor and preserve those memories.” 

Klein

“Well, thanks for joining us, Jen, and thanks for sharing your memories of that day.” 

Rehill

“Thank you, Brad.”

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