It began like any other day in America. People awakened, got dressed, had breakfast, saw their children off to school and headed to work.
But it was as they headed to work on that otherwise routine Tuesday morning 9 years ago today that Americans — and the world — learned the true meaning of terror and changed forever.
Terrorists hijacked four jetliners that morning, crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York Circy, another into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. and the final one into a field near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers fought back against them.
When all was said and done, the two World Trade Center towers had collapsed, the Pentagon had a gaping hole in one side and nearly 3,000 people were dead or missing. The nation would never be the same.
The shockwaves rippling from the audacious terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were felt around the world, and Starkville and Oktibbeha County were no exception.
In Washington, members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation — and all members of Congress —were quickly taken to an unspecified secure location to ensure that nation’s branches of government remained in place amid the uncertainty of the attack.
Many were unable to communicate with their families for several hours.
“There were a lot of rumors flying around Washington Tuesday, including that both the Capitol and White House had been attacked,” then U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss. said. “This was really been hard on our children, especially my older boys since they are more aware of what’s going on. That emotional trauma is one the high prices of terrorism.”
He had just arrived at his office in the Cannon House Office Building near the Capitol prior to the Pentagon attack, Pickering said the day after the attack.
“We were watching the footage of the World Trade Center and then learned of the Pentagon attack before the news broke that part of the story,” Pickering said.
“One of my staffers was on his way into work on Interstate 395, which runs parallel to the Pentagon. He called us on his cellular phone and told us how the hijacked plane flew right over his car and into the Pentagon building. That’s when we really knew that these were systematic attacks.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who at time was representing Mississippi’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House, later revealed that he had left the Pentagon moments before the terrorist-hijacked jetliner hit the massive facility.
Shortly after news of the attack, many residents and university students gathered on the Drill Field in the heart of the Mississippi State campus for a brief prayer service.
Others watched network and cable news coverage in absolute shock and with an air of uncertainty of what was to come.
Cindy Miller, a sixth grade teacher at Henderson Intermediate School at the time, told the Daily News about watching coverage of the attacks on a small black and white television in her classroom during her planning period. Some of her students voiced fears of attacks in Starkville.
“You think everything in America is so safe and secure. My kids are very afraid,” said Miller at the time.
The attacks prompted hundreds of residents and MSU students to jam local convenience stores and gas stations to fill up their vehicles amid rampant rumors that businesses were shutting down in response to the attacks.
Then Gov. Ronnie Musgrove followed the lead of President George W. Bush in declaring a state of emergency in Mississippi.
Flights at airports nationwide — including Golden Triangle Regional Airport — were suspended under orders from the Federal Aviation Administration.
That night, the Islamic Center of Mississippi on Herbert Street was vandalized by some throwing eggs, tomatoes and rocks during an evening prayer service. Prank calls were made to the mosque asking for Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaida terrorist group leader who took responsibility for the attacks.
Local Muslim congregation leaders expressed their own sorrow over the attacks.
“We, too, watched in horror as Tuesday’s events unfolded on our TV screens. Please know that the Islamic faith does not condone the killing of innocent civilians and the wanton destruction of property,” said Oda Dakhlalla, speaking on behalf of the Islamic Center.
At 11 p.m. that night, more than 1,000 Mississippi State students gathered for a candlelight vigil around the Drill Field flagpole, many openly weeping as others prayed for comfort and for the victims of the attacks.
Many students gathered in small groups after the vigil trying to make sense of what had happened.
Starkville Daily News coverage the next day reported frantic attempts by local residents to reach loved ones in New York and Washington, only to be met with out-of-service messages as telephone lines jammed with countless others trying to the same thing.
In the days to come, numerous prayer services were held throughout the city and county, and a National Day of Prayer was proclaimed on the Friday following the attacks.
Organizations such as the United Way and the Oktibbeha County chapter of the American Red Cross organized blood drives and sought monetary donations to help with relief efforts in New York City and Washington.
In the meantime, members of the state’s congressional delegation, reached by phone in the early morning hours the day after the attacks, pledged to respond with swift action.
“It’s important that we show that even these terrible acts cannot stop America from going forward,” said then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
“We’re going ahead with our responsibilities. But we are going to act now, tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead to deal with these people who have taken these actions and with those who have supported them.”