It was a Tuesday that many—including those in the Pensacola Christian College community—will never forget: 2,977 lives were lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That morning, future PCC student Tania Young (Biology ’07, M.S. ’10) was walking to class in New York City. Only a couple blocks away from her high school, she encountered distressed and confused bystanders running past her. “As I turned the corner on W. Broadway and Warren Street, I remember looking in disbelief at the tail of an airplane jutting from one of the towers. Smoke, dust, and flying papers filled the sky surrounding the towers,” she recalled.
Amid the shouting and sirens, a group of officers and first responders told Young and those around her to flee the area, so she ran. “Looking behind me, I stared in dismay as the south and north towers both collapsed within minutes of each other. Covered in dust, I remember being filled with fear,” she said. “In those moments, I remembered God’s Word and His promises to me, and in those desperate times, I asked Him to help me. Help me get home. Help me get to my family. After hours and hours of walking, the subway finally was opened, and I was able to go home.”
After finishing a one-and-a-half-hour class on campus that morning, Mike Smith (Pre-Law ’02, History Ed. ’05, M.S. ’07) caught fragments of what was happening on his way back to Young Tower. “I left that class at 9:30 and walked to my room waiting for chapel to begin at 10. That’s when one of my roommates passed me outside and said that he heard that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers,” he said. “I certainly was not expecting it to be intentional.”
In a time before cell phones with internet access were common, Smith and another roommate turned on their radio to find out more. It seemed all stations were broadcasting the events as they became known—a second plane hitting the south tower, a third crashing into the Pentagon, a fourth one likely headed for the National Mall put down in a field. “I remember walking to chapel thinking that so many people around me were oblivious to what was happening at that very moment, as I would have been unless someone had told me. There were rumors of other hijacked planes, and of course the brave passengers diverted one into a field in Pennsylvania. I remember the skies over Pensacola were silent as all air traffic was halted,” Smith recalled. TVs placed in the Four Winds and residence hall day rooms to air news showed the destruction taking place. “I was standing by my best friend in college as the towers collapsed. He would later serve our country in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army.”
Campus Church pastor Jeff Redlin (Youth Ministries ’87) had just finished teaching his morning Bible class at Pensacola Christian Academy when Dr. Troy Shoemaker, the Academy administrator at the time, called him to his office. “I went and we listened on the radio to what was unfolding in our nation. The uncertainty we felt was incredible. One tower had fallen, and the other implosion was imminent,” he said. “I went home after he and I listened for some time and began watching the news images. For the next several hours, I was transfixed on the events that were being pieced together.”
“While we will never fully experience the raw emotion of the day in the same way, the day should remind us that there are things that America stands for that are worth standing for,” Redlin continued. “Our constitutional freedoms to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ are offensive to many in the world. And we should be reminded that what we have is both special and worth protecting. In the midst of great evil, God’s goodness was reflected with incredible acts of sacrifice and heroism. The heroes we discovered on 9/11 were not ‘born’ that day, they were simply revealed.”
After returning to her room, Trina Donohew (Biology ’03) heard about the attacks from a roommate. “Students, staff, and leadership supported each other by communicating their feelings and thoughts. I specifically remember not feeling fearful, and I believe this was in large part due to leadership and how they handled the situation and the guidance and encouragement they gave us as students,” she said. “This was the first time in my lifetime that I had seen not only such a devastating event but also the incredible way America came together to support its fellow countrymen. It is important to remember that fundamentally we have so many things in common, and in times like 9/11, we have risen above our differences to care for one another.”
Those at PCC haven’t forgotten those lost in the attacks. Since 2018, the student-led and organized academic club, Freedom Forum, has arranged American flags for display in the grassy median down Main Drive, one for each life, to mark the day’s anniversary. For students who may be too young to remember the events themselves, the memorial, planned again for this year, is a visual representation of lives lost, a poignant reminder to encourage reflection and gratitude.
Olivia Summers (Sr., MN), president of Freedom Forum, understands why it’s important to remember the tragic events. “I had just recently been born when 9/11 occurred. Many [college students] now weren’t even alive then. However, that does not give us the excuse to forget what happened. Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same,’” she explained. “9/11 was unique because terrorists attacked innocent civilians. These civilians were targeted because they represented the American ideals of liberty, freedom, and justice. We remember the lives lost because they were people made in the image of God—worthy of dignity and respect. We remember the sacrifices made and the heroic efforts of first responders. We remember so that it might never happen again.”
“Twenty years have passed since the tragic events of 9/11, but we should never forget the thousands of victims who lost their lives that day. It’s important to remember the heroism of so many first responders,” said Tania Young. “I hope that those who don’t know, or know very little of the tragic events of 9/11, will get a small glimpse of that day by reading this. My hope is that they understand James 4:14, ‘Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.’ But it doesn’t end there: Psalm 121:1, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.’”