His father was driving him from New Jersey to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City when Z100 radio reported that first one plane, then another, had crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center.
“We just looked at each other and thought they were wrong,” Soltis said.
But when they made an early stop at the Newark bus terminal, their doubts vanished. Beyond the pandemonium in the terminal, a thick cloud of smoke and dust obscured the view of the New York City skyline.
“I just got the chills, and I still get them when I think about that,” Soltis said. “It seemed like the end of the world at that point. The one stable country had become vulnerable.”
Similar scenes of shock were playing themselves out on Harvard’s campus.
A morning phone call from his mother roused Eugene Chislenko ’04 from bed.
“I believed her barely enough to go watch it on television,” Chislenko said.
Rachel S. Weinerman ’03 was waiting in line to register for the semester when a proctor received a call on her cell phone after the first plane crashed into the North Tower.
“She had a look of shock on her face. Then she announced it to the room,” Weinerman said.
“At first, I just laughed,” said Mark J. Stanisz ’05. “I thought it was another stupid little crash like that parachute over the Statue of Liberty, but then the [New York Times] website started crashing and I saw that something was very wrong.”
The rest of the day at Harvard was marked by an unusual, eerie quiet. Students crowded silently before TVs in dining halls and rooms, venturing outside only to flinch whenever planes flew overhead.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the American landscape was forever changed—literally and figuratively—by the terrorist attacks that brought down the towers and cut short 2,823 lives.
As they reeled in the wake of the tragedy, members of the Harvard community tried to cope with a changed world.
Within hours, University President Lawrence H. Summers e-mailed all students a statement calling the attacks a “moment of incalculable sorrow and loss.”
Faculty and students sought to cope with their grief by seeking counseling, attending vigils and donating blood and money to relief efforts.