Wendy Weiskircher

The terrorist blasts that rocked the world, leveling the World Trade Center towers and damaging the Pentagon building Tuesday morning, are emblazoned in a fiery memory ISU alumnus Tom Schipper will never forget.

Schipper, 24, a 2000 ISU graduate, was at work in Washington, D.C. Tuesday morning when a chorus of screams prompted him to look out the window.

At 9:43 a.m. EDT – less than an hour after two hijacked airliners slammed into the twin 110-story World Trade Center towers in New York City – Schipper saw a third hijacked jet plummet into the Pentagon, the nation’s defense headquarters.

“There was a tremendous explosion,” said Schipper, 24, a research assistant at Hill & Knowlton in the Watergate Building. “I looked out the window, and the Pentagon was engulfed in flames.”

Hundreds apparently were killed aboard the hijacked airliners, thousands were injured and untold numbers are feared dead in the rubble. A fourth jetliner, also apparently hijacked, crashed in Pennsylvania.

“It was nuts, man – it was just surreal,” said Schipper, who is from Indianola. “I just couldn’t stop shaking,” he said. “The best way to explain it is it was like a Godzilla movie, you know, with people out in the streets freaking out.”

Schipper said the next few minutes were pure pandemonium.

“I let it sink in for maybe three or four minutes and said, `Screw this,'” he said. “I grabbed my CDs and hauled ass to my car. I think that was about the scariest time of my life.”

As Schipper drove to his home in Alexandria, Va., about 10 minutes from the city, he said the chaos had died down – but shock had subdued the nation’s capital city.

“The city is weird, like a ghost town,” he said. “There’s this really weird sense of shock, a calmness. People really don’t know what they witnessed.”

Al Brooks, ISU purchasing agent, said preliminary checks indicate that no ISU employees were aboard the hijacked flights.

“Travel and Transport travel agency reviewed the ticket sales and passenger lists on the hijacked flights,” Brooks said. “Most of those flights originated on the East Coast and were going directly to California, so it’s unlikely that we would have had anyone on those flights . but it’s good to know, anyway.”

Airplanes across the United States were grounded, major league baseball games were postponed and citizens across the nation and around the world followed the unfolding tragedy throughout the day.

But 1997 ISU graduate John Mullen hadn’t even turned on the television by Tuesday night. He didn’t need to.

Mullen, who works in Philadelphia as a communication specialist for McCormick, Taylor and Associates, was in New York City Tuesday morning for a business conference.

“I got out of the subway at Fulton Avenue, which is the stop after the World Trade Center, and as I was leaving the station, the first plane hit the trade center,” said Mullen, 28. “There was a big cloud of smoke, and there was debris falling everywhere.”

Sirens echoed in the streets that were crowded with stunned people looking up through the haze at the trade center building, he said.

“Anybody who had an automobile was pretty much stopped dead in the middle of the street,” said Mullen, from Waterloo. “They had the radios turned up, and people were standing around them listening to the news reports while they looked up.”

When the first World Trade Center tower collapsed, “it was like a sudden boom,” he said. “You could feel the ground move.”

The windows rattled in the conference room where Mullen and his colleagues were huddled. And that was the point, he said, when he started to get scared.

“I think part of it was that we were so close, and we didn’t know what was happening or how to get away,” said Mullen, who lives in New Jersey. “Everything was covered in ash. It was white, like snow. People had it in their hair, in their clothes and all over their faces.”

The triple terrorist blasts made Schipper ache for home.

“I was supposed to fly back tomorrow for the Iowa-Iowa State game – I don’t think that’s going to happen now,” he said. “Right now, I just want to move to Iowa. A couple acres of land and a barn.”