OCEANSIDE — This past weekend was the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, marking a time of reflection for many Americans.
While the attacks terrified most people across the nation, many others like Derin Young, who lived in New York City at the time planes struck the twin towers, experienced total chaos.
Now an Oceanside resident who lives near Mira Costa College, Young grew up in New York City and was a young woman living in Brooklyn in 2001.
Young, a content producer working in the fields of art, theater, audio and technology, recalled completing some online work at the time of the attacks.
“That was a strange day,” Young told The Coast News.
Someone called Young and told her to turn on the television. Images of burning buildings appeared on the screen but she didn’t realize the full extent of the events unfolding in real-time across town.
“I thought it was something that could be put out,” she said. “I turned the TV off thinking they would handle it.”
What she hadn’t realized was American Airlines Flight 11 had smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. in Lower Manhattan, followed by a second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, striking the South Tower just 18 minutes later. Both impacts caused massive explosions, sending burning debris soaring into nearby buildings while smoke and toxic dust filled the air and blanketed the streets.
Young, who had always favored radio broadcasts over television, turned on the radio and listened to multiple breaking news accounts.
“Before a reporter could finish, the breaking news track would go back and start over,” Young said. “No one could finish a report. It almost sounded like an audio drama because each reporter would get more emotional.”
She turned the television back on but the power went out around the time the Pentagon was struck. She ran upstairs to her roof deck where she could see all the smoke from her Brooklyn apartment.
After that, all hell broke loose.
“I ran back downstairs and it became pandemonium,” she said. “We thought a war had started.”
No calls were going through, which was a major concern for Young and her family as they frantically tried to locate Young’s brother, who had a World Trade Center office.
Luckily, her brother had stopped to fix a broken boiler in his building and was late to work — a fateful change of plans. When he later tried to get to the towers, law enforcement prohibited him from getting too close.
“He was upset because he couldn’t get to the building, but no one realized they were going to come down,” Young said. “No one could even imagine that.”
Young, who put on her combat boots, and her friend decided to split up and find an ATM to withdraw money, but most of the cash machines were down. Daily utilities and supplies, such as running water, were also not functional in many areas of the city.
The collapse of the twin towers completely changed Young’s perspective of her hometown. She and her siblings had grown up with the towers. As a young child, Young and her siblings would hang out in the unfurnished rooms as both towers were being constructed.
“We grew up in those buildings,” she said. “We could see those towers from everywhere in the city.”
The towers were part of New York City’s cultural identity. After they fell, Young said the city would never be the same.
But perhaps Young’s strongest memory was a smell that had engulfed the entire city that made her want to leave the city altogether.
“It was a pungent smell,” Young said, describing it as a mixture of burnt plastic and human remains. “I smelled it for two weeks every night.”
Young would finally leave the city, bouncing around the country to Southern California, Miami and even a brief return to New York. After a family tragedy in 2018, she found herself in North County San Diego and decided to stay.
Since the attacks, Young’s concern for other humans grew exponentially. While she has been able to cope through her spirituality as a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, she hopes to bring comfort to others who still struggle with the events from that day and other tragedies and hardships.
“We’re all still human beings all facing the same thing every day,” Young said. “We’re all in this together.”
Young hopes that people will learn from tragedies like 9/11 and look out for each other better.
“Keep speaking truth and be kinder and more loving to others,” she said.