Sept. 11, 2001, started off as a beautiful day in New York City.
Daytona Beach resident Kathy Pope remembers the air was crisp and cool. It was a sunny day, and above the city, there was a blue sky. At the time, she was working as a manager for IBM, and her office, which had a view of the Statue of Liberty, was located on the 43rd floor in the north tower.
That morning she arrived to work early, around 8:15 a.m. She was scheduled to do a presentation that day, and she wanted to be prepared.
But at 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower, and everything changed.
Pope is a survivor who shared her story during a 9/11 remembrance event held at Ocean Art Gallery, on Sept. 11, the 20th-anniversary of the tragedy. Gallery owner Frank Gromling holds the ceremony annually, often attended by a small group of locals. Gromling doesn't promote the event through the traditional methods; it's too special for that, he told the estimated 15 guests in his gallery.
He started the event in 2011 in his last gallery in Flagler Beach, and doesn't foresee his efforts ending anytime soon. This year's event was titled, "9/11 remembrance: We will not forget."
“As long as I have air inside these lungs, that will be the case," Gromling said.
Pope was not the only survivor who spoke at the event. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. William Toti, who is also an Ormond Beach photographer, takes advantage of every opportunity to tell his story. He was in the Pentagon on 9/11, and lost several friends in the attack.
Toti calls the attack on the Pentagon the "forgotten 9/11." He shared that he is one of two people who have been interviewed several times for documentaries and news stories regarding what happened when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed inside the Pentagon, including a 2021 National Geographic six-episode series titled "9/11: One Day in America." But, though the series was well-produced and dd a wonderful job of sharing survivor's stories, Toti said, only seven minutes of the six-hour documentary were dedicated to the Pentagon.
As such, some pieces of his story from that day are never told. One is of the bag he is seen carrying on his shoulder on news segments from 9/11 as he ran outside the Pentagon trying to help the injured. In that bag was a first-aid kit, Toti revealed. He abandoned the bag once he realized it wouldn't do much to help, and was only slowing him down. Two weeks later, it was returned to him.
Toti also spoke about unity. The U.S. was never more united as it was on Sept. 12, 2001, he said.
"How far have we come since then?" Toti said. "How great have we made such petty differences over the last 20 years? Have we learned nothing from that day? We’ve learned nothing from that day.”
He left the audience with a question: What would the victims of 9/11 think about their sacrifice, 20 years later?
When those in the north tower were told to evacuate on Sept. 11, 2001, Pope said everyone did so in an orderly fashion. They grabbed their personal belongings and helped each other — including the disabled — walk down the flights of stairs. Women took off their heels, Pope included.
Once outside, they were instructed by police officers and firefighters to stand in a nearby shop as they headed inside. Seven of Pope's employees decided to reenter the building to recover critical data tapes for their clients; Pope never saw them again.
“It was their way of helping to protect people," Pope said.
She and her remaining team of employees were outside when the second plane hit the south tower. Pope lost three more employees who were hit from people who jumped from the towers.
In the 20 years since the attacks, Pope said she has lived every day like it is her last. As she held up photos of her family, she spoke about the moments she would have missed if she hadn't survived: her son's wedding, the birth of her first grandchild, the birthdays she has been able to celebrate.
She gives thanks every day that she is able to be here, Pope said.