9/11 touched some in a personal way

Mariah Hanson holding a photo of herself as a newborn.

Nora Wedemeyer

Amanda Crysler

Jim Gavegan

Brig Leane

Dan Gannon

The tragic events of 9/11 affected all Americans, including people in the Grand Valley, some of whom were traveling or had loved ones on airplanes. Some were living in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Several knew someone who died.

Here are a few such stories told by local people whose lives were changed by that day’s events.


74, retired in Paonia

On 9/11 Dan Gannon found himself on the front lines of a national tragedy after a long career in broadcast television.

Gannon was director of field operations for CNN on Sept. 11 in New York City.

Just 22 blocks away from the World Trade Center, Gannon and his crew began pointing cameras and hoisting transmitting equipment toward the Twin Towers from the high-rise balcony of the CNN building after the first plane hit.

It was Gannon who broadcast live the image of the second plane hitting the Twin Towers.

“I saw the second plane hit, and I thought, ‘Here we go — Pearl Harbor again,’ ” he said.

“We went live from that balcony for the next three weeks,” Gannon said.

His job included keeping 18 two-man crews safe as they reported worldwide the events within the city.

“It was just a white-out blizzard,” Gannon recalled after the towers fell and ash coated the streets. “One guy came in and left a dust trail across the newsroom.”

He tried hard to hold his employees together and coordinate the efforts of reporting such a large-scale event.

Gannon said he slept under or on top of his desk for nearly a month.

It was such an emotional and tiring experience, Gannon ended his career the next February, retiring on a piece of property in Paonia.

“It was absolutely downright frightening,” Gannon said. “Right now there is no reason to ever go back there.”

Each year he thinks about friends who were lost.

“I wonder how things would be if it hadn’t happened,” he said.


34, development director of the United Way of Mesa County

Tears still come to Amanda Crysler’s eyes when she recalls the events on that crisp Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

Crysler was fresh out of college and working in the Russell Senate Office building for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. She commuted from her apartment in Maryland to her office in Washington.

“The interesting thing about that day was I was standing at my train stop and thinking what a gorgeous day it was,” Crysler said. “There was nothing interesting headlining the paper, and I thought, ‘How nice.’ “

Security already was heightened as first lady Laura Bush was in Crysler’s building that morning, but she wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the events unfolding in New York City.

“At that point we just thought a small plane had an accident,” she said.

Crysler’s mother called, worried about her daughter’s safety in such a high-profile government building.

“I told her, ‘Don’t worry, that’s New York City,’ ” she said. “Then I told her I had to go because a plane had just flown into the Pentagon.”

Crysler wouldn’t have the chance to talk to her family again for four hours because cellphone service within the city was stopped for security reasons.

She and her co-workers were evacuated to an empty field just outside the U.S. Capitol.

“I kept thinking this could be the last time I see the Capitol. It was so surreal,” she said.

Standing near the Capitol was not the safest place to be, Crysler said. She spent the next 2 1/2 hours walking through the city to the closest apartment of one of her co-workers. They passed national monuments and wondered what would be hit next.

“It was just so scary,” she said.

Like the rest of the nation, Crysler looked toward the president for guidance about what to do, given the situation.

“Everyone always says unflattering things about President Bush, but, in my mind, he was a great leader at that time,” she said.

Crysler is somber about the anniversary of that tragic day.

“I always think about the people we lost that day,” she said, “and I don’t really watch anything that has to do with 9/11.”


34, architect at Chamberlin Architects

Nora Wedemeyer was living in the Soho District in New York City when, on her way to work at a downtown architectural firm, she heard several crashes. It wasn’t until people started sprinting past her and standing in the middle of intersections that she realized something was wrong.

Standing near the intersection of Spring Street and West Broadway, Wedemeyer “didn’t see the plane, I just saw the whole thing explode.”

At the office, management said, “Just go where you need to go.”

Wedemeyer crossed the city again, noticing people wandering aimlessly and covered in dust.

Her apartment building had been evacuated because of an abandoned van in the street. A local Italian restaurant put food out on the sidewalk and offered refuge for those temporarily displaced in the neighborhood.

“It’s really hard to explain this strong sense of people banding together,” Wedemeyer said. “I think about that a lot and how long I ended up living there.”

Wedemeyer had planned to live in the city for only a couple of years. But the pride and camaraderie within the city kept her living there for nearly seven years.

“It was very inspiring. The sense of how Mayor Giuliani gave us pride in being there and staking it,” she said. “We were not leaving the city.”

She also remembers the smell of smoke lingering in the city until January.

Wedemeyer usually commemorates the day quietly, making sure to spend time with those she loves.

After 10 years, she is “grateful the city was able to pick itself back up.”


49, financial adviser at Merrill Lynch

Jim Gavegan boarded a United Airlines flight just before 8 a.m. in Philadelphia on 9/11.

As a field engineer for AT&T Bell Labs, Gavegan was on his way home to Grand Junction after working on the East Coast that weekend.

Oddly, his plane circled over New York City, then flew over the Atlantic Ocean for more than an hour.

“I thought we were dumping fuel or maybe we had a bomb on board,” he remembered.

Gavegan, being an experienced flyer, found the situation unusual but remained calm.

Finally, the pilot of the plane made an announcement to the passengers. “He said, ‘We don’t know what happened, but it’s something catastrophic because every plane in the United States has been ordered to land,’ ” he said.

That’s when people began to panic.

The plane flew to Pittsburgh, then to Cleveland. It finally landed in Buffalo.

“I have never been in a landing like that,” Gavegan said.

The plane roared down the runway at breakneck speed without lifting the flaps. It taxied directly to the gate, and all passengers were ordered to evacuate immediately without their luggage.

“There were certainly people getting very scared, and we thought something was wrong with our plane. So many things go through your head,” he said.

When Gavegan finally reached a hotel, he had more than 100 messages from worried loved ones.

“I called my wife at Wingate Elementary, but I don’t really remember what I said to everybody,” he said.

Each year Gavegan watches a DVD he made to commemorate the firefighters who died in New York City that day.

“I just sort of go into isolation that day,” he said. “I’m thankful that I wasn’t in any of those places. I think ‘Why wasn’t it me, and what am I meant to still do here?’ “

That day Gavegan decided to change his life.

“That event made me change my life entirely. I made the decision to stop traveling and look for a career change that would allow me to stay at home,” he said.

Gavegan is now a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch.


40, principal at Fruita Middle School

Brig Leane’s plan for the fall of 2001 was to move into a new home with his new wife, Kim.

They found the perfect home in Grand Junction and set a closing date for Oct. 1.

Leane had just started teaching at Palisade High School and was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

“My wife had asked if there was any way I’d get called, and I told her, ‘No,’ ” he said.

The events that took place that Tuesday halfway across the country postponed Leane’s plans to quietly settle down in Grand Junction.

By Friday, Leane had been called back into active duty and was stationed in San Diego. His job was to establish a protocol to protect every ship coming and going within the port.

The Coast Guard resolved to make sure every ship was met by an armed presence. The logistics of making that happen were difficult, Leane explained. It was a defining time for the Coast Guard and their port operations, he added.

Kim was left alone to finalize the home sale. Friends helped move their belongings into the home, and Kim followed her husband to California for an undetermined length of time.

“When you have no control over the situation, you just have to trust in God that it will somehow all work out,” he said.

Leane and his wife were able to return to their home in Grand Junction by Thanksgiving, and he was able to return to teaching.

“What I did was just a very small sacrifice, and it was nothing compared to what other people did,” he said.


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