9/13/01: Those with area ties relate tales

This story originally appeared on Sept. 13, 2001.

A bowl of cereal may have saved Maggie Cascone's life.

Cascone, the 25-year-old daughter of Edward and Mary Cascone of Champaign, worked on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's Tower 2 as an assistant manager for Aramark Corp.

"She actually got to the base of Tower 1 at 8:55 a.m., just as the plane hit the tower," Mary Cascone said. "She left just before they hit Tower 2."

Cascone usually gets to work by 8:45 a.m., but she was delayed that morning.

"Something told her she should have a bowl of cereal before she went to work, that it was going to be a bad day," her mother said.

Maggie Cascone called her parents midmorning Tuesday to let them know she was safe.

Mary Cascone said she understood that about 15 to 20 people worked with her daughter on that floor.

"She heard this morning that all except three have been accounted for," Mary Cascone said.

A graduate of Eastern Illinois University, Maggie had worked in New York for about a year.

David Berkson, a Champaign native, moved to New York City with his fiancee, Adriana DaSilva, about 10 days ago.

He was surprised to be able to find a relatively affordable apartment in Staten Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from his new job in Manhattan.

"And there was a perfect view of the beautiful skyline," he said Wednesday afternoon. "Until yesterday, at least, I thought the view was pretty spectacular."

Even 30 hours after two airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, Berkson said, smoke still rose like a pall over that once- beautiful skyline.

Berkson lived in Champaign for 18 years, attending Booker T. Washington and Holy Cross grade schools, Edison Middle School and Central High School.

His parents, Earl and Astrid Berkson, still live in Champaign.

He was to start a new job Tuesday at a day trading firm on Wall Street. About halfway across the ferry ride to work, he looked up and saw a colorful burst amid the skyscrapers.

"I didn't see the first plane hit the building, but I saw the burst, the explosion," he said.

"I didn't know it was the World Trade Center. It almost looked like a Fourth of July explosion, like a big firework. But when the flames and smoke had cleared, I could see the gaping hole. No one on the ferry said anything. People just stood there with their mouths open. Finally, when they started talking, everyone thought it was an accident."

Berkson said he suspected otherwise. His suspicions were confirmed later when, as he got off the ferry and walked to work, he heard the roar of a jet overhead, flying unusually low and with its engines wide open.

"A huge plane that low, going that fast. No one else seemed to have any idea, but I knew immediately what was going to happen. It was tilted almost like it was going to try to fly between the buildings. When it hit it sounded like a sonic boom."

Soon there was chaos, he said.

"Everyone was screaming or crying or praying or running," Berkson said. "Or they just stood there, looking up and saying, 'Oh, my God.'

"No one knew what was going to happen next."

Berkson was still only a block or two away from the World Trade Center when the first of the towers collapsed.

"It was like something out of a movie. When I looked up there was so much smoke I couldn't see anything of the towers. I guess it was in the middle of collapsing. I was at ground level and the smoke was coming at me. And I didn't know if other buildings were going to collapse like dominoes. I just started running for the ferry. I just prayed that I'd be able to get on it and get out of there.

"I was lucky and got on. They put everyone on shoulder to shoulder. The people who had seats were wearing life vests. I didn't even know there were life vests, but I guess people just wondered what else could happen. I just kept thinking that there could be someone on the ferry with explosives strapped to them. All the way across the harbor I worried about that."

Berkson finally got home to his fiancee.

All day and night they watched the television news, heard the wail of sirens and smelled the stench of burning rubber.

Although neither he nor his fiancee was injured, Berkson said his life may be forever changed.

"I'm just worried that this is only the beginning. If these guys were able to pull off something like this, it might embolden others to try something else, something even worse. I fear this isn't the worst I'll see."

Danville resident John Rogers was in class at St. John's University in Queens when the attacks on the World Trade Towers in Manhattan occurred.

"The professor interrupted her lecture as she looked out the window to see an aircraft about 15 kilometers away from us heading toward the twin towers," Rogers, a student at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, wrote a friend in an e-mail message.

"We, the class, all looked out of the window to watch the second plane go crashing into the top of the World Trade Center."

Rogers said the class sat stunned in silence "as if we were uncertain that what we saw ... was really happening."

He said classes were canceled and all nonresident students were told to leave campus immediately.

Back in Illinois, Rogers' parents Leon and Frances Rogers of Danville were frantically trying to get in touch with their son. Leon Rogers tried calling him for several hours, but was unsuccessful, then finally sent an e-mail in the off-chance he was able to get online.

"I finally got a phone call from John around 11:30 a.m. our time," Leon Rogers recalled, adding he felt an overwhelming sense of relief. "I knew he wasn't in any physical danger. ... But our family was concerned about what John was going to do. I wanted to know where he was, and I wanted some assurance he would be safe this evening. ... The one thing I did not want was for him to be alone or with friends on the streets of New York after dark."

A doctor's appointment kept Maj. Tom Climer, 37, away from the part of the Pentagon that got hit by a plane Tuesday.

Climer, who works at the Pentagon finding housing for generals and assigning them aides-de-camp, is the son of Charles and Carol Climer of Champaign. Tom Climer called his mother about 2 p.m. Tuesday to let her know he was safe.

"Luckily for him, he had a doctor's appointment on the other side of the Pentagon when the plane crashed," said Charles Climer, a guidance counselor at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High School.

"They had to evacuate the doctor's office. There was a day care center nearby, and he helped kids get out of that," Climer added.

Climer said his son's office wasn't in the portion of the Pentagon that received direct impact but was closer to it than the doctor's office was.

Rantoul native Dave Stawick has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade.

As he walked to work late Tuesday morning his office is about eight blocks from the Capitol complex he said there was no question "that the events of the day made it seemingly look different."

Stawick said he stayed home until 11:30 a.m. or so to watch the events unfold on television and because he wanted to be in close contact with his wife, Susan, a public affairs specialist for the Federal Reserve.

While most federal offices shut down for the day, she was "working on a statement designed to give some confidence to the financial markets that the Fed is open," he said.

A former reporter at WDWS radio in Champaign, Stawick said he had a scare Tuesday morning when he tried to call his wife at her office and her line was dead.

At other times, his phone line was dead, cellphones were jammed and he had difficulty getting a long-distance line to call his parents, Alice and Arthur Stawick, in Rantoul. He eventually reached them.

Stawick is a registered lobbyist with the Alliance for Agricultural Conservation and the National Conservation Buffer Council.

His walk to his office takes him by Union Station, where Amtrak, commuter trains and the subway lines are accessed. It was closed Tuesday.

"It was really kind of a surreal sight. You could almost compare it to the biggest cigarette break you've ever seen outside a government office building.

"A lot of people who obviously work in Washington, D.C., were standing around rather idly outside this building. It's because they have no place else to go," he said.

People were quiet, on cellphones and listening to radios. There were long lines at a couple of restaurants in his neighborhood, people who would probably normally eat in Union Station, he said.

"I hear sirens from time to time, although you wonder today, 'Are they going to a routine fire or has something else happened?' As an individual, the way I feel is sort of on a hair trigger," he said.

As he walked to work, he heard jets and looked up, something he wouldn't normally do. They were apparently taking off from Andrews Air Force Base.

Stawick said no local news reporters could get close enough to the Pentagon to get detailed pictures of the devastation. All pictures were taken from the ground as no helicopters were allowed in the air.

"It tells me it's indicative of the immensity (of the fatalities)," he said. "It is a huge building."

Valerie Karr, an Illinois State University senior who's working as an intern in Washington this semester, can't say anything about the actions or whereabouts of her boss, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R- Ill., after the New York news stunned his office.

Karr, a 23-year-old Seymour resident, was still in shock Tuesday afternoon.

"We started about 8 a.m. and it was business as usual until someone turned on the television," she said.

"We were still adjusting to the New York news when we had an office meeting to review evacuation rules. It was like school when you have meetings about what to do if there's a tornado."

At that meeting at the Rayburn House Office Building, Karr and Hastert's staff members realized disaster had struck closer to home when they looked out a window and saw black smoke pouring out of the Pentagon.

After that, evacuation was a reality.

"Part of me likes to think we'll go back to work Wednesday," Karr said. "After all, this is the United States. But I don't know. We haven't heard."

Michael Ayers, a 22-year-old University of Illinois graduate, works as a Washington intern for U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C.

Ayers, a Bement native, said Hayes' office at the Cannon House Office Building was host to a North Carolina Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday, but as news filtered in from New York, the meeting quickly fell apart.

"After we heard about the Pentagon, the whole Capitol was evacuated," Ayers said.

"The whole staff went to Hayes' place three blocks from the Capitol to watch what was going on.

"It's shocking," he said. "We can't take it all in yet. It doesn't feel like it's real."

Early Tuesday morning, Shauna Lyon awoke to the sound of a low- flying plane above her loft apartment in Soho, in lower Manhattan.

Lyon, a 1993 University of Illinois graduate and former St. Joseph resident, had just moved to the New York neighborhood a mile or so north of the World Trade Center.

"I've only heard a plane that low once before. The thought flashes through your mind, 'It's going to crash into a building,'" she said. "I quickly forgot about it."

Lyon didn't realize how prophetic that thought was until she turned on the television 10 minutes later to check the weather before she left for work at The New Yorker magazine.

She learned that not one but two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack.

Don Dodson, Tom Kacich, Noelle McGee


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