Anniversary of 9/11 stirs memories in Indiana legal community

Keywords Terrorism

On Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, Dave Remondini was settled into his seat as his train left New York City. Just as his car dipped into the tunnel that runs beneath the Hudson River, he looked out the window at the skyline and immediately saw the twin towers jutting into the bright blue sky.

“I didn’t realize I would never see them again,” Remondini said. “None of us would.”

Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 people who had been going about their everyday lives on a beautiful late summer morning.

Hijacked passenger planes flew into the north tower and the south tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan causing the buildings to burn and eventually fall to the ground. Another airliner smashed into the Pentagon while United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The passengers had overpowered their attackers and likely prevented the plane from hitting another target in Washington, D.C.

Remondini, then counsel to now-retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard, woke on Sept. 11 in Albany, New York, where he was to be a panelist at an access to justice conference. As he was getting ready, word reached him that a plane had crashed into one of the towers.

The conference was delayed as organizers and participants tried to comprehend what was happening. Deciding that canceling would be a “win” for the terrorists, the conference started at lunch and in the afternoon, Remondini took part in the panel discussion.

Holding the attention of an audience during any kind of forum can be difficult, but he remembered everyone really struggling to stay focused.

“You could feel people were still in shock and reeling,” Remondini said. “It almost felt odd to go ahead with it with everything that was happening.”

Lawyers across Indiana, like Remondini, remember where they were and what they were doing when the attacks started.

John Purcell, then a partner at what is now Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, was on a plane that flew by the World Trade Center shortly after the first tower was hit. In an interview with The Indiana Lawyer a few weeks after 9/11, he said as the passengers looked at the “long plume of black smoke” that was coming from the building, they assumed it was caused by an accident.

Daniel Gioia at Burke Costanza & Carberry in Valparaiso worried about his adult children. On Sept. 11, his oldest son, Tom, was working at the former Bear Stearns in New York, his daughter, Martha, was living in Arlington, Virginia, not far from the Pentagon, and his other son, David, was a student at Georgetown University. His youngest, Carl, was still attending Valparaiso High School. In an email, Gioia said he asked Carl if he realized how close he came to being an only child.

Asheesh Agarwal, now deputy general counsel at TechFreedom, was then an associate at Mayer Brown Rowe & Mawe in Chicago. He was working on the 20th floor in a skyscraper about a block from the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) when he read about the first tower being hit on the Drudge Report.

Soon rumors swirled that other hijacked planes were headed to the Windy City so workers were told to evacuate the downtown. Agarwal had to take the train to get to his apartment north of the city and he was worried about the public transit system being bombed or attacked with poison gas.

Later in the day, tired of being by himself as the terrible news kept unfolding, Agarwal gathered his dirty clothes and went to the nearby laundromat. The normally quiet place where customers usually washed and dried their attire in silence was filled with chatter as strangers talked about the events of the day and passed along more rumors.

Remondini just wanted to return home to be with family and friends, but finding transportation became an ordeal. Although some colleagues from Chicago who had attended the conference were able to get a rental car and offered him a ride, his wife had been able to get him a ticket on an Amtrak train that would carry him to Hammond.

Rather than being angry about having to spend the trip in a broken seat with an overhead light that was burned out, he was grateful because he had gotten the last seat on the overcrowded train. Like the people at Agarwal’s laundry, the passengers on the train were chatting and Remondini had a conversation with his seatmate that prior to 9/11 they likely would not have spoken.

“I was happy to be headed home,” he said.

A few weeks after the attacks, Agarwal called the opposing counsel from a case that had recently settled. They had offices in the twin towers and he was wondering how they were doing.

The attorneys said they were fine, but then they made a request that brought a reminder of that terrible day. A settlement check that Agarwal had sent had been lost when the towers fell and they asked that another be reissued.

Agarwal immediately sent the payment.

Mike Commons, an associate at Wanzer Edwards in Indianapolis, got a heartbreaking reminder six months after the attacks.

He had been at home getting ready for class at Indiana University Maurer School of Law when his wife called on the morning of 9/11 and told him to turn on the television. Commons soon went to his classmates’ home, not wanting to be alone while watching the tragedy continue on the news.

Over the coming days, the TVs were turned off and life began to tentatively resume. Commons remembered law school providing a refuge where he and the other students could push out the fears of terrorism by throwing themselves into their studies.

Then, as he and his wife were packing for spring break in March 2002, he got a phone call. His cousin, Army Pfc. Matthew Commons, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, was the youngest of seven soldiers killed in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. He had just turned 21 two weeks before.

“I remember thinking to myself,” Commons said, “it’s terrible that he’s not gotten to do any of these things we see ourselves doing like getting married, having children and progressing in our careers.”

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