MAUI, Hawaii (KHON2) — The horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 reverberated across the country and caused insurmountable anguish. A total of 2,996 people were killed that day.
They were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Their families still mourn them.
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Elizabeth Jordan remembers it like it was yesterday — even after 20 years.
“I can picture, yes, everything about it,” Jordan said.
The trauma is still palpable decades later. The terrorist attacks altered her life forever.
It was the day she lost the love of her life, her husband, 34-year-old Robert Thomas Jordan.
Rob was born in New York but his family is from Oahu, so he spent a lot of time on the islands. He and Elizabeth met at UC Berkeley. The pair exchanged phone numbers in May 1991 and were married in August the following year.
They were living in New York in September 2001. He was working as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center.
Elizabeth said he was not even supposed to be there on that fateful Tuesday morning.
“His father was having his throat surgery for his cancer at Yale, New Haven,” she explained. “We were supposed to go to the surgery and his stepmom made a change at the last minute and said come after, after work.”
So Rob headed off to work that day.
“He went to work early that morning, as usual, got his regular train, the 6:30 train from Williston Park, where we lived in Long Island.”
Elizabeth was teaching the 5th grade at a nearby school.
She was called out of class just before 9 a.m.
“They brought me down to the office, into the principal’s office, and showed me the TV monitor that was above the desk and, and they said, ‘Is that where Rob works?’ And I said, ‘It is and, and that’s his tower.'”
American Airlines flight 11 hit the 86th floor of the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.
Rob’s office was located just above that — between the 101st and 105th floors.
The next two weeks were filled with confusion. She searched for Rob, like thousands of others who were clinging to hope.
“I left his car at the train station for months,” she said. “The police would periodically knock on my door, you know, ‘Miss Jordan, do you want to move the car from the train station?’ I said, ‘Oh, no, no, he’s, he’s gonna drive it home.'”
He never did. Rob and 657 of his coworkers were killed that day.
“They had taken their computers and they had thrown them through the windows so they could breathe. They were saying all the fire doors were locked. So they were saying, ‘We’re trapped on the floor. We can’t get off the floor. There’s tons of smoke.’ They couldn’t breathe, they were all suffocating. And so a lot of them went out the window, and I’m pretty sure that’s what he did.”
Days turned into months and months into years. She waited.
“I just remember lots of confusion and just hoping that he would be found was really the truth of it for a long time. And I didn’t get any remains until about 2003.”
That gave her some closure.
She still wears the lei from a paddle-out ceremony held for Rob.
Not everyone was as lucky.
“One of my friends still thinks that her husband’s, you know, like maybe in the Bahamas,” she said. “I think when it’s such a tragic event and so much trauma that it just gets very confusing.”
The trauma she suffered from 9/11 kept her from returning to the classroom. She admitted she was angry for a very long time, but honoring his memory and creating a legacy in his name helped her find some peace.
A scholarship fund was created at Rob’s boarding school and Orange Coast College purchased a rowing boat in his honor.
True healing from the heart-wrenching experience has been an ongoing process for her. She is grateful for those who have stuck by her through the years.
“One of the greatest blessings is the love of his friends that have continued on,” she said. “Everybody reaching out. I just feel like I have a bunch of cheerleaders wanting me to be happy and wanting me to have love.”
She spent a great deal of time in support groups; Being with others who lost loved ones on 9/11 or suffered other tragedies made her feel less alone.
“That camaraderie, that’s been really special.”
But she admitted some days are easier than others and certain things still trigger her.
“I recall when I was watching the movie Titanic and the boat went up and the bodies were falling off of the boat deck. And I stood up and had to leave the theater.”
She is never quite sure how she is going to react or feel on the anniversary of 9/11, so she tries to make sure her meals are prepared and she does not have to do anything in case she feels overwhelmed.
Since the anniversary ceremony was canceled in New York City in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic, Elizabeth spent the day on Molokai.
“I’m blessed to be on Molokai. I plan on being in the water. For me, the water is the most healing thing I can do. I have my journal. I write, write, write most of the day.”
She hoped 2021 would have been better than 2020.
“Last year, unexpectedly, people started posting the bodies falling photos,” she explained. “I hadn’t paid much attention to that for a long time and maybe suppressed it or pushed it away. I’m not quite sure what I did with that. So that just unglued me and I sat there, that particular anniversary, pretty near frozen.”
She said she misses his friendship and support the most.
When asked about what she would say to Rob today, Elizabeth said:
“Just that I love him and that I miss him. We would be playing golf and just goofing around. He really had this laugh that, I kid you not, if you were sitting in a restaurant 20 tables away, you would have heard him laughing. It was so distinctive, and it went on and on and on. So I would just want him to know that I love him and appreciate him — that’s the most important thing.”ELIZABETH JORDAN, WIDOW OF 9/11 VICTIM
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The one thing 9/11 taught her: Never take anything for granted.
“Be kind, be loving and tell the people that you love that you love them because they may just not come home,” Elizabeth said. “No one could have fathomed that he wasn’t going to come home that day.”