Central Pa. native recalls story of surviving September 11th attacks

Remembering 9/11

CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – In 2001, John Schmittle, a Bellwood native, had just graduated from Gettysburg College. Soon after, he set his sights for New York City, where he accepted a job as a data analyst for Morgan Stanley.

On the morning of September 11th, Schmittle took the subway from his Brooklyn apartment, commuting to the World Trade Center for what he thought was just another day at the office.

Prepping for a year-end review meeting, Schmittle sat in his office, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He remembers peering out the window, moments before evacuating the building.

“Everything out the window almost looked like paper debris was falling from the sky,” Schmittle said.

Schmittle then received an alert to leave the building and had a head start in evacuating.

“When the plane hit my building it was probably 17 minutes after the first one hit. But we had started to head down the fire stairwells and so I estimated I was down maybe 15 or 20 floors whenever it hit our building,” he said.

Once he was out of the building, Schmittle says his first instinct was to flee the scene as soon as possible. He headed for the Brooklyn Bridge back to his apartment, at the time.

After about two or three hours, of his family not knowing if Schmittle was okay, he finally made contact with his mother. He remembers the moment he picked up the phone and told her to alert his loved ones that he was safe.

Schmittle was able to get in touch with his family thanks to the real estate agency which helped him find an apartment. When he opened the doors, the agents recognized him, got him a drink of water and provided Schmittle with their phone so he can contact his family. Opening their doors to him, Schmittle says they were “extremely helpful” during a difficult situation.

Schmittle says the first few anniversaries of 9/11 weren’t easy for him. He was still coming to terms with what happened, and media television coverage of the day served as constant reminders of the horrific day.

“It was tough, for probably 2 or 3 years after that I took the day off just because I didn’t know what was coming. There’s a whole lot of television coverage and everything from the sites and memorials were still there and the damage was still being processed through,” he said.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Schmittle finds it hard to believe half a lifetime has passed. He’s extremely grateful that he made it out okay, and got to fulfill all his dreams that he always hoped for.

“To be able to make it out, to continue life, to build a family and have all the opportunities I hoped for when I was younger. To still be in that situation now is fantastic,” he said.

About five years after September 11th, Schmittle got together with his now-wife, Courtney. The two both attended Bellwood-Antis High School and met through Schmittle’s sister. Now, the couple has an 8-year-old daughter.

After living in many different parts of the country, Schmitlle is glad to be back to his roots in Central Pennsylvania. Residing in Centre County, the Schmittle’s are fortunate to be living close to family.

“Family is everything. It’s wonderful. My family here is fantastic. That’s why we’re back here from all of our travels.”

Schmittle credits close relationships with family and friends to helping him cope with life, post-September 11th. He says open dialogues and talking about the situation, helped him see the situation more clearly.

“It’s given me the therapy that I feel like I needed to process it all…it’s one of the largest events in United States history, I don’t think there’s ever an end to the processing of it,” he said.

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