MURRAY — Sam Steger was at his Murray home preparing to go to work at Kentucky State Police Post 1 in Graves County on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
It was not supposed to be a day of anything special, really. A detective with KSP, he said there were no cases of tremendous importance on his schedule. It was just another sunny day in western Kentucky for a man who had become a father about a year earlier to a pair of twin girls.
He was watching NBC’s “Today” program, which had just reported a plane crash at one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The initial reports were of a small plane being involved.
Then, a few minutes later, as he and millions watched, everything changed. All of a sudden, a jet airliner appeared as a camera showed the burning top of the North Tower. Seconds later, a massive, fiery explosion as the plane struck the South Tower.
“My first thought was, ‘I’m about to watch a lot of people lose their lives,’ he said. It is believed that with that fireball, the lives of 65 people, including the five men who had hijacked the Boeing 757 jumbo jet, ended. Many others inside the South Tower also died in that moment.
“My next thought was, ‘Why would any human being do that? Why would anyone want to kill that many people?’ I was like anybody else. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
It then became apparent that the first plane — which actually was another jumbo jet — had also been intentionally flown into the North Tower. All told, the crashes into the World Trade Center towers would account for 2,606 of the 2,977 deaths that would occur that day as four planes were hijacked by followers of the al-Quada terrorist network and its leader Osama Bin Laden.
Another plane would crash into the Pentagon in Washington a few minutes after the second plane struck the Twin Towers, while a fourth plane never made its target after passengers overtook their captors, forcing their pilots to fly the jet into the ground in western Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, Steger, who is now Calloway County’s sheriff, knew his day was no longer routine.
“As soon as that second plane hit, I immediately got dressed and headed to the post,” he said, recalling how he took the half-hour drive from Murray to Hickory as soon as the sitter for the girls arrived that day. “First thing they’re telling us is that we’ve got to keep an eye on things, in case somebody wanted to cause something. Then we’re getting notifications from the FBI about people we need to watch out for who may be in our area.
“It was strange.”
Current Calloway County Emergency Management Director Bill Call was still teaching electronics at Murray State University on that morning. He recalled how the drive to the campus was rather peaceful with blue skies overhead in the early-morning sun.
He said he was on North 16th Street, just minutes from his usual area inside the Martha Layne Collins Center for Industry and Technology. Then his vehicle radio began spreading news that turned things dark in a hurry.
“I’m listening to WKMS and they’re describing on their morning programming how a plane has hit one of the towers of the Trade Center. I thought, ‘Well, that’s not good. I hope it’s not too bad,’” he said, recalling how the broadcasters were treating the first plane crash as an accident. Then the second plane struck.
“At that moment, I knew it was no accident. Our country was under attack.”
At that time, he was the communications officer for the Calloway County Office of Emergency Management because of his familiarity with radio systems, namely ham radios. Call also dealt with two-way radios and he said he has come to find, years later, that two-way communication basically was the only way emergency personnel were able to relay signals that day in New York City.
“Cell phone traffic was impossible because they lost one of their key cell towers when the Trade Center collapsed,” he said, noting how, in a roundabout way, the attacks actually led to his present-day position as director.
“Back then, Jeff Steen was director, but shortly after the attacks, we started getting communications from the state about homeland security, and one of the things that came up was hazardous response training. Jeff said, ‘Bill, why don’t you do some work with this?’ So I did. Nobody knew it then, but that was eventually how we came to have Hazmat 1 in our area (which now has an affiliate out of the Murray Fire Department).
“And when Jeff later decided to step down as director, well, it was because of my experience with hazmat that I was given the director’s job.”