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Biological Sciences

Born on 9/11

New York's World Trade Center Towers in the 1970s. Photo by History in HD on Unsplash.

“The President of the United States has ordered all aircraft in American airspace to the ground.”

Boston Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon already knew something was going wrong long before the pilot of his flight from Tampa to Boston made the announcement on Sept. 11, 2001, as their plane approached Washington, D.C., airspace.

The flight attendant walking down the aisle was completely pale. She looked like she was going to throw up. Or pass out. Or both. There was a troubled buzz throughout the cabin.

“Someone flew a plane into the Twin Towers,” Nixon heard another passenger say.

For Nixon, the news was disturbing on multiple levels. The Wilmington, North Carolina, native and one-time highly touted NC State football and baseball recruit from New Hanover High School was rushing to Boston for the birth of his first child, having left his nine-months-pregnant wife at home during a scheduled week-long road trip in the final month of his fifth major league baseball season.

He had gotten a call from his wife — the former Kathryn Fisher, a one-time Wolfpack cheerleader who earned an NC State degree in communications with a minor in journalism in 1992 — early that morning telling him that she was headed to the hospital with her mom and the wife of Red Sox teammate Scott Hatteburg.

The Red Sox travel secretary booked Nixon on the first flight out of Tampa that morning. Around 9:30 a.m., as the plane neared Washington airspace, it suddenly did a wings-vertical bank and headed straight to the airport in Norfolk, Virginia.

Once on the ground, Nixon learned the severity of the day. He called his parents in Wilmington, a cousin in Hertford and the hospital in Boston, where practically no one knew what was going on.

He spoke to his wife’s doctor and said for the first time the words of what he had known since he first saw the pale flight attendant walking down the aisle: “I’m not going to be there in time for the delivery.”

“We have to go ahead and welcome your son into the world,” the doctor said.

19-Hour Drive

It was a day that defies description, really, though Nixon told it as best he could to ESPN in 2011, beginning the day in Florida and trying to fly into Boston’s Logan Airport, the departure location of two of the fatal planes. It ended with a harrowing 19-hour drive up the East Coast, from Norfolk to Boston.

“I hadn’t had any sleep the night before,” Nixon recalled in a recent interview. “We had been rained out in New York and I played cards all-night on the flight to Tampa. When Kathryn called me to say she was in labor, I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep that day either.”

Neither Kathryn Nixon nor her doctors knew what was happening in Washington, D.C., New York City or Somerset County, Pennsylvania, throughout her contractions and delivery. She didn’t find out until after her son was born, when Trot gave her the details on the phone, while waiting for his cousin Nicky to pick him up in Norfolk and drive him to an eastern North Carolina exit off Interstate-95 to connect with his parents and younger sister.

The Nixon family drove north, past the burning Pentagon, around cordoned-off New York City late that night. At both places, all Nixon saw were dark plumes of smoke.

When they got to Massachusetts, Nixon drank three Mountain Dews and hit the gas pedal in his father’s car.

“No one in Massachusetts would’ve have given a Red Sox player going to see his child for the first time a ticket on that day,” he says.

They got to the hospital around 3 a.m. on Sept. 12.

That’s how Nixon, who played for three different Major League Baseball teams from 1996-2008, missed his son’s delivery.

Chase Nixon, batting for NC State, prepares to run to first base.
Chase Nixon is a sophomore outfielder on NC State’s baseball team.

He hasn’t missed a birthday since, however, a streak that continued Sunday when Trot and Kathryn Nixon traveled from Wilmington, where they have lived since he retired from baseball, to Raleigh to be with son Chase Nixon on his 21st birthday.

The younger Nixon, a sophomore outfielder on NC State’s baseball team who played in 18 games for Elliott Avent’s program last season and is majoring in business administration, is one of nine currently enrolled NC State students who were born on that tragic day, when nearly 3,000 Americans died from the terrorist attacks.

Each of those students has a unique story to tell, though few parents had the same kind of difficulty seeing their children for the first time as Nixon.

“I’ve heard the story a few times throughout my life,” says Chase Nixon, a third-generation NC State student, whose mother and both maternal grandparents graduated from the university.

Already Here

Hailey Miller of Rockingham, North Carolina, was born around 6:30 a.m., so she was already safe in her mother’s arms at Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst when the first plane hit 1 World Trade Center (the North Tower) in New York.

Her 9-year-old sister, however, was watching television in the waiting room when the first plane struck and went in to tell her family why the hospital was suddenly on emergency lockdown.

“We didn’t have anyone traveling to the hospital that day, since we all live in North Carolina, but my whole family was in panic and complete shock,” Miller says. “They had no idea what was going on.”

Hailey Miller with a young Wolfpack fan.
Hailey Miller, right, is a junior in sports management in NC State’s College of Natural Resources.

Miller grew up in Rockingham, graduated from Richmond County High School and is a junior in sports management in NC State’s College of Natural Resources.

Premature Twins

Seth and Adah Freeman of Kernersville, North Carolina, weren’t supposed to show up for their parents until early November 2001, but the morning of Sept. 11 found their parents at a hospital in Greensboro delivering twins.

“They weren’t focused on much else other than the delivery,” says Seth Freeman, a junior studying accounting in the Poole College of Management. “As the morning went by, the nurses and doctors would occasionally huddle around the televisions and whisper to each other. My dad recalled being in a surreal environment where everyone in the hospital — patients, doctors and staff — stood still, staring at the TV, silently trying to grasp what was going on in New York.”

Meanwhile, while their dad and grandmother were getting lunch in the hospital cafeteria, they received a call from their aunt, who had relatives who worked in one of the towers.

“He’s OK, he’s OK,” the aunt said into the phone.

“That phone call was one of the first things that really made our parents and grandparents realize what was happening in the outside world,” says Adah Freeman, a biology major with a human biology concentration, pursuing minors in Spanish, and art and design. “It was also how our extended family found out that we had been born.”

Seth and Adah Freeman below the Belltower.
Twins Seth and Adah Freeman both attend NC State.

Brother and sister spent the first week in the aftermath of the attacks under observation in the neonatal intensive care unit, as their parents — who both earned NC State mechanical engineering degrees in 1989 — were coping with the dual worry of their children’s health and the global terrorist threat, even though they really didn’t know all the details of the faraway events until they watched television specials on the one-year anniversary.

“Our parents have said this to my sister and me many times: Their view of the events of that day is much more joyful than most,” says Seth Freeman. “They met their children for the first time that day, and it kind of overshadowed everything else that occurred.”

Twenty-one years later, the parents and their NC State children are still celebrating the joy of that terrifying day.

This post was originally published in NC State News.