By Almeda Girod
On September 11, 2001, Jackie Nichols was driving to The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) where she served as Chair of the Department of Nursing. As she approached the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the traffic slowed, and she noted people on the Staten Island Express Bus were “peering to the right.” She followed their gaze and saw “a gaping hole” with lots of papers streaming from Tower #1 of the World Trade Center. There was no sound.
Jackie turned on the radio to learn that a plane had flown into the Trade Center. Her first thought was that this was unbelievable on such a clear and beautiful day. She called her daughter, and as they were talking, she witnessed a plane looping around in the sky and then flying into Tower #2. There was a large plume of smoke and flames shooting out the gaping hole in the building. Jackie felt as if she was experiencing a science fiction movie and yet knew this was a reality.
Her hands were shaking, and her mind perplexed with what was happening. Traffic was eventually diverted away from Manhattan, and she returned to her home in Brooklyn, where she witnessed on TV the collapse of the first tower.
The college where Jackie worked was located three blocks from the World Trade Center, which she drove by every day on her way to work. The college lost Fiterman Hall when Tower #7 of the World Trade Center collapsed and sheared off the side of the building. Unfortunately, eight college students lost their lives during the attack. A permanent memorial has since been erected to commemorate these students. The school was also used as a command post for first responders.
The college re-opened about three weeks later, and she describes faculty, students, and staff walking around in a daze. Armed guards were surrounding the area, which looked like a war zone with smoke and particles floating through the air, and everyone was required to wear a protective mask. Jackie recalls the daily image of trucks and barges transporting debris and steel from the destroyed site.
Jackie moved to Orchard Point from Brooklyn in October 2018 to live near her daughter and two grandchildren. She was born in Panama and migrated to the U.S. at age 11 with her older brother to reunite with their mother. She describes herself as a “woman of faith, hard worker, outgoing, and always willing to help those in need.”
Education, hard work, honesty, and respect were stressed in the household, and Jackie went on to earn a Master of Science Degree in Nursing. As the mother of two young daughters, she joined the Army Reserves and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 24 years of service.