Tragedy gives clarity through wreckage
Alumna learns journalistic truths
“Grab a VHS tape. Get out of bed,” Erica Ricci Weidenroth said as she rushed into her roommate and best friend’s dorm room at Liberty University.
Johanna Price Calfee groggily wiped the sleep from her eyes, jumped out of bed, grabbed the videotape and ran to the quad’s common room. She shoved the tape in the player and pressed record.
“We have everything on tape,” Calfee said. “I’ve never watched it, though.”
The day was Sept. 11, 2001. The needle on the clock hovered somewhere near the time of 9 a.m.
Calfee and Weidenroth joined their Dorm 30 quadmates, where the 10 young women gathered around the tiny TV-VCR combo, watching the horrific events of the terrorist attacks on the United States of America unfold.
Although they were far away from the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., fear for loved ones’ safety sat like a heavy weight in the pit of many students’ stomachs.
“We were still really scared,” Calfee said. “We weren’t quite sure if we were out of the woods because there were rumors going around that Lynchburg was fourth or fifth on the list of places to be hit because of the nuclear reactors.”
The university temporarily cancelled classes to allow for students to gather for a time of fellowship and prayer.
“Basically, instead of convo, we had prayer — it was the whole school,” Calfee said.
An overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and fear blanketed the Liberty campus.
“We were all in a state of shock,” she said. “Cells went down, and there were a lot of panicked parents.”
After meeting in the Vines Center for a prayer session, Calfee’s journalistic nature began to kick in.
“I was dying to be on the ground at Ground Zero,” Calfee said. “I wanted first hand experience.”
As The Liberty Champion’s opinion editor, Calfee’s mind naturally shifted into reporter mode. Someone had to tell the story — get the facts out.
“As opinion editor, my job was to talk about the emotional part,” Calfee said. “I wanted more than anything to tell the story.”
But for Calfee, reporting the facts and figures acted more like a catharsis to assuage the wounds left by the bent steel and changed skyline of New York City.
“All I could think to do was put it on paper,” Calfee said.
Covering the events of Sept. 11, 2001 allowed Calfee the ability to gain a new perspective on the hurt many students on campus were experiencing.
“It was very personal for students — especially my New York friends,” Calfee said. “It was terrible for them.”
Although Calfee was not in New York City reporting on the events live from Ground Zero, her experiences in Virginia taught her the true meaning of journalism.
“It was great training — so shocking, numbing,” Calfee said. “You have to turn off (the emotions) and grieve later.”
Even after she graduated, Calfee’s experiences reporting on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks did not end. Rather, she was eventually able to report from Ground Zero.
“I got married and moved to New York City a year later,” Calfee said. “I got first hand experience of New York grieving one year later.”
No one can deny that the events on Sept. 11, 2001 were life altering — Calfee doesn’t even attempt to hide the impact the dreadful day had on her life.
“For me, it was a defining moment of my college experience,” Calfee said. “You live in a bubble. It’s a safe place. The event was eye opening for what my future career would be covering stories with pain.”