MOUNT VERNON — Sept. 11, 2001, was a day that many of us can remember, but not necessarily with fond memories. Sally Wetzel of Reading, Pa., is one who definitely has memories of that day. Sally’s sister, Molly (Hornberger) McKenzie, was one of 125 people who died when a hijacked airliner crashed into the U.S. Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on that fateful day.
Molly L. Hornberger was a 1981 alumnus of Mount Vernon High School and also graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene College in 1985. She was one of five children of Ray and Betty Hornberger, formerly of Mount Vernon. She was living in Dale City, Va., just southwest of Washington, D.C., and had been working for 14 years as a financial analyst for the Department of the Army at the Pentagon at the time of the terrorist attacks.
American Airlines Flight 77 left Washington Dulles International Airport that day at 8:20 a.m. bound for Los Angeles. The hijacking of the plane began at 8:51, just five minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center. Air traffic controllers reported the plane deviated from its course at 8:54 and had its communications transponder turned off at 8:56. It was reportedly heading toward the White House, but overshot its target and changed its course, heading toward the Pentagon and striking the western side of its target at 9:37 a.m.
“We were watching television when we saw the news of the World Trade Center attacks,” said Wetzel. “I thought I might call [Molly], but I didn’t.” Later when the Pentagon attack occurred, there were many phone calls from those who had heard about the Pentagon being hit. “We didn’t know for sure until the body was confirmed,” she said. “We kind of assumed since we hadn’t heard from her,” noting that others including Molly’s ex-husband hadn’t heard from her either.
Wetzel and other family members later went to Washington where help centers were set up for information. Counseling services were also offered for those who felt they had the need. Letters of condolence were later received from President George W. Bush and the Governor of Pennsylvania.
“She was a nice girl and a good student,” said Lora Donoho in recalling Molly when she was a student. Donoho had previously been the athletic director at MVNU while her husband, John, had been dean of students. “We were just so shocked and saddened when we heard the news.”
Donoho recalled that she was in her office at about 3 in the afternoon when she was told about the attacks in New York City and later received word of Molly’s death which came by e-mail from MVNU.
A high school friend, Tom Sawaya, told the News, “I knew her pretty well. I met her when she was a senior,” said Sawaya. “She was a very pretty girl, and was kind of quiet and shy until you got to know her. Then she was fun-loving and outgoing with her close circle of friends.”
One friend who knew Molly well is Robin Mayes-Stacy who is now director of Hospitality and Facility Care Services at the Knox County Career Center. “We were very good friends in college. Molly was a very kind-hearted, gentle person,” said Stacy about her relationship with Molly. Stacy had rented a room from Molly’s parents over one summer, telling how they got to know each other better over this time.
“She always wanted to work in Washington; that was her goal,” said Stacy. “The plane hit directly into the office where she was working at the Pentagon.”
Stacy told the News how she was able to attend Molly’s funeral. “On Sept. 13 they officially announced that she was missing, and on Oct. 13, her sister, Judy, called and said they found the DNA that proved that it was her,” she said. “Sept. 11 has a very strong meaning in my heart because of just knowing that a friend lost their life because of the terrorist attacks. It makes it very personal. I hope we never forget what happened in our nation and that we need to stand for our freedom.”
Besides her mother, two brothers, Larry and Kenny; two sisters, Sally and Judy, Molly left behind two daughters, Alana and Lea, and an ex-husband, Shane.
An article was published in MVNU’s edition of NOW on Jan. 11, 2002, recalling the life of Molly Hornberger McKenzie. Also published was a letter from Robin Stacy calling for a memorial scholarship to be established in Molly’s name. A plaque now sits near a flower bed and flag pole at the entrance of MVNU dedicated by Molly’s family and friends in her honor.
Security has been of great concern for many since that day 10 years ago. Measures have been stepped up at airports and other places to make sure that safety is now a top priority.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m concerned. We can’t live in fear,” said Wetzel. “We do not know what tomorrow will hold. I know that President Bush made considerable efforts to assure our country is safe.”
Wetzel stated she thinks there has been sufficient recognition for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks that day. “They have set up memorials at various locations,” she said. “I don’t know what more they can do. We can’t really recognize them any more than we do for those of the many wars.”
“We have a choice to make in living our lives to the fullest and appreciate the loved ones around us,” said Wetzel. “It’s important to remember the good times you’ve had with those you’ve lost.”