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Remembering 9-11: Todd Beamer, the Wheaton College grad on Flight 93 who said ‘Let’s roll’

Beamer became a national hero because of his call describing the hijacking to Lisa Jefferson, a supervisor at the time at the Verizon Airfone Call Center in Oak Brook.

Todd Beamer, the 9-11 Flight 93 passenger famous for saying “Let’s Roll,” was a Wheaton College graduate. His widow, Lisa, spoke Friday at a Wheaton College memorial marking the 20th anniversary of the attack.
Todd Beamer, the 9-11 Flight 93 passenger famous for saying “Let’s Roll,” was a Wheaton College graduate. His widow, Lisa, spoke Friday at a Wheaton College memorial marking the 20th anniversary of the attack.
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On this 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, let’s remember the roles of two people from the Chicago area — Todd Beamer and Lisa Jefferson — and how their lives intersected on that horrific day.

We all have our own memories of Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists turned four planes into missiles.

A plane hit each of the two World Trade Center towers. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft — the one Beamer was on — plunged into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Beamer grew up in west suburban Glen Ellyn.

Jefferson was raised on the South Side.

Beamer was on United Airlines Flight 93. His hijacked plane was believed headed to Washington, with the White House and Capitol — symbols of our nation — ripe targets.

Beamer is best known for his stirring phrase, “Let’s roll,” said before he and several other passengers rushed the terrorists, thwarting their attack plans when the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Using an Airfone, attached to the back of a headrest on a seat, Beamer simply dialed 0 and was connected to Jefferson, a supervisor at the time at the Verizon Airfone Call Center in west suburban Oak Brook. The world knows how the passengers took on the Flight 93 terrorists because of that call.

The two — each calm and with remarkable presence — talked for about 15 minutes with Beamer reporting on the situation in the plane. The passengers by then knew about the WTC attacks from calls they were able to get through.

Beamer, 32, on Sept. 11, was living in Canbury, New Jersey. He was an account manager for the Oracle Corporation, the father of two boys with another baby — a girl — on the way. He was traveling to San Francisco for a business meeting when the terrorists seized control of his flight.

A son of the western suburbs, Beamer attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School and was a member of the Wheaton Christian High School class of 1987. The school, in West Chicago, is now called Wheaton Academy.

He went to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school, where he met his wife, Lisa. They graduated Wheaton in 1991. Beamer received an MBA from DePaul University in 1993.

Lisa Brosious Beamer was back on campus Friday for a 9-11 memorial in the Edman Chapel.

Lisa Beamer (right) is the wife of United Flight 93’s hero, Todd Beamer, who simply dialed 0 from an Airfone at his seat on the plane and was connected to Lisa Jefferson (left), a supervisor at the time at the Verizon Airfone Call Center in west suburban Oak Brook.
Lisa Beamer (right) is the wife of United Flight 93’s hero, Todd Beamer, who simply dialed 0 from an Airfone at his seat on the plane and was connected to Lisa Jefferson (left), a supervisor at the time at the Verizon Airfone Call Center in west suburban Oak Brook.
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She recounted that Jefferson at first doubted Beamer because he was so calm. She explained, “Todd loved his life but he knew that his life was much more than his 32 years on this Earth. His soul was secure, even when his body wasn’t, because Jesus was his savior.”

The children of Todd and Lisa Beamer, David, Drew and Morgan —born in the months following 9-11 — all went on to attend Wheaton College.

In 2006, Jefferson and former WBBM anchor Felicia Middlebrooks wrote a book about that day, “Called,” published by an arm of the Moody Bible Institute. Jefferson wrote about how Todd Beamer “sounded so tranquil it made me begin to doubt the authenticity and urgency of the call.”

“I could hear the cries and screams in the background as Todd Beamer painted in vivid detail the occurrences aboard the plane on that awful day,” said Jefferson.

Lisa Beamer told the story to students — many not born in 2001 — of her husband’s last call. And how Beamer asked Jefferson to “pray the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 with him.”

And after that, Beamer and other passengers, heroes all, executed their plan to stop the terrorists. Said Beamer, “Let’s roll.”

My 9-11 story

Twenty years ago on the morning of 9-11, I was at Midway Airport, en route back to Washington, D.C., waiting to board a flight that, of course, never took off as all air traffic was immediately grounded. I watched, horrified, while television monitors at my gate played video of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center towers.

A few weeks later, on Sept. 30, I was in New York, at the site where the twin towers once stood, reporting on then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s visit to the ruins. That was years before he left Congress and the sex scandal that surfaced that would lead him to a prison cell.

New York’s top leaders at the time of the attack — Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki — guided Hastert. I was able to tag along. We took a boat from a nearby pier to Ground Zero. What I’ll never forget: Seeing the twisted steel fragments of the twin towers.