“Hello? Yes, our plane is being hijacked by three men. What do they want? Money? Will they give ransom demands?”
So began United Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer’s frantic call to a Verizon Call Center, and operator Lisa Jefferson, forever linking the two together in one of the most tragic events in American history.
Speaking to dozens of men, women and children filling the benches at Greater St. Bible Church in Austin last Wednesday, Jefferson, misty-eyed yet dignified, recalled the conversation and events of that Sept. 11, 2001 morning. It was the most unforgettable 13-minute call she would ever receive.
“I never want people to forget the events of that day,” said Jefferson during an evening service at the church, 1256 N. Waller. “We owe it to the families of the victims to always remember, and do our best to promote a better understanding of each other.”
Johnson wants everyone to realize that the events of September 11, 2001 should never become moot in the eyes of the public, particularly those growing less concerned about the lessons learned on that day.
Prior to the events on 9/11, Jefferson led a simple life residing in the south suburbs of Chicago, with her husband of 13 years and two children.
Her husband, a loyal West Sider, convinced her to attend the church he joined after they married. She’s been attending Greater St. John Bible Church ever since.
She worked for Verizon’s call center in Oakbrook, when she took the call, which was relayed to her by another operator.
“I wasn’t supposed to have taken the call, in fact, most of the Verizon wireless services were down at the time, but Todd’s call went through,” said Jefferson. “He told me what was happening, and that he wanted me to convey to his wife that he deeply regrets not being there for the birth of their child and that he loved her.
“He then told me that he was a Sunday school teacher and wanted me to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him,” Jefferson added. “It was a deeply emotional moment.”
After the prayer, Beamer, as if through a clarity and inner peace by, Jefferson recalled, decided what he would do next. He rallied the other passengers with the command of: “Let’s roll.”
What happened next is part of the 9/11 legacy, as the passengers reportedly attempted to fight off the terrorist and seize control of the plane.
Though the plane would ultimately crash in Pennsylvania on 9/11, their effort probably saved thousands of more lives on the ground. After living through the ordeal, Jefferson had to live with its aftermath in the months that followed.
“I couldn’t sleep, I had horrible bouts of depression and I had to seek counseling,” she said, still considering herself a private person despite being thrust into the spotlight by chance.
“After the FBI gave the okay for me to speak with Todd’s wife a few days after 9/11, I conveyed his message, as well as the irony of her also being named Lisa. Everything happens for a reason.”
Jefferson lived in virtual silence from the media for about a month and a half before she
finally decided to agree to her first interview about the call.
“I decided to speak out because I thought it was a story that needed to be told,” Jefferson recalled. “I was interviewed by the Pennsylvania-based Post-Gazette Newspaper. I thought people should know what bravery those passengers showed on that day, and how selflessly they gave of themselves to save others.”
With that purpose in mind, Jefferson also collaborated with Chicago journalist Felicia
Middlebrooks of News Radio 78 for book about the incident.
Scheduled for release in July, the book “Called,” recounts the events surrounding her conversation with Todd Beamer, the tearful discussion with his wife that followed, and the greater spiritual significance Jefferson took from the entire ordeal.
Jefferson, though, is not too concerned about a backlash by those who may accuse her of profiting from the tragedy.
“Everyone will have their own opinion and is entitled to it,” Jefferson said. “However, I know in my heart that this is a story that I am telling because it needs to be told. Just like the filmmakers of the 9/11 docu-dramas know that this story must never be forgotten.”
Has she seen the new movie “United 93”, which recounts moment-by-moment the tragic yet heroic flight?
“Actually I have,” she replied. “I thought it was a wonderfully made film, very much in keeping with the feelings of shock and outrage felt by the entire nation in the days that followed.”