Sheriff Charles Blackwood

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood

It’s a memory seared into our brains. The News of Orange County reached out to several current leaders in community services that were most affected by the events of 9/11/01, to get their thoughts on that tragic day, what it has meant to their careers, and what they feel looking back. 

Charles Blackwood

Orange County Sheriff

What were you doing on Sept. 11, 2001? On September 11, 2001, I was a lieutenant in the patrol division of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. I was in area 9 that day, which is the southwest part of the county that includes White Cross. I visited a community member just entering hospice care. While we talked about his condition, we had the TV on but the volume off. We saw the smoke from the first plane hitting one of the Twin Towers, but at the time, we thought it must have been a small plane that went out of control – maybe a Cessna. After I said good-bye to him, I rode down Mt. Carmel Church Road and heard a radio announcer say it had been a passenger jet. I then stopped by the house to see my wife. Together, we learned from television that a second plane hit the other tower and we were actually experiencing a coordinated terrorist attack.

What do you remember most about that time? I have the general memory of the way we were so drawn together as a country by those events, and I have the specific memory of watching people jump from the building rather than perish in the fire. In particular, I recall seeing the woman who jumped and tried to hold her skirt down so her underwear wouldn’t show. Her last act was one of moral decency, and it was such a stark contrast to the horror unfolding behind and around her.

Did the events of 9/11/01 have any affect on your career path? Specifically, the events of 9/11 forced us to be more in tune to domestic terrorism. Those attacks were the catalyst for working with partner agencies to design and implement  the current interoperability of our communication systems. In fact, the 800 MHz template for the public safety radio system we now use came from the meetings we held after 9/11 — our specific intention at those meetings was to design and build such a system.

Twenty years later, what do you think about now when you look back on that day? The events of 9/11 still affect me on a general level as well. It is, of course, part of my job to think of the unbelievable response of emergency services workers in the face of danger. But on that day, the sheer number of firefighters, paramedics, and police officers who moved into those buildings with good intentions as their last act — that was something on a whole different level. It was then, and still remains, one of the most powerful things I have ever witnessed. It sharpened my awareness of the sacred privilege it is to lead the kind of people who are willing — on a daily basis — to do that kind of thing for people they don’t even know. I can’t find words to do justice to the feeling.