It was the Friday night following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America.

As I had all week, I was anchoring the 11 p.m. news live when we aired a three-minute story about families and individuals at Ground Zero passing out “Missing” flyers.

They were still holding out hope their loved ones had magically survived in the fallen towers.

At one point, a young man started talking about his younger brother.

Holding a flyer with his brother’s picture on it, he talked about how they had shared a room growing up and he couldn’t imagine life without him.

Then he started sobbing.

At that second, for me, days of pent-up hidden emotion flooded my head.

The horrible attack had left nearly 3,000 innocent people dead in a single morning.

It had happened on our own shores, the scope of the destruction almost beyond comprehension.

The tallest buildings in our nation’s largest city brought down in two hours.

The Pentagon in Washington, DC, the symbol of our military might, now had a huge smoldering hole in its side.

A third plane, brought down by heroes on board, had been on its way to destroy either the U.S. Capitol or the White House.

How could this happen in America, the most powerful nation on Earth?

[EXCLUSIVE: Pataki, Giuliani, Clinton & New York Following 9/11 by Jim Heath]

The family members and loved ones and the entire country were still trying to make sense of it all.

As the story ended, the camera came back to me.

For a split second I couldn’t move I looked down, trying to regain my composure, but a tear was already making its way down my cheek.

Feeling suffocated was a new experience for me on live television, but that story—especially the young man looking for his brother—had been too much.

Another second or two went by before I looked up and quietly said, “excuse me,” and ignoring what was on the teleprompter, ad-libbed:

“Whatever you’re doing right now please join us in remembering the thousands who died earlier this week and send a prayer to their families.”

It was the single most difficult moment in my television career.

May we always remember the victims, and continue to send prayers to their families.


WATCH: Jim Heath & MSNBC 9/11 Story:


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