On September 11, 2001, Vaughn Allex was going through his normal routine.
While working the American Airline ticket counter at Washington Dulles International Airport early that morning, two men approached the desk. As he told StoryCorps, the men were late for their flight — Flight 77.
9:37 am – Hijackers aboard Flight 77 crash the plane into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Killing 184 people. pic.twitter.com/UKy11ErR5u
— Brendan Grainger (@S118869) September 11, 2017
Allex, not giving the men a second thought, followed the procedure that was in place at the time and made sure they got to their flight on time. According to StoryCorps, following protocol, he:
[C]hecked both men’s IDs, asked them a few standard security questions, and then flagged their bags for extra scrutiny.
But as Allex told StoryCorps:
“I didn’t know what I had done.”
Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
The following day, when Allex returned to work, he noticed the difference in how people were treating him. Then officials approached him, handing him the manifest for American Airlines Flight 77. He said:
“I came to work and people wouldn’t look at me in the eye. I just stared at it for a second and then I looked up, I go, ‘I did it, didn’t I?'”
Upon learning this news, Allex thought about the other individuals he checked in for same flight — a retiree’s family, teachers, parents, a student group.
— Zesty New York News (@zesty_NY) September 12, 2016
And then it hit him:
“They were gone. They were just all gone.”
As word spread, people began distancing themselves from Allex.
He believed he was to blame for the 184 lives lost when Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
“I had this wild kind of thing in my mind that everything that happened on September 11 was my fault personally, that I could have changed it.”
He recalled to StoryCorps the time a customer told him she lost her husband on September 11. Instead of hearing her admission, he heard her blaming him for her husband’s death.
Allex believed he no longer had a place in this world, but he couldn’t bring himself to talk with anyone about it.
He explained to StoryCorps:
“How do I sit in a room with people that are, that are mourning and crying and they’re like, ‘What’s your role in this whole thing?’ ‘Well, I checked in a couple of the hijackers and made sure they got on the flight.'”
Over time, he has begun to heal.
— 9/11 Day (@911day) September 11, 2017
To this day, Allex still feels the wave of guilt, it’s “still there in some form.” But now, he’s ready to talk about it.
He said: “I feel like in some ways I’ve — I really have come out of a shadow over the last 15 years. And I’m — I’m back in the light now.”