Hiding in plain sight: A 30-year-old hijacking mystery solved on 9/11

A breezy and seasonally satisfying Tuesday, September 11, 2001, began with the promise that beat reporters crave – the knowledge that my story would appear on the front page.

Riding high from the previous night attending Michael Jackson’s 30th-anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden, my editor implored that I go straight to a school in Mount Vernon, NY.

She knew how to spoil a great evening watching the greatest pop music entertainer ever reunite with his brothers for a spectacular night at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

In Mount Vernon, my editor told me that I’d find the compelling story of Patrick Dolan Critton, a 54-year-old teacher who for 30 years hid as a fugitive in plain sight.

Critton belonged to a Black liberation group that, in 1971, allegedly robbed a bank and engaged in a shootout with cops.

The group then hijacked an airplane to escape arrest.

But there he was, teaching high school in New York as if he had never been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and oblivious to the desperate desires the NYPD maintained for his capture.

Yes, this had A-1, above the fold, written all over it with my byline.

Early that morning, I gathered the pertinent details and headed back to my bureau located in nearby New Rochelle.

Indeed, I possessed all the goods, and if we were a tabloid, I’d have “The Wood.”
Entering the office shortly after 9 a.m. I discovered that my colleagues were standing around the bureau’s wall-mounted television.

The first terrorist-controlled airplane had just struck the Twin Towers.

“Wow, what an accident,” a colleague remarked.

Moments later, after the second airplane struck the towers, one colleague shirked, “That’s no accident!”
It certainly was not. I had been to the World Trade Center, been in those towers many times, and right before our eyes, they were reduced to rubble.

Shocking and completely unnerving, my colleagues and I realized that thousands of lives probably were vanquished. They were. More than 3,000 eventually died.

The terrorists weren’t finished. Far from it.

Another airplane would rock the western side of the Pentagon in D.C., and still, one more crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania. We began to wonder how many more airplanes the terrorists had hijacked.
Suddenly, my hijacking story fell off the radar – ticketed for the middle of the newspaper.

Someone had declared war on America, and for the first time since Pearl Harbor, an enemy attacked the United States on U.S. soil.

Phones in the office rang wildly.

Reporters who had loved ones in lower Manhattan ignored the incoming calls, choosing, of course, to check in on their loved ones.

Jermaine Jackson, the king of pop’s brother, called me.

“How do we get out of New York? Can you help us get out of the city,” Jackson asked?

The Jackson family had arrived in New York as part of Michael’s shows to celebrate his anniversary in show business.

At that time, we were longtime acquaintances and collaborators.

“This is scary. People are panicking,” exclaimed Jackson, who, along with several family members, stayed at the W Hotel in downtown Manhattan not far from the terrorist attacks.

Ultimately, the Jacksons rented two RVs and escaped from New York by taking the 3,000-mile drive back to Los Angeles.

Still, for me, the irony couldn’t be overstated.

I sat there, a notebook containing facts about a man named Critton who hijacked an airplane 30 years prior.

American Justice had finally caught up with him.

His story was as big as any, but now a footnote.

A terror mastermind named Osama bin Laden, who lived a cloak and dagger life more than 6,700 miles away in Afghanistan and escaping U.S. forces by living from cave to cave and underground bunker to underground bunker, stole Critton’s frontpage.

Bin Laden stole my front page. But, more importantly, his wicked and cowardly act cost thousands of precious lives and caused countless heartbreak.

Twenty years later, I’m confident that many would have preferred if my story remained the biggest headline of September 11, 2001.

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October 16, 2023, HOUSTON, TX – Congressional Candidate Amanda Edwards has raised over $1 million in less than 4 months, a substantial sum that helps bolster the frontrunner status of the former At-Large Houston City Council Member in her bid for U.S. Congress. Edwards raised over $433,000 in Q3 of 2023. This strong Q3 report expands on a successful Q2 where Edwards announced just 11 days after declaring her candidacy that she had raised over $600,000. With over $829,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of the September 30th financial reporting period, Edwards proves again that she is the clear frontrunner in the race. “I am beyond grateful for the strong outpouring of support that will help me to win this race and serve the incredible people of the 18th Congressional District,” said Edwards. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s trajectory, and we need to send servant leaders to Congress who can deliver the results the community deserves. The strong support from our supporters will help us to cultivate an 18th Congressional District where everyone in it can thrive.” Edwards said. “Amanda understands the challenges that the hard-working folks of the 18th Congressional District face because she has never lost sight of who she is or where she comes from; she was born and raised right here in the 18th Congressional District of Houston,” said Kathryn McNiel, spokesperson for Edwards’ campaign. Edwards has been endorsed by Higher Heights PAC, Collective PAC, Krimson PAC, and the Brady PAC. She has also been supported by Beto O’Rourke, among many others. About Amanda: Amanda is a native Houstonian, attorney and former At-Large Houston City Council Member. Amanda is a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD. Edwards earned a B.A. from Emory University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Edwards practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP and Bracewell LLP before entering public service. Edwards is a life-long member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Acres Homes. For more information, please visit www.edwardsforhouston.com

As September 13th rolls around, we extend our warmest birthday wishes to the creative powerhouse, Tyler Perry, a man whose indomitable spirit and groundbreaking work have left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. With his multifaceted talents as an actor, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director, Tyler Perry has not only entertained but also inspired audiences worldwide, particularly within the African-American community, where his influence and role have been nothing short of powerful. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1969, Tyler Perry’s journey to stardom was a path riddled with adversity. Raised in a turbulent household, he found refuge in writing, using it as a therapeutic outlet. This period of introspection gave rise to one of his most iconic creations, Madea, a vivacious, no-nonsense grandmother who would later become a beloved figure in Perry’s works, offering a unique blend of humor and profound life lessons. Despite facing numerous challenges, including rejection and financial struggles, Perry’s determination and unwavering belief in his abilities propelled him forward. In 1992, he staged his first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” which, although met with limited success, was a pivotal moment in his career. Unfazed by initial setbacks, Perry continued to hone his craft, and by 1998, he had successfully produced a string of stage plays that showcased his storytelling prowess.

Calling all teenage student-athletes! If you have dreams of playing college soccer and wish to represent an HBCU, the HBCU ID Camp is your golden opportunity. From 8 am to 5 pm on November 11-12, Houston Sports Park will transform into a hub for aspiring male and female soccer players. Coaches from HBCUs across the nation will be present to evaluate, scout, and offer valuable feedback. Moreover, they might even spot the next soccer prodigy to join their collegiate soccer programs. This camp is not just about honing your soccer skills but also a chance to connect with the HBCU soccer community. You’ll learn the ins and outs of what it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom, which is crucial for a college athlete. The HBCU ID Camp is an excellent platform to network with coaches, learn from experienced athletes, and take the first steps toward your college soccer journey. To secure your spot at this incredible event, don’t forget to register [here](insert registration link). Space is limited to 120 participants, so make sure to reserve your place before it’s too late. It’s time to turn your dreams of playing college soccer into a reality.

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