WASHINGTON – Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) was on his way to work at the Capitol when terrorists struck in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001 (search), but he says he declined to join other members of the Senate at a secure location because his family would not be with him.
His wife, Elizabeth, was out shopping. Eldest daughter Cate was at college in New Jersey. Youngest daughter Emma Claire was at school, and son Jack was on a play date.
U.S. Capitol Police were whisking members of Congress to secure locations for their safety.
"I said, 'Well, what about my wife and my kids?'" Edwards said in a television interview Wednesday, a day before an independent commission investigating the attacks releases its long-awaited report. "And they said, 'Well, they'll stay here. And I said, 'Well, if they're staying here, I'm staying here."
The North Carolina senator said he was near the Capitol en route to his Senate office when he answered his cell phone and learned about the airplane strike on one of the World Trade Center (search) towers. Minutes later, in his office, he watched television broadcasts of the second plane strike, and learned of a third plane slamming into the Pentagon.
Worried about his family, Edwards said he went home. A short time later, he said, Capitol police arrived and told him they were taking all senators to a secure location.
"We were all in different places," said Elizabeth Edwards, who joined her husband for the interview. "That was not what I wanted."
She said word of the attacks quickly filtered through the store where she had gone early to catch a sale.
"People were getting cell phone calls about it, and of course there were a lot of people at that sale who had family members at the Pentagon," she said. "People were ... quickly dropping what they had in their hands and going immediately home. So it was a tremendous amount of panic."
After the interview, Edwards attended two fund-raisers in New York City — a $1,000-per-person affair at a Manhattan hotel, followed by a $50-a-ticket event at a nightclub in a bid to reach younger voters.