When she came home to visit, Edna Lee Stephens usually stayed several days, even a week. That wasn’t the case in the days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001.
The Gainesville native arrived Sept. 8, for a family reunion, but early the next morning told her father, the late Rev. Eddie Stephens, she had to get back to her job at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. She kissed him and said goodbye.
“We hated to see her go,” said Edna’s younger brother, Eddie Lamar Stephens of Flowery Branch.
Eddie, now 69, then recalled 9/11, when the nation would be devastated by terrorist attacks, first at the World Trade Center in New York and then the Pentagon. Later, a hijacked plane would crash into a Pennsylvania field, killing all aboard.
He followed the news while working at J.C. Penney at the Mall of Georgia, calling his father, who reacted in shock and told his son to call his siblings. Eddie, who has one brother and seven sisters, also called his wife, who “broke down” upon hearing the news.
After a day of phone calls and getting information, the family finally learned that Edna was in the area that was struck by a hijacked airliner at 9:37 a.m. At that moment, she had been returning to her office with some paperwork, the family later learned.
News of her death — she was one of 184 killed at the Pentagon — was devastating.
“It tore me apart,” Eddie said. “It hurt so bad.”
Edna’s father told The Times in September 2006, just before the fifth anniversary of the attacks, he thought a lot about his daughter.
“The way she had to go, that’s what I don’t understand," said the retired Baptist minister, who died in 2009. The Lord "gives and he takes away.”
Edna, named after her father, used to help him fix up old cars, a hobby he kept up after her death, the father said.
Brother Eddie remembered that side of his sister. He also recalled her as something of a tomboy and that she used to love to cook and play cards. In fact, the two siblings had planned to play cards the Sunday she decided to leave early for Washington.
“She had a beautiful personality,” he said.
Stephens said his sister, who had planned to retire in July 2002, had a full career with the U.S. Government, including an early stint with the FBI before going to the Pentagon. He even joked about how she would track his movements when he served in the military, remembering a surprise phone call from her when he was stationed in Japan.
“She went to every school they sent her to,” he said. “She was really smart. We were really proud of Edna. She was special.”
Edna is buried at Cross Plains Baptist Church off Candler Road in East Hall, where her father and many other family members are buried.
Every 9/11, family members visit her grave, which has an emblem of the Pentagon painted by brother Eddie on the headstone. They may gather afterward for a barbecue.
It’s a time to remember Edna, but the day still remains solemn for the family.
“I hate to see Sept. 11 come around, but it’s going to come around,” Eddie said. “There’s nothing we can do about that.”