Remembering 9-11: Tustin officer recalls first day on the job


It isn’t common for Tustin Police Department employees to remember the start date of their colleagues.

But Sgt. Matt Nunley’s is one that can never be forgotten.

Nunley dressed in a suit for his first day of work as a new officer with Tustin PD because, during his first week, he would be  sitting in a room watching training videos.

He hopped in his blue 1999 Chevy Silverado and tuned his radio to the Howard Stern morning show.

Nunley, 28 at the time, said he was distracted on his ride to Tustin from Seal Beach.

He had first-day jitters, even though Nunley had wanted to be a cop since he was a kid and he was familiar with wearing a uniform.

At age 15, he started as an explorer with Los Alamitos PD before transitioning posts and serving in Signal Hill.

Nunley then served as a cadet with the Costa Mesa Police Department.

He worked as a parking control officer with Orange PD and and was hired as a dispatcher at Signal Hill PD.

In 1997, he was hired as a reserve officer in Signal Hill after completing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy.

A career in law enforcement also ran in his family — his mom was a dispatcher, his dad was a reserve police officer and his brother served as a police captain in Signal Hill.

“To me, this job is a higher calling,” he said. “It was always about the service to the community and doing something that was bigger than you.”

Tustin PD Sgt. Matt Nunley tells the story of his first day on the job as a new Tustin PD officer -- the day of the 9/11 attacks. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin PD Sgt. Matt Nunley’s first day was Sept. 11, 2001. Although he was expected to be in orientation for the day, he was tasked to patrol city buildings and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

So on his drive in, he was thinking about his new job and wasn’t paying attention when Howard Stern started using words like “terror”, “attack” and “tragedy.”

“There was a big commotion on the radio, but I just wasn’t really listening,” he said.

Nunley arrived about 45 minutes early for his shift, so he went to a local coffee shop to burn some time.

He doesn’t drink coffee, so he planned to order a hot chocolate.

“I don’t even remember if I bought that hot chocolate,” he said. “I just walked in and everything was chaotic.”

Coffee shop patrons were talking in disbelief of what they had seen on the news — two planes, flown by terrorists, had purposely crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

America was at war.

Nunley jetted to the police department where those who were in the building huddled around televisions watching the news coverage.

He was ushered to a small room to start on his training videos, but not even an hour passed before a supervisor came in.

“Do you have a uniform?” the supervisor asked.

Although his first week of orientation was to be in a suit and tie, Nunley had  his long-sleeved uniform hanging in his locker.

“They told me to put on my uniform and sent me to walk the city buildings for anything that looked suspicious,” he said.

Tustin PD, like many agencies across the United States, pulled in all the resources they had to patrol the city.

“At that time, nobody really knew what the extent of the attacks were, or if there were other targets that would be triggered,” Nunley said.

Nunley was not familiar yet with Tustin and said he felt a little uneasy circling the city buildings, but he stayed on task.

Residents stopped to ask him what he was doing and wondered if they should be worried.

He told them he was out there as a precaution and to keep the community safe.

Nunley remembered his heart rate kick up a notch when he saw that a package had been delivered to the library.

On that day, even what seemed the safest of places were potential targets for terrorists.

“I remember another officer warned me about packages,” he said. “So when I saw something had been delivered, I approached it very carefully.

“It turned out to be a stack of donated books for the library.”

Nunley finished his 10-hour shift and drove home.

He bought a sandwich and sat on his couch to watch the details of the horror he missed while on patrol.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’m watching the World Trade Center towers fall and the Pentagon is on fire.

“You think: How did this happen? How can we prevent it in the future?”

Although the world drastically changed after Sept. 11, Nunley said it solidified his reasons for becoming a police officer.

“I’d like to think that I always had a vision geared toward serving others,” he said. “But on that day, I thought about the officers and firefighters that were running toward danger and everyone who died in the line of duty.

“It has an effect on you. I’ll never forget my first day.”