9/11: From Inside The Towers - A Survivor's Story

September 11th 2001 started out like any other day. I had called off of work on Monday, the 10th because of an invite from my girlfriend at the time so I was well rested and ready for yet another day at work at the World Trade Center as a Security Officer for Summit Security Services. Summit was the security firm contracted by the Port Authority of NY & NJ to guard all entrances leading to restricted areas within the World Trade Center (WTC).

By this point, I had been working at The Towers 2 years and 2 months. I started out guarding stairwells and elevators until a position opened up patrolling the basements of the WTC complex. This position was slightly different than others, I was able to come in later, I reported directly to one of the Port Authority's Property Managers and I was allowed to make up my own routine. I loved being the Sub-Grade Rover.

I boarded the A train at 6:10 AM at the Beach 67th Gaston Ave. station, in Far Rockaway, Queens. The ride through Queens was mostly elevated and the day was beautiful; the sun was bright, there wasn't a single cloud in the sky and the weather was warm with a slight hint that fall was about to roll into New York City. It was Election Tuesday and we were having the Mayoral election in New York City but I wasn’t planning on voting so that was just a passing thought for me.

A little over an hour later, I arrived at the Chambers St./WTC stop and walked the tunnel from the station to the concourse in the World Trade Center. The concourse was basically a mall with dozens of stores and restaurants. Stores my Bath & Body Works, Sephora, the Gap and Radio Shack lined with halls of the concourse.

I walked the concourse to Building 2 (WTC 2/Tower 2/South Tower) and entered K-Cars; the elevator banks that ran between the concourse level and the six sub-levels of Tower 2. I arrived at the B-2 level, home to the Summit Security offices. To clock-in, I'd place my palm on an electronic reader to have my palm print registered into the system for the day. I "palmed" in at 7:35 AM. I walked into the tour commander’s office to sign a roster and to pick up the forms I needed for my workday. I entered the locker room and changed out of my clothes and into my coveralls; a mechanic’s outfit.

I went out into the parking area right outside the office (B-2/red) where most of the vehicles were those of the Port Authority’s Operations Managers and contractors’ vehicles, as well. There was a cage where Summit kept six golf carts. One of them, a green sporty looking one with the number “5” on it, was my cart. I got in and drove on a connecting roadway between Tower 1 and Tower 2, heading towards Tower 1. I drove pass Tower 1 and up the F&K ramp which led up to the loading dock (B-1 level).

On my way up I ran into Security Officer Doria Cord who was my replacement the day before, when I called off. She was griping about me calling off and I just made an excuse about being sick and kept driving up to Barkley St. and West Broadway where I parked the cart and greeted Security Officers Brown and Stover who were working at E-Ramp; the truck entrance into the World Trade Center which was underneath Building 7.

Building 7 was off limits to us contractors because it was a federal building. It housed such agencies as the FBI, the Secret Service and it even had the NYC Mayor's bunker command center. There were times when Security Officers would have run-ins with Secret Service agents because the agents hated having to show their badges and would sometimes run past the metal plate barriers on the floor which would lower and raise back up at a 45 degree angle after the vehicles would pass through. On several occasions, secret service vehicles would end up getting flipped by the barriers because they would fly by as other vehicles were entering the lower docks.

I walked over to Greenwich St. and Barkley where a breakfast cart owned by a Greek man named Teddy was located. He and his Mexican assistant, Sly, made hot breakfast every morning. I was a regular, so they greeted me with a “Good morning Richie”.  I returned the greeting and asked for “the usual”; two fried egg whites with cheese on a buttered, toasted, bagel.

I grabbed my food and jumped back in my cart and zoomed back down the ramp to the B-2 level of Tower 1 where the “Parking Office” was located. That was the office of Ken Grouzalis, the sub-grade property manager of the World Trade Center; he was in charge of everything underneath the street level at the World Trade Center.

Four of us worked in that office. Ken was a 56 yr old, Greek man who was about 6’3”, balding and walked slightly hunched over. He spoke as though he teeth were too big and too crowded inside his mouth but the man was brilliant and knew everything that was happening in his domain. He also loved his Harley and his Corvette and served as a Marine in the Vietnam War after being drafted into service. Kenny worked his way up in the Port Authority, from mailroom clerk at the age of 18 to stockroom, real estate and accounting after returning from the war. He loved the Port Authority.

Ken was married and had an adult daughter. He wasn’t only the head of the office but also a father figure to me. He was a great help to me when I was moving out of Manhattan and heading out to Queens the month before, he looked out for me by giving me easy overtime hours, he would introduce me to important people to make sure that I had exposure; knowing that I wanted to make a move into the corporate world and he would get me supplies if I ever needed anything for my place. Kenny was a great human being with a hard outer shell. I miss him very much.

Kenneth Grouzalis WTC                    

Then there were the three contracted security personnel in the office. The first was Antonio Gordon, a Summit supervisor; he was a dark-skinned Panamanian in his late thirties. He was funny, always made jokes that ALWAYS came out wrong due to his thick Hispanic accent and loose understanding of the English language. I viewed Gordon as my older, wiser brother. I’d turn to him for advice or talk to him about my exploits. He was always a cool person to talk to and get a religious perspective on life. Gordon sat at the Security Camera console and monitored multiple entry gates in order to assure people were using the correct credentials to enter and exit the sub-levels.

Then there was Pete DePalma, another Summit supervisor; Peter was more like Ken’s protégé. If Ken were to have retired, Pete would be the one to take over. Pete was also in his late thirties to early forties and very funny. More like one of the Italian guys you usually see in movies; thick Brooklyn accent, short, slicked hair and just funny all around. 

Then there was me; I surveyed everything underneath the Trade Center for Ken, I was the eyes and ears of the sub-grade Property Manager. If anything went wrong in the sub-levels of the complex, I’d report it to the office so that someone could be called to go and fix it. I also dealt with a lot of the offices on the upper levels of the WTC. Anyone looking to park their vehicles in our sub-grades, something reserved for the heads of companies only, had to have a background check conducted by us. After we completed the background checks I’d go up to such offices as Cantor Fitzgerald or Morgan Stanley and personally deliver parking decals and electric cards and explain certain procedures to the heads of these companies. I was “Kenny’s boy”. 

I walked into the office, with my breakfast in hand, at 8:00 AM and greeted Pete, then Ken who was in a pissed-off mood but I didn’t care about that yet, I was too hungry to bother, then I greeted Gordon, who was seated at his desk, monitoring an access computer. Gordon joked about me calling off and I told him I was having "fun". I sat behind him on top of a desk and ate my breakfast. After eating, I went into Ken’s office and asked what was going on knowing that he would rant about what was pissing him off for the day. He then told me that his patrol vehicle was broken and that he was going to need me to drive him around to make his patrols of the sub-levels (something he did every morning at 6:00 AM). Gordon and Pete laughed, calling me a “chauffer”. I agreed and told him to let me know when he was ready. I entered another room in the office where the servers and VCRs were kept, I organized videotapes from the previous week so I could exchange them at the P.A. Security Office on the 35th floor of 2 WTC for ones that had been reviewed for any violations. Before I could finish, Ken told me he was ready to go. Instead of grabbing up the tapes and taking them upstairs we headed out to conduct our patrols (if it weren’t for this moment I would’ve been on the 35th floor of 2 WTC at the time of the first crash).

Ken and I hopped into my cart and headed up F&K ramp to the truck dock where there was considerable construction going on (the P.A. was renovating the pavement of the entire dock). The truck dock was the first level basement under the street level. It took up the entire area under the Trade Center (it was HUGE). The dock had different bays, each being an entrance into whatever building’s basement you wanted to make a delivery from. One World Trade had and entrance, Two World Trade had one and so did 7 WTC. However, in order to deliver to 4 & 5 WTC, you had to take a ramp further down into the building.

We stopped half way down the dock between Tower 1 and Building 7 and Ken stopped to speak with Nancy Joiner, another Summit supervisor who was in charge of the officers in the dock. She too was in a cart. Then a third cart pulled up driven by Donald Hachette (post 6-5; truck dock patrol officer). With all 3 carts lined up side-by-side, Nancy and Ken spoke of the happenings of the dock. I didn’t pay much mind to what they were talking about as I joked with Hachette about the fact that I was driving Kenny around.

While they spoke I noticed a lot of noise coming from the radio (like a lot of people talking all at once) then a distant BOOM but I disregarded it as construction noise, Then, a few seconds later the lights blinked off and on quickly. No one noticed as they kept talking and then it happened… Out of the entrance to the freight area of Tower 1 shot out a huge cloud of smoke followed by a loud BOOM!!!

Ken and I jumped out of the cart and ran towards the area to investigate. I thought it was a bomb but people were running out of the area screaming, saying that the elevators fell. I entered the elevator area and noticed smoke, the sprinklers going off and fire coming from the elevator doors which were blown open. I turned to Ken as he called for radio silence over the walkie-talkie due to an actual 8-8 (Fire: Required radio silence for clear communications between responding units) but he had no luck, EVERYONE was on the radio but none of what was coming over the air was clear. I remembered a sucking noise coming from the elevator, which now I realize meant that the climate controlled building had an opening in it; it was depressurized.

I turned around and headed out the door I had just stepped through. I thought a bomb escaped our check points and made its way to one of the top floors since the elevators that fell were those which reached the top floors. Ken told me to go inspect the lower levels and as I was leaving to get back in my cart, I noticed a bunch of truckers and delivery people standing around looking at what had happened. I yelled to them to “Get the fuck out!!!”. They all ran heading towards the top of the ramp where the exit led to Barkley St.

I jumped in my cart again, this time heading towards the security base to report what was going on. I drove down to B-2/yellow where I got out and decided to walk the path between Tower 1 and Tower 2 to check if more damage was caused. On my way there I came upon some people who were surrounding two ABM workers (Cleaners/Maintenance) who were on the floor with minor injuries. One had a blow to the head and the other had pains in one of his legs. They were next to an elevator door that had been blown open. The force slammed them against the wall behind them. I called the dispatcher (6-3) in the security office to call for EMS to the location. I told the injured that help would be on their way. A few more of their co-workers came over to help and I overheard one of them say that a plane hit Tower 1. The thought of a plane slamming into the building intrigued me and I HAD to go upstairs and see it for myself.

Instead of going to the security office, I decided to take one of the stairs that led to the concourse level in front of Building 2 (K4-B1). I entered the lobby of Building 2 and headed up one of the escalators leading to the plaza/mezzanine level. There was already a crowd of people coming down the escalators, which made it difficult for me to go up. I finally reached the top and there were 2 Port Authority Police Officers directing people evacuate down the escalators. I headed towards the pair of doors leading out to the plaza and noticed all the windows had been blown inward.

World Trade Center Mezzanine

WTC 1 Mezzanine

The scene in the plaza was one of total destruction. I looked out to the plaza and there was paper, glass and debris everywhere. I looked down in front of me and there was a dead body right outside the door, he looked like one of the building’s window cleaners from the look of his uniform. He seemed to have fallen from a high place due to the damage to his body. I looked up at Tower 1, where the plane had crashed and saw smoke, debris and paper coming from the gash the plane had left on the building. I thought a small plane crashed into the building because I couldn’t really tell the extent of the destruction from my perspective. I was only able to see two sides of the tower and because I was so close underneath the building, there wasn’t much of a view.

 World Trade Center Plaza

World Trade Center Subgrades

I decided to help evacuate Tower 1 but when I turned around to the escalators, a woman started crying hysterically. I  told her to look at me, she looked at me and I told her, unknowingly, that “This was an accident. A plane has hit Building 1.” I told her to calm down and exit the building as fast as possible. She calmed down and we both walked down the escalators together. She walked out towards the exits and I headed to building 1.

I ran through the concourse and met Ken between the two buildings and told him what I had seen and where the damage was. He noticed I was panting and excited and he told me to relax and patted me on the back. I told him that I was heading towards Tower 1 to help evacuate and he told me “Go ahead”. I then left him and headed towards Tower 1… I would never see Ken again; he was lost on that day. He was last seen going down into the Operation Command Center, located in the dock level of Tower 2. 

When I reached the building, the sprinklers were activated and the revolving doors were folded open. I looked down the opposite end of the lobby towards West St. through a corridor named L1, where the elevators to the 40th floor and the freight were located. I noticed that the freight elevators were on fire and the doors were blown open but as I looked around I noticed no one was being evacuated, there were no people in the lobby except for a group of fire fighters at the fire command desk on the northwest corner of the lobby. I could hear loud thumps coming from the West St. exit, every couple of seconds you could hear the noise as if debris was falling onto the street. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the noise was people hitting the ground after jumping from the burning inferno above.

I attempted to use the J-Cars elevators to try and tell the dispatcher what I saw but one of the engineers told me it was out; obviously, since the power was out. 

I decided to head back to Building 2 and use K-Cars. I entered the K-Cars vestibule and pushed the button to call the elevators. I moved back to lean up against the wall behind me to catch my breath and let everything sink in. Then that’s when I heard a second BOOM. The whole building shook, the lights went out and more of the glass shattered. I didn’t know, at the time, that another plane hit Tower 2; I thought parts of Tower 1 were falling onto Tower 2. I closed my eyes from fear and when I opened them two security personnel, S/O Sugrim & Gross, were entering the vestibule. They asked if I was OK and I told them, quickly, that I had “seen a lot of shit”.

I turned and exited K-Cars and headed towards K4-B1. I went down one level and cut through the loading dock to another set of stairs that led to a back of the security office. I opened the door on the B-2 level and everything was dark except for 1 or 2 emergency lights. I looked to the right and heard the dispatcher, two payroll personnel, two officers and one of the building’s painters running in the opposite direction. Sonia; the payroll manager, was holding a flashlight and leading the team towards K-Cars, which were out, so I called to them to follow me. They all ran towards me and I told them to go up to the next level. We reached the docks, which had now become darker with smoke and abandoned by all the truck drivers and construction workers, I directed my coworkers towards K4-B1 to go up to the concourse level. When we reached the concourse I told them to follow the crowd that was being evacuated out of the Trade Center.

I looked over to the escalators in Tower 2 and they were FULL of evacuees. I walked into the lobby and met up with Ron Hoerner who was the resident manager for the Summit Security at the Trade Center. I told him what I had seen and what was going on in the rest of the complex. He noticed my distress and told me to relax and help out with the evacuation, he appeared very calm and even joked about there being a lot of overtime after all this settles down.

At that point, Officer Esmerlin Salcedo, a fellow Dominican who I befriended while discussing computers, had just finished working a double shift, approached us to say goodbye and that he was leaving to go home. As he stopped to talk to Hoerner, I decided to fold the revolving doors that led from the lobby to the concourse so that there could be a steady flow of egress. Salcedo then decided to help me fold the doors. Once we were finished I thanked him and told him to go home to his daughter who had been sick previously and that I’d see him later… I never saw him or Hoerner again; they were also found in the OCC where Ken was found. I heard later reports that Salcedo wasn’t as decomposed as some of the others and that he survived down there for some time before finally passing away.

Ronald Hoerner WTC                    Esmerlin Salcedo

 World Trade Center Subgrade Manager's Office

At the same time, a few transmissions were coming over the radio. Ken asked me if Pete and Gordon left the office on B-2/yellow and I didn’t know whether or not they had so I called for Gordon and to my relief, he replied back telling us that he and Pete were out. Another transmission came over the air, this time it was Officer Rivera who was posted at a post which faced out to Liberty St. and he reported that it was “raining people” out in front of him and he asked if he should stay at that post. No reply came for him but I know he made it out of the building alive.

There were transmissions from Officer Jonesy who was posted in an office in Tower 1 on the 22nd floor called the SCC (Security Command Center) where all 100+ cameras that watched the Trade Center could be monitored. She reported that the magnetic doors were stuck closed due to the power outage. The Port Authority’s security manager responded telling her that he was on his way to help her. There were also calls from rookie Officer Grey Class who was posted in the sky lobby of One World Trade Center. He was calling for assistance. The sky lobby was on the 78th floor of the building. I believe Officer also made it out of the building alive.

I moved my attention back to the escalators, which were still full of evacuees. One of the stairs, however, was not moving as fast as the other. In fact, the line was half way up and barely moving. In front of that line was a gentleman helping an elderly lady down the steps. I went up and approached them and asked if I could help and the man said the lady is probably in shock and asked me to assist the her. I allowed the lady to hold onto my arm and the gentleman took off. She and I reached the bottom of the escalators and then we walked, very slowly, out to the concourse, as she explained that her legs had simply frozen up on her. As we approached Radio Shack, which was only a store from the entrance to Tower 2, I told her that I would have to carry her in order to reach outside faster. She refused and said that she’d be OK walking it. A few steps later I insisted on her letting me carry her and she said that as long as I could manage, to do so. I grabbed her and cradled her like a baby and began running towards the evacuation point, which was at Building 5, exiting out onto Church St. I turned the hallway and saw Glen Savery; a Summit manager and asked him to help me but before he could react, a gentleman came up to me and helped me with the lady. He and I carried her half way to Building 5 until two other men came over to help. I let the three men take the lady the rest of the way to the exit.

 World Trade Center Concourse Level

I turned and ran back towards Building 2 to finish helping with the evacuation. I did not see Savery where I had seen him before so I stopped in front of Cornucopia, which was the store next to Radio Shack. I instructed people to exit in an orderly fashion, not knowing the severity of what was happening or what was about to happen. But, right then and there, something told me "It's time to go outside". So I turned back around, I walked passed the point where I had left the lady and the 3 men and walked towards the Vesey St. exit.

Security Officer Ervin Gilliard was guarding the exit. I asked him why no one was being allowed out through there and he told me that the Port Authority asked that no one go out through those doors. The exits people were using to evacuate from were upstairs, at the plaza level and it made no sense to me why this exit was not being used. I told him I was going out that way, regardless. I passed him and headed towards the exit. Ervin Gilliard never made it out of the building even though he was far from the towers and right near an exit. This is a mystery that still haunts me 'til this day.

Ervin Gilliard

I exited and saw that the NYPD had blocked off the streets with their vehicles. They didn’t want anyone exiting that way because there was debris still falling from Tower 1. I ran out and reached West Broadway and Park Place. I met up with some of the loading dock staff, Security Officers Stover, Hachette and Diane Easton, who were helping NYPD direct traffic and crowd control. Diane saw me and noticed tears in my eyes and asked if I was all right. At that point I broke down and she hugged me and told me that everything was going to be OK. I composed myself and started helping when Gordon came up to me and gave me a hug and told me to relax and that he could imagine the things I’ve seen and that I needed to get my head together. I asked him for his cell phone to make a call but the phones were down. I turned to Hachette and asked him to give me some change to make a call and he handed me 50 cents.

I headed towards a pay phone but it was crowded with people attempting to make calls. Police started asking everyone to move back away from the World Trade Center so I assisted in pushing people back. I yelled out to Officer Stover asking him to come back because he was too close to the building. I felt an urgency to move as far away from the Trade Center as possible. While helping to move people away from the towers I took a look up at them and was in total awe at the destruction but from my vantage point, I couldn't see Tower 2 and could only see one side of Tower 1 so I had no idea the level of damage to the Towers.

A call came over the radio from the dispatcher, whom I had helped exit out from the office earlier. She said she needed help at Fulton St. and Broadway with crowd control. I responded to the call and told her I’d be on my way. I headed up Barkley St. towards Church St. and when I reached Church I could see that the streets were covered with debris. There were wallets, CD players, CDs, papers, everything that you would find on a person’s desk. I even saw shoes.

I arrived at Church and Fulton, a block away from where the dispatcher made her call and ran into Savery again; he was with Nancy, Tara Mills (another security supervisor) and Kevin Challenger; a Summit Officer. I greeted Kevin with a hug and he told me that he was “Fucked up in the head”. He explained that he was stationed at an entrance booth on West St., in front of Trade Center One which led down into the parking garages and that when the first plane hit; debris, bodies and body parts started to rain down all around him. He said that the booth was covered in this debris and that the cops had to “dig” him out.

WTC Security Officer Kevin Challenger 

We stood there looking up at the towers and I realized for the first time that both towers had been hit. The destruction was incredible, both buildings were smoking and big gashes were cut into them. At that point I thought my world was ending but God had more in store for us that morning.

After about five seconds of looking at the buildings it happened… It sounded like an earthquake with shaking and everything. I could see windows blowing out from the area that was hit by the plane in Tower 2. The top half looked as if it was sliding off to one side but then it started falling straight down. It looked as if it were going to fall on top of us so I yelled “RUN”. Kevin ran up towards Broadway and I turned right to run north on Church St. but I noticed an entrance to the A, C and E subway station. I didn’t notice where everyone else ran to.

I ran towards the station as fast as I could thinking it would shield me from the falling building. When I reached the bottom the dust had blown in with such force that it pushed anyone who was still running down the steps right into the station. At that point everyone ducked down at the top of a second set of steps leading deeper into the station because there was still rumbling from the collapse. I couldn’t control my breathing or hold my breath so every two inhales were like chewing three saltine crackers and keeping them in the back of my throat. I was choking, gagging and spitting out dust. I cried out “I CAN’T BREATH!”. Someone said “Pull your shirt over your face” but I wasn’t wearing loose clothing or a shirt under my coveralls. All I had underneath was a bulletproof vest so I took the collar from my coveralls and pulled it over my nose which offered little relief since it was made of canvas.

Bullet Proof Vest

World Trade Center Security Jumpsuit

After a few seconds, the rumbling stopped and there was an eerie silence. The radios went dead; no transmissions were going out. I headed towards the steps leading up to the street but could see only darkness. It looked as if the sun, which had been shining so brightly just a few seconds earlier, had been blocked out completely. It was in total contrast to the snowy, white, look of the subway station caused by the dust and the fluorescent lights, which were on the walls about a foot above our heads. Someone was about to follow me up the steps but I turned around and said “Don’t go up, it’s worse up there!”

WTC Subway Staircase

We all turned in the other direction and headed down the steps, deeper into the subway station. The dust was settling a bit but you could still feel it filling your lungs. I looked around and could make out the turnstiles to the E train platform which was next to the A train platform that I had gotten off of earlier that morning. All of us down there decided to walk the platform to the other end of the station, which led out to Park Place and Chambers St. I took the lead to guide the others because most people were afraid to open their eyes. I could make out a trashcan in the distance, which marked the middle of the platform. We had a train sitting empty on our right and an empty track on our left. Someone in the back yelled out “Hold hands!”. I grabbed the hand of an older gentleman behind me. I looked back at him and he looked as if he had been dunked in a big bag of flour, which is probably what I looked like also. I was walking at a normal speed now since I could see a little better but someone in the back asked that we slow down so I did.

We finally reached the end of the platform and went up the stairs. At the top were three police officers calling for us to go up through the Park Place exit. I would’ve preferred to go up through Chambers but they wouldn’t allow it. A good move in the end because when we reached the street we were greeted by firefighters who dripped water over our heads and other people handed out water bottles for drinking. There were photographers taking pictures of us as we emerged. I could finally see the sun again. I walked to the next corner and a fire official handed me a wet rag, which I used to cough and blow my nose into.

I walked about two blocks north until I reached a group of people who told me to get the dust off of myself as soon as possible. A man took my water and rinsed out my head with it. I found a phone and waited for a man to end his call. I got on the phone but couldn’t remember any numbers off the top of my head except for my friend, Erica’s number. I knew she’d be home because she wasn’t working at the time. When she picked up all I said was “I’m alright” and right away she started crying and said “Thank God!”. The specifics of the rest of the conversation are blurry but as I spoke to her I looked up at the last remaining tower and the cloud of smoke and dust behind it. I was crying as I looked up at the building. The man who was on the phone before me was a photographer and he snapped a few shots of me on the phone looking up at the tower with tears in my eyes.

After hanging up I walked half a block south towards the Trade Center and then turned left heading east towards Broadway. As I walked up the street I passed Mayor Giuliani and his entourage. I passed by them unnoticed.

I made it to Broadway and wanted to walk south towards the Trade Center but the NYPD was already blocking off the area and telling everyone to head north.  I assisted with the crowd control pushing as many people as I could northward. After a few minutes I could hear cops screaming for everyone to move back and I could see them running, heading in my direction, away from the remaining Tower. There were also vehicles rushing up my way and then I heard it… the same rumbling as before. It was apparent to me what was going on… the second tower was now collapsing too. I could see the dust blowing out from the streets further south of me and I started running north with the rest of the people. 

I started remembering the calls from Officer Class who was calling from the 78th floor of Tower One asking for assistance right before the first collapse and the thought of Jonesy calling from the 22nd floor about being trapped and it finally hit me… the thought of all the people that had perished, all the people that I worked with, day in… day out. Feeling like all was lost I stopped and leaned against a fire hydrant, lowered my head and just stared at the floor. I felt so alone not having anyone there with me. And just then I heard a familiar voice say “I need a vacation!”. I looked up and there was Officer Mendez, my pretend-father (because we looked a lot alike but he was a little older), he was covered in the dust, like I was, and he was part of the loading dock staff so we both had on the same coverall uniform so I’m sure we looked even more alike. He had blood dripping from his head and elbow but besides that he claimed to be alright. We gave each other a huge hug and I thanked God that he was alright.

Mendez and I spoke about what happened to us and where we were during the collapses. He told me about being in the concourse level, at Cosmetics Plus, during the collapse of Tower 2. He said that he was knocked to a wall by the force and how he was trying to help an NYPD Officer who had a severed arm get out of a spot he had become trapped in. He also told me of how another Officer came along and told him to just get himself out of there and to leave the injured Officer behind. Mendez had obviously seen and been through a lot more than I had.

As we walked and talked of where we had been I ran into the ABM worker who had injured his leg down in the B-2 level after the first plane hit Building 1.  I was relieved to see that he was OK. I asked him how he felt and he said he was fine. Mendez and I reached an ambulance and we had the EMTs look at and treat his wounds, none that were serious.

After Mendez was bandaged up we decided to walk around and see if we could find more people from Summit Security but the police barricades were difficult to get around. We walked around for about thirty to forty-five minutes before running into Diane Easton and Doria Cord, both of which seemed to have escaped the dust because they were clean. We all hugged and exchanged stories and decided to keep up the search for more people. We eventually found Jonesy and Maria, another guard, who we thought didn’t make it out in time due to their frantic calls about being trapped in the SCC right before all the radios went dead from the first collapse. We all swapped stories again and that’s when I learned about the Pentagon being hit. I remember feeling afraid. I thought we’d be fighting a war right there in downtown New York City.

We all walked around aimlessly looking for more people but we had no luck.  At around 1pm we decided to go our separate ways and I was the first to get up and make my way home.  I walked north towards Canal St. and then headed east to walk cross the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge crossing looked like something out of The Bible; it was a mass exodus leading out of lower Manhattan.

I made my way over to the Brooklyn side of the bridge and walked a few more miles following the route of the A train along the way hoping to come to a station that was open. I made it to Jay Street and boarded a train home. I noticed everyone on the train looking at me because I was the only one covered in the soot. A mother told her son in Spanish “See? He was there.” and a lady sitting across from me stared for a while and eventually asked if I was OK, I told her I was but only because I didn’t know where to start my story.  The rest of my ride was silent… the entire train was silent.

I finally made it to Beach 67th Gaston Ave. I reached my house, took my uniform off and hung it up, bathed and got dressed thinking I’d be able to go back down to the World Trade Center to help. I spoke to my family members and assured them I was fine. I heard on the news that no one was being allowed back into Manhattan so I just sat there and watched the news…and watched…and watched, I watched for days sometimes going without sleep. I was hoping that someone would make it out of there alive but no one did.

A few days later the main office for Summit Security called and said to make it down to their midtown office for reassignment.  It was when I got there that I learned that Ron Hoerner, Esmerlin Salcedo and Ervin Gilliard died amongst about thirteen others whom I had seen the previous Friday. Rookie Officer Class made it out in time but others who had been up in those floors weren’t as lucky. Officer Rivera also made it out after leaving his post where he witnessed many people falling to their deaths.

Godwin Ayala WTCLarry Bowman WTCDenny Conley WTC

Francisco Cruz WTCSamuel Fields WTCDaniel Lugo WTC

Robert Martinez WTC

September 11th 2001 isn’t only the day that the people of the United States were attacked. It’s also the day that I lost dozens of friends and associates, the day that I lost a job where there was a real feeling of family. It was a rebirth for me. I say rebirth because I truly believe in my heart that I should’ve died on that day.  If it weren’t for Ken stopping me from going up to the 35th floor of Tower 2 or that second thought to go outside after carrying that elderly woman, I would’ve still been helping evacuate the building when it collapsed and in turn still been trapped under all that rubble only to be found almost a year later.

Remember, life is short… sometimes too short. Enjoy each day as if it really were your last because you never know if tomorrow will be as good to you as today was. #NeverForget!

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