At the time of September 11th, 2001, I worked a job several blocks away from the World Trade Center—where I had formerly worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor until the spring of 2001. As you might imagine, it was doubly frightening to hear a loud boom as the first plane hit and to see thousands of papers flying everywhere, like snow, and a massive gash filled with fire in the building I once called my “corporate home.”
I had a lot of friends in that building, and so it was my natural instinct to run over to the North Tower to see if there was anything I could do to help. While standing under the South Tower (which wasn’t hit yet at this point), I could see bodies falling out of the North Tower, some were lifeless and others were frantically flailing around. Then, just as I thought the scene couldn’t get more horrifying, I heard the most dreadful noise: the screeching of the second airplane as it was seemingly absorbed by the South Tower above me in an explosion of fire. I had often saw planes flying under the building and had a superstitious fear that a plane would eventually hit it, but it was shocking to see that superstition born into reality.
The scene could’ve been straight out of a movie: there were people running everywhere, crying out, tripping over each other, and genuinely feeling we were all going to die. Once I reached my office, I looked back to witness the site from a vantage point on the 24th floor of my building: both towers were hit with multiple planes involved—this must have been intentional. While calling family members and friends to let them know I was okay, I watched as the South Tower collapsed and saw thousands of people running away from the massive dust cloud that began to engulf the entire portion of Lower Manhattan. For several minutes, the windows of our building were covered in complete darkness; we could only watch the office TV for any indication of what was going on outside.
After the dust cleared, I, along with my coworkers, decided to get to Grand Central to evacuate the city. Outside, there were countless cars driving in chaos and people running in circles; many went in the direction of the ferries, but thousands upon thousands of people started to migrate towards Grand Central. On our way there, the North Tower collapsed, knocking out all cell service and preventing contact with the outside world. As we ran from the North Tower’s dust cloud, I noticed that any time someone tripped, they were immediately helped back up; no man or woman was left to fend for themselves—we were all working together to survive together. Once at Grand Central, I was interviewed by CNN and then hopped on the first train to Greenwich.
After taking it all in, checking in with friends, and watching my own interview at my house, my brother, Tim, called and said “we gotta get down there to help.” I agreed; I felt like it was where I belonged. The following morning, my brothers and I went down to Ground Zero dressed in work clothes and equipped with shovels and spackle buckets. Although the police officers down there originally were confused by why we wanted to come back to help, one of the officers allowed us to go through after saying, “you’re the kind of people we’ll need down there.” We spent the next three days digging through the rubble, evading collapsing buildings, and looking for survivors for 20 hours each day, while sleeping for four hours per night inside the zone. In lines of 30 people working together, knee-deep in dust from the debris, we saw images that vividly stay with me today.
What I think embodied the American spirit during those days was how, after passing a jewelry store that was half-ripped open and abandoned, we saw all the jewelry exposed, yet untouched. There was no looting, there was no selfishness, and there were no disagreements. There was just an entire city setting aside any differences it might have had to work together. There were restaurants sending food down for us workers, suppliers readily giving us new construction materials, and crowds of people offering us food, water, and towels. Most importantly, there was tremendous respect for the victims themselves—anytime someone tried taking photos of the site, they were stopped and told to “put the camera down and pick up a shovel.” The worst of times truly do bring out the best in people.
Being down there at Ground Zero in the trenches felt right—it was a new calling. It inspired me to become more involved with my own community through coaching youth sports, volunteering at the Amogerone Volunteer Fire Company, and serving on the Board of Education. That same calling has motivated me to run for State Representative; I want to empower the communities around me and give everyone the chance at success that I had.