Tower Stories : An Oral History of 9/11

Tower Stories : An Oral History of 9/11
Damon DiMarco
August 2007

Damon DiMarco's Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11 eternally preserves a monumental tragedy in American history through the voices of the people who were in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere in New York City on that fateful day.

The stories DiMarco has collected come from a diverse group of human beings: individuals who managed to escape from the Towers; the bereaved of 9/11; the policemen, firemen, paramedics, reporters, and volunteers who risked their lives to help others; eyewitnesses who stood in shock on the streets below the Towers; WTC structural engineers, political experts, political dissidents, small business owners, and, of course, children whose lives will be forever impacted by the horror and chaos they witnessed.

In the tradition of Studs Terkel, DiMarco's moving oral history chronicles the stories of everyone from the small group of people who miraculously made it safely down from the 89th floor of Tower 1 to the New York Times reporter trying desperately to fight her way through the fleeing crowds into Lower Manhattan, to the paramedic who set up a triage area 200 yards from the base of the Towers before they collapsed to the ordinary citizens of New York City who tried to get on with their lives in the days following the tragic event.

This expanded second edition of DiMarco's literary time capsule includes follow-up interviews that track contributors' lives in the years since 9/11, as well as dozens of never-before-published photographs.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Tom Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission
Author’s Introduction
Timeline of Events for September 11th, 2001


At the Towers

Tom Haddad
Florence Engoran
Nancy Cass
Jan Demczur
Arlene Charles
Gabriel Torres
Nick Gerstle
Homicide Detective Y

Outside the Towers

Anna Bahney
Jesse Lunin-Pack
Alberto Bonilla
Huston Stewart
Jared Pava
Kirke Marsh
Ellen Shapiro
Drew Nederpelt
The Turner Family
Mike X
Dr. Walter Gerasimowicz
Nell Mooney
‘Joseph’ Afse

Ground Zero and the Volunteers

Roger Smyth
Salvatore S. Torcivia
Nicole Blackman
Tony Rasemus
Cassandra Medley
Antonio Vendome
Bobbie-Jo Randolph
Rick Zottola
Mike Potasso

The Aftermath

Jessica Murrow
Vincent Falivene
Patrick Welsh
Lauren Albert and Karol Keasler
Kevin Killian
Christopher Cass
Scott Slater
Bredan Ryan and Kristen Irvine Ryan
Mark Lescoezec
Omar Metwally
Ken Longert and Fred Horne
Jean Knee and Michael Carrol
John McGrath


Muqtedar Khan
Stanley Cohen
Jenna Lumbard
Fawaz Gerges
BJ Ward
Cody Maher

Contributing Photographers

by Thomas Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission

IT IS difficult to remember that day, but we must. Time has its way of dulling the sharp edge of memory. Once the edge has sufficiently blurred, the distorting colors of apocrypha swirl in, smearing the true images of what we once saw and creating a fable. A myth. By whatever name you call it, the picture is false, yet people will believe it. In later years, they will have no choice since a myth is better than nothing.
This book is unique for several reasons, not the least of which is that it allows our American people to speak for themselves regarding the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The events of that day are arguably some of the most traumatic to occur on American soil. There is ample evidence to support the need for a record such as this.
After the Great Depression had ravaged the United States through the early part of the 20th century, President Roosevelt realized that America needed more than an economic kick start; it needed cultural inspiration, as well. He assigned writers and journalists through the Federal Writer’s Project to document the experiences of common people living through uncommon circumstances. Roosevelt knew that a culture which cannot remember its past trials and transgressions will doom itself to repeat them.
The memory of slavery was also fast slipping from the American consciousness. In some ways this was a sign of progress; in other ways it was potentially dangerous. The FWP documented the recollections of thousands of former slaves in what would later become the Slave Narrative Collection. Nearly a hundred years later, these narratives are still performed around the country as theatrical events; assigned as required reading for university courses; read for self-edification by curious citizens. They are a part of our cultural body of evidence against what was, and an inspiration toward a brighter future for what might be. Some of our greatest works of literature were born of this need to bear witness. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited. Studs Terkel’s The Good War.
I’m proud and grateful to see this legacy continued.
What you are about to experience is not media spin, a five-second sound bite, or a coldly recycling film reel. It is a living time capsule of our nation’s humanity. The interviews contained in this book are seminal to our American history. They were conducted immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center, before time had been granted a chance to blur the details. Reading these stories, you get the sense that there was just enough time between the Towers’ collapse and the click of the recorder for people to catch their breaths and plant their feet on firm ground. Then they began to speak’directly and candidly. They spoke from their hearts, and I can’t believe they gave a single notion toward the idea that their words would be preserved forever. It was too confusing and painful a time to fumble with the weight of such ideas. Truth rings out in every word.
I hope this book remains in print for a very long time to come because everyone should read it. Our children should read it. With regard to 9/11, we’as a people’cannot allow a myth to take root. We must ground ourselves in the reality of our pain if we have any hope of moving forward. And move forward we must.
One of the contributors to this book calls 9/11 ‘a Kennedy moment. . . Everyone knows where they were when John Lennon was killed. Everyone knows where they were when the Space Shuttle blew. It’s a Kennedy moment. A Pearl Harbor moment.’ What a valid observation. Yes, it is common for human beings to remember sorrow, difficulty, pain, and loss. But only to inspire us toward higher goals and better times.
And so I invite you this instant to clear your mind and think back for a moment. Where were you that day?
. . . watching the video clips spool over and over again on the television . . . listening to your car radio while driving to work . . . waking up to a household exploding with confusion and chaos . . . calling friends, calling family . . . inside the Towers . . . outside the Towers . . . on the streets of New York City, or halfway across the world, wondering where your loved ones were. Wondering. Just wondering.
You were scared. You were angry. You were vulnerable. We all were. But after that initial shock passed, what did you do? Perhaps the most important message recorded in Tower Stories is written between the lines:
You made turkey sandwiches for rescue workers rushing down to Ground Zero . . . you donated goods . . . you sent money to relief charities . . . you held a perfect stranger while she cried . . . you walked the streets of Manhattan, looking for someplace, anyplace to help . . . you gathered together in mourning. You prayed. You hung on. You went back to work. You picked up the pieces.
And maybe, like me, you made eye contact with people you didn’t know on the streets where you live and nodded. Only this time, as our glances met, a new door was opened between us and we were able to share in a quiet secret that everyone suddenly knew’that we are all, in our own way, survivors.
Move forward we must. For we are Americans. This is our story.


Tom Haddad, 31, was working in his office, Suite 8901 on the 89th floor of Tower 1, when American Airlines Flight 11 impacted two stories above his head.

FIRST, I heard the engine. It was incredibly loud. I’d been in the office late at night during thunderstorms a couple of times. The lightning made the same kind of boom when it hit the river. Then I noticed how the glass in my window had started to vibrate like ripples in water.
Honestly, the order of all this only occurred to me later on. For weeks after the plane hit, I replayed the first 30 to 60 seconds over and over again in my head, trying to make order of it. I couldn’t.
Let me start at the beginning.

I got to work early that day. My company does corporate communications; we do a lot of internal work for banks. JP Morgan had just merged with Chase so we’d been given a project to educate bank employees on which services were available to them under the new conglomerate.
The client wanted a quick turnaround so I was in the office until about nine at night on the evening of September 10th. I got to the office at about 7:30 in the morning on the 11th, still working on the campaign designs. There were only five people in the office at that point: myself; Lynn, the head copywriter; Sabrina, our receptionist; my friend Evan, who also worked in the art department; and Frances from client services.
I had just completed my designs; Lynn and I were discussing them at my computer. My computer monitor sat in the window well of my office, which faced north. I had a great view from that window. If I craned my neck about a millimeter to the right, I used to see the Empire State Building off in the distance.
I was seated at my desk and Lynn was passing the threshold to my office, heading out. I thought of another question to ask her so I got up out of my chair to call her back and look at the designs one more time when we were hit. The impact threw me about three feet and I hit the wall nearly horizontal. Lynn was thrown a good five feet out my door into the main design department. All the power went out like flipping off a light. The office was plunged into total darkness. Then it erupted into flames. And then the sprinkler system popped on.
When I came to everything was on fire except for a three-and-a-half-foot path to the door. I was lying in the middle of that path, and so was Lynn. Interestingly enough, Evan, Frances, and Sabrina had all fallen into that same straight line. Later on, after talking about it, we found out how lucky we were. Everything around us had burned.

On a windy day, the Towers would actually sway. You could really feel it move on the higher floors. I could hear the creaking in my office and sometimes the motion would make the ceiling tiles fall. They’d drop right down on top of you; it was fairly normal.
When we were hit, all of the ceiling tiles dropped on us. And we’d just had construction done on the office to put up walls and so forth, including the wall to my office. One of these inter-office walls fell down.
I stood up, totally stunned. Ahead of me, Lynn got up off the ground and yelled, ‘Thomas, what are you doing? Run!’ She ran toward the front door.
Our office carpeting was that gross kind of indoor-outdoor industrial stuff. If you scraped your feet on it, it would make this sort of Vrooooooof! noise that went right through you. My foot slipped on a piece of ceiling tile and I looked down. Glass was everywhere. That’s when I turned and realized that my window had blown in. The columns in the wall had stayed, but nothing else. I was open to the sky 89 stories in the air.
I was stunned at how blue the sky was.
I turned my back to the window and that’s when I noticed the conference room wall had a very interesting pattern of fire running down it. Later I found out it was jet fuel leaking straight down from the ceiling.

I remember how everything was strangely silent except for the constant, high-pitched whoop whoop whoop of the fire alarm. Working in the Towers, we’d done fire drills all the time. It was a matter of routine and they’d always played announcements over the intercom system. Nothing now, though.
It seemed like time was moving very, very slowly. I didn’t run, I didn’t hurry. I just strolled out of the office, absorbing my surroundings.
I got to the front of our office’s design department and caught up with Evan. He was as stunned as I was. Together, we walked toward the front reception area. The back wall behind the receptionist’s desk was on fire. Sabrina was okay, though. She’d been standing in that same straight line that kept us all safe. But the front doors to the office had blown in. They were on fire, too. And across the hall from our office was a ladies room. The wall was gone and you could see toilets. We were walking on tiles and glass.
Lynn ran through the front door and out into the hallway. We decided to follow her. We were only about six feet out when I looked to my right and realized I couldn’t see a thing because of all the black smoke. The entire east side of the building was obscured and there was no air to breathe.
Evan and Sabrina were with me, Lynn was in front. But I thought, I don’t know where Frances is, so I decided to turn around and go back into the office. At this point, the fire was about six feet high and spreading everywhere. But there was a little spot on the door that wasn’t burning so I put my foot on it and crashed through.
I could hear Frances screaming from the copy room so that’s where I went. I couldn’t open the door, though. The filing cabinets in the copy room had all fallen down on top of one another. Frances is tiny; she stands maybe 4′ 11′. Somehow she’d managed to wiggle in between all those cabinets, which were packed with 11′ x 17′ reams of paper and lots of hanging files. She was pulling on the door handle, screaming to get out, but it was pointless. She wasn’t able to open the door because a filing cabinet had fallen against it. Normally she would have figured this out, but I think she must’ve panicked.
The cabinets were heavy but I slammed against the door and threw them aside as if they weighed nothing. Pure adrenaline. Evan and Sabrina had followed me, and now they were there, too, raising the rest of the cabinets and debris to clear the door.
When everyone had wriggled out, we bolted through the office again and turned the corner, heading toward the elevators. We could hear Lynn’s voice calling to us, ‘Follow me, follow me!’
We started running.

Author Information
Damon DiMarco

is an author, actor, playwright, and historian who wrote Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11, a book telling the story of the September 11 attacks from the perspective of those who were directly affected by the event.Publisher’s Weekly called Tower Stories a “monumental work”; MSNBC said it was “arguably the most successful attempt at capturing the enormity of the events of 9/11.” DiMarco has also authored Heart of War: Soldiers’ Voices from the Front Lines in Iraq, and My Two Chinas: The Memoir of a Chinese Counter-Revolutionary (with Baiqiao Tang), as well as The Actor’s Art & Craft and The Actor’s Guide to Creating a Character (both with William Esper).


‘This volume defends the understanding, as also the horror, of that day. We are indebted to Mr. DiMarco for the effort and for the editorial acuity.’
—William F. Buckley, author and commentator

‘The only widely available oral history of 9/11 from the perspective of New Yorkers, this monumental work has been updated for the sixth anniversary of the national tragedy. . . . DiMarco’s contribution to the memory of that horrific day is enormous; the testimonies collected here form an amazing, one-of-a-kind account.’
—Publishers Weekly

‘The material it offers is unique, a multitude of firsthand experiences preserved as few other 9/11 books have done. This second edition is expanded with many more photographs and with updates about a number of the witnesses interviewed. Recommended for all public and undergraduate libraries.’
—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

‘I hope this book remains in print for a very long time to come because everyone should read it. Our children should read it.’
—Thomas Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission