For the November 2001 issue of Glamour, over two dozen reporters interviewed 20 women about their experiences on September 11—rushing to get their stories before the issue went to press. Two decades later, we’re republishing their stories in this special look into our archives.
GENELLE GUZMAN, 31, WAS ONE OF FIVE SURVIVORS PULLED FROM THE RUBBLE OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.
When my building, the North Tower, first started to shake, I thought it was an earthquake. I called my boyfriend, Roger, and he said, “I’m coming—meet me downstairs.” But then a P.A. announcement said to stay put, so some of us went back to the office.
A while later, smoke poured in, and everyone rushed to the stairwell. We all started down the stairs from the 64th floor together like a human chain. When we reached the 13th floor, I paused to take off my high-heel shoes, and suddenly, boom! The building began to collapse around me. I fell to the floor grasping my coworker’s hand but then lost her grip.
Debris fell from above, followed by total darkness and quiet. I tried to lift my head, but it was stuck between two concrete slabs. For several hours, I pulled, screaming from the pain, until my head broke free. My hip was pinned beneath more concrete, and as I tried to wriggle my legs free, I felt a body nearby. I thought if I could reach him, he could help me, but when I got close, I realized he was dead.
I never slept, not for a minute. I knew if I slept, I’d die. Instead, I prayed and thought about my daughter and Roger. They kept me alive.
When the firefighter found me 24 hours later, my eyes had swollen shut, so I could barely make out his uniform. Roger met me at the hospital. The first thing he said was “I love you.” I just cried. After four days of surgery on my right leg, they think I’ll be able to walk again. The same day the firefighter found me, Roger proposed. And I said yes.
SONYA ROSS, 39, IS A WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT. SHE WAS ON AIR FORCE ONE WITH THE PRESIDENT WHEN THE TWIN TOWERS COLLAPSED.
All of the reporters were staring at the TV in silence. I saw the text on the screen announcing that the first tower was collapsing, but I tore myself away so I could review my notes. Then I heard the TV reporter yell, “The second tower is collapsing!” I looked up. I hadn’t seen any images of the first collapse. It hit me then that there must have been thousands of people in those buildings who were dying. My hands flew to my mouth in horror. “Oh, my God,” I said. It had been very quiet on the plane until then. As a reporter, I try to stay emotionally detached. But when something like that happens, how can you not feel it? How can you suppress it.
EDRA KEHOE, 32, WORKED SEVEN BLOCKS FROM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER. SHE DESPERATELY SOUGHT NEWS OF HER HUSBAND, A NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER.
When I heard that a plane went through the World Trade Center, I went down to the street. Then I saw the second plane hit, and I just lost it. I went looking for my husband’s fire truck, but I had to evacuate. People were running everywhere. I saw people bleeding, people falling. I saw one man sitting on a bench, covered in soot. His mouth was open and he wasn’t even able to talk. I heard people say, “Those poor firemen.” That’s all I heard. Then the towers started crumbling.
I went looking for my husband at his firehouse on the Lower East Side. I saw four firemen in there. One of them said, “Can we help you?” And I said, “I’m Michael Kehoe’s wife.” He said, “He’s not here—he’s down at the World Trade Center.” My whole body went numb. I just sat in the firehouse. Three hours later, the phone rang. Another fireman answered the phone and said, “Mike?” And I thought, Is that Mikey? I got on the phone and he started screaming, “I love you! I love you!”
ERICKA SANCHEZ, 25, WAS IN WORLD TRADE CENTER BUILDING 7 THE MORNING OF THE ATTACK.
When I saw the second plane hit the South Tower, I ran down 30 flights of stairs into madness. The sky was black from smoke. People were running, screaming, stepping all over each other, panicking. I saw a lady being dragged by her hair. Another woman was sitting in a wheelchair, frozen in shock. I don’t know how I did it, but I just pushed her and pushed her to safety, through the dust, and over the rubble. I kept thinking, Will I ever see my family again?
I walked all the way to Brooklyn. When I got home, my sister told me her husband had been working on the 106th floor of the North Tower when the planes hit. “Please go get him!” she begged me. I promised that I would, even though I’d just fled.
I immediately walked back to the site. All over the streets, there were body parts—an arm, a leg—covered in ash. I’m a certified Red Cross rescue worker, so I volunteered to help and was led to a fireman trapped in the rubble. A few of us held him down as a doctor amputated his leg, right there. He was screaming in agony. They couldn’t give him any anesthesia. After they took the leg off, I got sick. I started to pass out and they had to put me on a stretcher with an IV. It was so horrible.
The next few days, I kept going back to the site, to the hospitals, and to the morgue. I had little hope, but I needed to know that I’d done everything I could to find Paul.
SHEILA MOODY, 42, WORKS AT THE PENTAGON.
It was only my second day of work there, so I was pretty excited about my new job and responsibilities. My coworker Louise came over to my desk with a radio and told me two planes had just crashed into the World Trade towers. Not 10 seconds later I heard a loud whistle, then felt a rumble and a quick burst of air. Then there was fire all around me. Flames just engulfed the room. A few seconds later the flames died down and there was this weird quiet—just some crackling sounds. The room was dark and then very quickly full of smoke.
I was afraid for a second, but then this calmness came over me. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t see my family again. I told myself, You’ve got to find a way to get out of this. I heard some people calling out. One said, “It’s Antoinette. I’m on fire! Help me, my body is on fire!” I saw a window above me and started to look for something to break it with, but it was too high up, and the glass was too thick. Then I started praying to God, saying, “You’ve got to help me get out of here.” I said, “I can’t believe you brought me here to die like this.”
Two seconds later, I heard a man’s voice saying, “Is anybody in here?” I called back a few times but then began choking from the fumes, so I started clapping. Through the smoke, I could see his silhouette. I crawled over to him, and he pulled me out, pulled me all the way out of the building into daylight. He went back in and brought out Antoinette. She was in terrible shape. My hands were really burnt and hurting, but outside the building, there were people a lot worse off than I was. I could walk and I could breathe, and I thanked God.
TARAH GRANT, 24, IS A HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND OF HEATHER MERCER, ONE OF TWO AMERICAN RELIEF WORKERS IMPRISONED IN AFGHANISTAN.
As I watched the television footage of the plane exploding, the bodies being carried away from the rubble of the towers and Americans vowing to get revenge, I immediately thought of Heather. She was imprisoned by the Taliban in August on charges of spreading Christianity. I imagined her surrounded by armed Taliban guards, clutching a shawl tight around her head and shivering with fear. I just keep thinking, All she wanted to do was build homes for the poor and feed the hungry. Now she’s a prisoner held by the leaders of a country whose people she wanted to help. And that country is becoming a battlefield.
LISA BEAMER, 32, IS A PREGNANT MOTHER OF TWO WHOSE HUSBAND, TODD BEAMER, WAS ABOARD UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 93. TODD’S PLANE CRASHED IN PENNSYLVANIA AFTER HE AND SEVERAL OTHER PASSENGERS CONFRONTED THE HIJACKERS.
A United representative called me three days after the crash and said he had gotten a call from a GTE Airfone operator who had talked to Todd when he was in the air.
The operator told me he’d been very calm and that he’d given her a play-by-play of what was happening. I think at first he thought they would land the plane and that the hijackers would make their demands. But then the plane started to fly erratically, and Todd found out about the planes hitting the World Trade Center and knew he wasn’t going to make it. He told her about our family and the names of our kids, and he told her about our new baby. Then he asked her to say the Lord’s Prayer with him.
After that, Todd told her that he and some other passengers were planning to jump the hijackers. The last thing she heard him say was, “Are you ready? Let’s roll.” As soon as I heard that, I almost smiled. I could hear his voice because that’s what he always used to say to our little boys. She said she heard some commotion, but Todd never came back to the phone, and then the line went dead.
I’m proud of him for what he did, but I was proud before. I definitely want people to know Todd’s story. I want to honor Todd and to let our boys know and my unborn baby knows what kind of man he was. I also want people to know that if they are ever called on to do something heroic, they will have it in them to do it. One of Todd’s favorite phrases was “You have to step up to the plate.” We can all do that.
KIMBERLY MORAN, 41, IS A FLIGHT ATTENDANT AND THE WIFE OF FALLEN NEW YORK CITY FIRE BATTALION CHIEF JOHN MORAN.
John wasn’t even supposed to work that Tuesday. He was off duty at 7 A.M. but was still hanging around the firehouse when the first call came through. Of course, he went to help. I believe he was in the second tower, and that’s all I know.
Falling apart is not an option for me. I have to be strong for my kids, who will carry this with them for the rest of their lives. I’m a flight attendant for American Airlines, and I probably won’t go back to work. I don’t have the luxury of knowing that my kids have another parent at home with them. But I am going to go on one more flight—just to prove that these terrorists cannot break me.
MARY SCHIAVO, 46, IS A FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, WHICH OVERSEES THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA).
When I first heard about the hijackings, I felt shock and horror, and anger at the criminals who did it. Once I heard these were civilian jet-liners, I also felt dismay over the terrible policy mistakes I believe we’ve made. I thought, 10 years of our begging for security improvements and this is how it had to end up.
When I was inspector general, from 1990 to 1996, we systematically looked at every aspect of airline security, and it failed at every point. We could get knives, guns, hand grenades, fake bombs—literally anything we wanted—through security checkpoints. My employees were able to get onto planes, into cargo holds, onto ramps without a ticket.
When we presented the results, the FAA’s position was that the perception of security was an adequate deterrent for domestic traffic. I was aghast. We gave the FAA two years to improve, but the second time, the results were almost as bad. Boston’s Logan Airport was the second worst out of the 19 biggest international airports in the country at detecting nontraditional items like components for bombs. And we weren’t even trying to get small stuff like ceramic knives and box cutters through.
Some FAA employees were stuck in the southeast during the crisis. Afterward, the FAA gave them tickets to fly home. They rented a bus and drove instead; that should tell you something.
JUDITH MILLER, A SENIOR WRITER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, IS CO-AUTHOR OF GERMS: BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS AND AMERICA’S SECRET WAR
I watched the second explosion from an intersection near my apartment building downtown, about 15 blocks from the World Trade Center. I immediately thought It’s terrorism. It’s Osama bin Laden. There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind. I knew it was bin Laden because he is obsessed with American symbols like the World Trade Center. I looked at those two towers and thought, He finished what he and his followers set out to do in 1993. If he is not evil, I don’t know what evil is.
Even though America is vulnerable to biological warfare, I didn’t worry about anthrax or smallpox onboard those planes because those sorts of weapons would have burned in the explosion—nothing could have survived those crashes. And besides, I don’t think bin Laden has the biological capability—yet.
But if this attack isn’t a wake-up call to the many threats we face, then America is hopelessly asleep. I don’t think anyone can argue that stopping terrorists from using biological warfare has got to be a national priority. And a serious commitment to protecting ourselves means spending money on vaccines and research. We can even put devices in buildings and public places that filter out many of the most terrible biological agents.
None of this preventive spending is as sexy as military defense spending. But it’s not as expensive, either.
JASMINE ROMERO, 33, WORKED AS A VOLUNTEER AT THE NEW YORK CITY MORGUE DURING THE CRISIS.
Nothing you read, nothing you see on television, can give you the impact of what we saw. We wore face masks smeared with Vicks VapoRub to help with the smell of the bodies, but you really have to have a strong stomach.
Some of these bodies were cooked, like when you cook a steak. Some were water-logged. The doctors had to try to get some sort of fingerprint when they could.
I saw a hand, a torso, heads—their mouths were in a big “O.” What were they crying out at that moment? You could read the expressions in their eyes, knowing that something horrible was happening to them. One woman’s torso had her arms tightly crossed, so tightly crossed. She was holding a baby in her arms. I just tried to cling to God as I saw this and said a prayer for her soul.
NAHAMA BRONER, PH.D., 42, IS A PSYCHOLOGIST.
The morning after the attack, I went down to the World Trade Center to relieve my fiancé, who had been pulled in to work at a temporary morgue. I ended up helping for six days.
I was very moved by the extraordinariness of ordinariness—how people really made use of themselves and their skills to work together. On Thursday night, when it was cold and pouring rain, I saw at least 25 firefighters asleep on the sidewalk, partially covered by scaffolding but still get- ting soaked. When firefighters were digging in the rubble, they wouldn’t even accept a pair of dry socks because they didn’t think they had the right to stop at all. A court officer came in who was looking for word on five of his coworkers, but he got no information. What did this amazing man do? He immediately said, “OK, how can I help?” He went out with a cart and brought hot food to rescue workers who were freezing in the middle of the night. The ingenuity of each individual was really inspiring at a time when we’d all seen the worst of humankind.
LISA BEYER, 40, IS A SENIOR EDITOR FOR TIME MAGAZINE.
As I walked through Grand Central Station the day after the attack, I had flashbacks to my time living in Jerusalem, and I became anxious. I was Time magazine’s Jerusalem bureau chief from 1991 to 2000, and while there I lived through many waves of terrorism. Here in America, we’ve had the freedom not to be a vigilant, suspicious society, but that’s over. In Jerusalem, if someone leaves a bag or a box somewhere, the police are notified and the bomb squad is called. If someone is casing a joint, people notice. That’s our future.
People say if you’re afraid, the terrorists have won. Well, you cannot control your feelings, but you can control what you do with them. The day after the attack, I went to work. I could have stayed home, but you cannot live your life that way. That’s how I try to cope.
NYLA IBRAHIM, 27, LIVES IN MANHATTAN.
The day after the attack, my husband and I went to Ground Zero to volunteer. Some of the other volunteers were from a church and had T-shirts saying as much. I wanted people to know I was a Pakistani American—and a Muslim. I told them, “I don’t know if Muslims are responsible for this, but I want to tell you that you’ve just met a Muslim, and I’m standing here with you.”
MANAL OMAR, 26, ORIGINALLY FROM PALESTINE, HAS BEEN LIVING IN THE U.S. SINCE SHE WAS SIX MONTHS OLD.
I think I’m a good U.S. citizen. When the planes hit the Pentagon, I was at a training institute for federal employees and people from the World Bank. My first thought, like so many other people’s, was for my family—my husband works in a federal building and I was desperate to get hold of him. But people in the classroom started to say, “It’s the Arabs, it’s the Muslims,” and it was directed right at me.
I wear the traditional veil, showing only my hands and my face, so it’s no secret that I am Muslim. Everyone was looking at me as if to say, Why aren’t you defending yourself? Finally, this one woman started screaming at me: “I’ve read the Koran—it states that you can kill people!” I just said, “You’re wrong—Islam literally means peace.” But she kept insisting, and everyone’s looks were unbelievably hostile and angry. Finally, a young woman pulled me aside and said, “Look, I’m very sorry, but you should go home and you should probably take off the scarf.”
She was being kind, but it was still shocking. The idea that anyone could make a link between me—someone who runs races for breast cancer, who has worked with USAID, who watches the same television shows they watch—and the people who committed this atrocity was just horrifying. I got into my car, and at that point, I finally cried.
I drove to work on Wednesday, wearing my veil. While I was stopped at a red light, the man in the car next to me started making obscene gestures and veering the car toward me so that I had to slam on the brakes. If I hadn’t, we most certainly would have collided.
I’ve made some concessions for safety—I won’t drive to work during rush hour and have changed my hours accordingly—but mostly I’m trying to live my life, even though it’s made my husband and my sister incredibly nervous. The thing that makes me feel better is that I’ve also experienced an outpouring of support. I’ve gotten countless calls from people I haven’t spoken to in years to make sure I’m OK. That’s the America I love, and that’s the America I’m a part of.
MAVIS LENO, 55, IS CHAIR OF THE FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION’S CAMPAIGN TO STOP GENDER APARTHEID IN AFGHANISTAN.
As the news of the World Trade Center attacks grew ever more terrible, so did my shock and grief. But one piece of news did not shock me—that Osama bin Laden and his hosts, the Taliban, were prime suspects. The Taliban militia have led campaigns of terror against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the Western world for years.
Before the Taliban took power in 1996, Afghan women and girls enjoyed the freedoms that we enjoy in the U.S. I’ve always cautioned that the U.S. should not ignore the Taliban’s gross human rights violations because they would eventually impact the entire world. Now the world is being forced to come to terms with that.
For me, the people—especially the women—of Afghanistan have specific faces. I know their stories and their suffering. […] They say, “Our lives are over since the Taliban, but we will never accept this treatment for our children.” So they teach and give medical treatment and use their skills secretly, risking their lives in the process.
I love them. I fear for them. I am desperate to save them, to help them. I have received many smuggled letters from Afghan women thanking me for giving them hope that the world has not forgotten them. We cannot forget them now; they have suffered long enough.
OFFICER ANNE CAWLEY, 40, LOOKED FOR VICTIMS IN THE WRECKAGE WITH HER SEARCH AND RESCUE DOG, ARAN.
You have to have hope when you go in…but after two days of looking, we didn’t find anybody alive. We went home Saturday night, and I was on the verge of tears. The one thing that made me feel good was all the people who took the time to stand on the West Side Highway and cheer us on. There were hundreds of people with signs that read “Thank You. I Love You. God Bless America.” It was heart-warming and as bad as I felt on the way home Saturday night, I’d go again. I would do it again.
ALISON KINNEY, 27, IS A TEACHER IN TYNGSBORO, MASSACHUSETTS. HER HUSBAND WAS ABOARD UNITED FLIGHT 175, THE SECOND PLANE TO HIT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.
In June, my husband, Brian, and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. We had dreams of traveling and starting a family. But on September 11, everything changed. That morning, my stepmother was frantically calling the airlines to find out something definite about Brian’s flight to Los Angeles. My parents and my brother were there, and I was doing all I could to avoid the TV. But at one point, as I was walking past the living room, I saw the number 175 on the screen. I kept hoping it wasn’t real. My brother came out of the room crying. He didn’t say anything. He just hugged me. That’s when I knew for sure.
I spent that night at my parents’, and I’ve been here ever since. At first I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I can’t even say I was conscious of breathing. My stepmother got some sleeping medicine for me, but the label warned that I shouldn’t take it if I was pregnant. Brian and I hadn’t been trying to have a child, but to be on the safe side, I bought a pregnancy test and took it.
After my sister checked the results, she started crying, and I knew I was carrying Brian’s baby. Initially, I was so thrilled. We all piled into three cars and drove to Brian’s parents’ house to tell them. They were so happy. They’ve prayed for a grandchild, and they thought they’d never have one. It wasn’t until later that I felt conflicted. How could I do this alone?
But now I realize that this child has helped all of us. Right now, I need to stay healthy for our unborn baby. This child is Brian living on through me.
Written and reported in 2001 by Mindy Berry, Caroline Bollinger, Liz Borod, Sari Botton, Cynthia Cooper, Stephanie Dolgoff, Susan Dominus, Shaun Dreisbach, Judy Dutton, Tracy Epp, Emily Friedlander, John Godfrey, Robin Goldman, C.H. Huang, Caitlin Kelly, Maura Kelly, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Jeane MacIn- tosh, Wendy Naugle, Susan Orenstein, Louise Palmer, Andrea Peyser, Janet Reitman, Ellen Seidman, Liz Welch, Reshma Yaqub and Barry Yeoman.