Jean Sheppard of Hood River felt the horror of Sept. 11 through her sister, Janice, who works as the executive assistant to one of the Vice Chairs of the New York Stock Exchange, just three blocks from the World Trade Center.
Janice wrote this letter on Sept. 11 from New York just after surviving the World Trade Center disaster:
To all my friends & family,
I want to tell you that I am alive and it is a miracle!
I was on the street only three blocks away when the World Trade Center collapsed. I was at work at 9 a.m. when the first plane struck the building. From my boss's office we could see the building engulfed in flames. Around 9:30 a.m. we were told to evacuate the building. I was walking uptown to try to get to the (subway) at 9th Street, just three blocks from the WTC when I heard all this screaming. I looked behind me and saw the building collapsing.
Everyone on the street started to scream "run!" There was this huge cloud of smoke just coming down the street and I was right in it's path. Debris was flying everywhere and people were screaming! I started to run but realized it was pointless, so I crawled under a truck parked in the street. It was of little use, I and everyone around me was covered in smoke, soot and falling ash. It was so thick I could not see my hands in front of my face. The smoke was suffocating and it smelled awful. The glass dust was burning my face and hands. I really thought I was going to die! I heard people screaming and moaning for help and in pain, there were many injured and I just started to feel with my hands and feet where I was to get out from under the truck and on the sidewalk. I had no idea where I was or what to do. My foot hit a curb and I felt a fence.
Some guys were holding onto the fence and one yelled, "Get down! Cover your face with your shirt!"
I held onto the fence for a minute and then noticed people yelling from a nearby drugstore to come inside. I ran into the drugstore and there were employees handing out water and attending to the injured. One woman had a broken leg and was in shock and was shaking.
People were holding her hand and trying to calm her down. There was a Hispanic guy with a huge gash on his forehead and he couldn't speak any English. I held his hand and bandaged his head. Meanwhile, many people were throwing up soot and ash on the floor. The floor of the drugstore was littered with water and merchandise. I was in total shock but happy to be alive. I drank a lot of water and was otherwise okay.
The customers in the store and the employees were incredible. They gave us eyewash to wash the soot from our eyes and were giving out handkerchiefs and water to wash and cover our mouths. There was about 50 folks in that store. Then they made an announcement that they were closing the store and the only way off of Manhattan was the Brooklyn Bridge. I found another Hispanic guy who spoke Spanish to take care of the guy with the gash on his head.
I started walking to the bridge with thousands and thousands of people. I met up with a stranger named Chris who took my hand and told me he knew where to go and said we were going to go to the nearest hospital in Brooklyn to be checked out. We walked one hour over the bridge into Brooklyn. The people that were unhurt on the Bridge were going to hospitals to volunteer.
Everyone was very cooperative and helpful. I got to the Hospital and was treated for smoke inhalation and released. I called a friend in Brooklyn and stayed with him for the night. I called my parents to tell them I am okay and they were crying thinking I was dead.
The NYSE is only a few blocks from the WTC. They said all the family was calling for me and very upset and I wanted to let you know that I am okay.
Unfortunately, I have a cousin on my Mom's side that works at the WTC in Tower 2 on the 104th floor and we think he is dead. We have not heard from him. I don't know what I am going to do or when I can go back to work. I am in complete shock and could not sleep last night.
The sounds of people screaming and that image of the building collapsing will haunt me forever. I am so happy to be alive and grateful my life was somehow spared. Everything seems so surreal and I can't believe this is happening to me and I somehow survived unscathed.
Janice's story is not the end of the story but the beginning. Jean Sheppard writes:
"Janice went back to work the day the NYSE opened but is still haunted by the events of 9/11. Out here on the west coast I don't think we quite appreciate the loss of life and the number of families that have been affected by this tragedy.
My mother's cousin, Ann, lost her husband, Dick Todisco. Ann and Dick have two children, Lisa and Gregory, who are both students at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y. Dick was a stockbroker at Sandler, O'Neill & Partners, a stock brokerage firm on the 104th floor of Tower 2 WTC. Ann last heard from Dick right before the second plane hit the towers. I believe that 20 people out of 100 who worked for that company left the building immediately after the first plane hit but most stayed in their offices because that's what the Port Authority was telling people to do over the building loudspeakers. I know that's common fire safety procedure but in this case it proved fatal because no one knew that another plane was on the way.
My mother reports that 11 people are missing from our hometown of Chatham, N.J.; six of them are parishioners at the church our parents go to (and where I went to elementary school). Most of the widows are young mothers and several are pregnant. One is expecting twins in December. At least 1,600 area children are reported to be without a parent as a result of the terrorist acts.
Janice and I and our brother, David, grew up in Chatham, which is about 20 miles due west of Manhattan. Most of our neighbors and the parents of our classmates worked in Manhattan. The twin towers were finished while I was in high school and it's hard for me to remember the skyline without them.
I haven't lived in the New York area since 1988 but it will always be the source of all my childhood memories and all but a few of my relatives live in and around the city. I still have lots of friends there too since I went to both college and law school in New Jersey and worked in New York city for many years.
For most of the country the streets and buildings shown on the news are unfamiliar; I have vivid memories of taking the PATH train into the World Trade Center and going to meetings downtown in "the canyons" of Wall Street. The offices I worked in were in mid-town Manhattan but the nature of my work took me to that section of the city quite frequently. It's sad to see that vital part of the city so devastated.
Nevertheless, the buildings can be replaced but the lost spouses, parents, sons and daughters will never come back. And the true heroes were the firefighters who ran into the buildings when everyone else was running out.
It's hard to imagine any monument or memorial wall that could honor them sufficiently for their sacrifice."