9/11: A Father's Search for His Girl
This is the first of four "9/11: Perspectives" reflecting on ten years since 9/11. We thank Ms. Pucci for taking the time and care to write her experience for HTE. Ms. Pucci welcomes children's questions about her story. Please feel free to submit them in the comments box below.
9/11 Perspectives: A Father's Search for His Little Girl
by Judith Pucci
I would like you to imagine a beautiful summer’s day. The air is light, the sun shines, the sky is blue and cloudless. That’s what New York City was like on September 11th, 2001. Rains from the night before had scrubbed the city clean. On that bright 9/11 morning I was working from home, sitting at my computer, when the doorbell rang. I figured it must be the messenger with research materials I needed for the project I was writing. I live in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood just north of where the World Trade Center used to be. The messenger told me she had just seen something “very strange.” A plane, she said, flew into one of the Twin Towers. We could see the Towers from my neighborhood; I liked them best at night when they sparkled with lights high into the dark sky. Back in 2001, the Twin Towers were the second tallest buildings in the world, so there were a lot of lights.
Because I didn’t yet know what was happening at the Trade Center that morning, I imagined a small private plane accidently hitting one of the Towers. “No, no,” the messenger said. So I slipped on a pair of shoes and ran outside to see for myself.
When I looked downtown I could see that planes had already been crashed into each of the Towers. Everyone on the sidewalks stared at the two huge fireballs burning high up near the tops of both buildings. No one moved, or spoke. We were all stunned. It was hard, and horrible, to believe what we were seeing even though it was right there, before our eyes.
Soon, fire engines and ambulances tore down Seventh Avenue headed for the Trade Center, sirens screaming. Television news vans appeared on the streets. Police barricades went up. And I soon met a man I didn’t know. He had walked up from the Trade Center looking for one of my neighbors, but she wasn’t home. He worked, he said, in the North Tower, and like everyone at the Trade Center, once the attacks began, he had to evacuate lower Manhattan because it was dangerous. Then he told me about his little girl.
The Twin Towers were two of seven buildings that made up the World Trade Center. Building five had a children’s daycare center. Not only was this man’s 4-year-old daughter in that daycare center, he had tried but couldn’t find her after the attacks began. So he walked uptown to my building to use my neighbor’s telephone, hoping he could reach someone who knew where his daughter was. He didn’t even know if she was still alive.
Maybe you’re wondering why he didn’t use his cell phone. He had one. But cell phones rarely worked that day. So many people tried to make calls they overloaded the networks. I knew he had a better chance of getting through by using the landline phone in my apartment. So I did something I might not have done on a normal day: I invited this man, a complete stranger, into my home.
9/11 was not a normal day. So many people were in trouble. Many were injured. Many more were dead. And everyone wanted to help. There just wasn’t much any of us could do, which was hard to accept. In the days and weeks to come New Yorkers rushed to volunteer by the thousands. We gave blood. We fed the firefighters working down at Ground Zero, which is what the destroyed World Trade Center was called. We cheered these brave men and women each day as they finished their shifts, dirty and exhausted.
But on 9/11 everyone just felt sad and helpless. So I quickly invited this man into my apartment, happy and grateful I could do something good for someone. He told me his name was Allan. I made him tea, but he was too nervous about his daughter to drink it. Again and again he used the phone in the bedroom. Two hours later, we were both exhausted.
Then, as I stood staring out the living room window, he called my name. I remember turning, seeing him framed in the bedroom doorway, the phone to his ear, his hand over the mouthpiece. I could tell by the expression on his face that he had some important news to tell me.“I found her,” he said. His daughter was alive. That’s when Allan and I stopped being strangers. We were so relieved and happy we ran into each others arms and hugged. It was a good feeling for such a painful day.
How were the children saved? Teachers at the daycare center began evacuating the children right after the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46AM, leaving their purses and even their shoes behind as they rushed to safety. "We had infants,” said one teacher. “We had 4-month-olds, we had 3-year-olds. ... We just ran; we went to the left; we went to the right." The teachers fled with babies in their arms and toddlers in shopping carts. First reports said that the daycare children were among the dead. They were wrong. All 42 children were saved.
Judith Pucci is a writer in New York City. She was lucky on 9/11. Everyone she knew who worked near or at the World Trade Center, including her brother, survived the terrorist attacks.