Shaun O’Connell, a vice president for AFGE Local 1760, was working in a building near the World Trade Center in New York City on the day of the 9/11 attacks. Here is the email he sent out to friends and family on September 11, 2001 – ten years ago.
“Hey guys, I just wanted to say that I’m fine after the WTC attack, which is what my mother and I have conveyed to many via the phone. I just wanted to send the following account to rest my vocal chords and fill in others who I did not have time to contact.
Around 9AM, I boarded the A-train heading downtown after hearing some vague account on the radio of a plane crashing into the WTC. I wasn’t terribly concerned because I thought it may have been some little Cessna that accidentally crashed into a tower. After all, I remember seeing the pictures of when a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building in 1943. Some unfortunately died, but it was a small number and the building bounced back quickly.
After going 4 stops to 14th Street, our train was stopped due to the “incident” at WTC. I still did not know the full extent of the carnage. The time was about 9:30 AM. This was soon after the second plane hit the South tower, and I was about 2 miles away. Because of the long delay, I thought I would be a clever customer by taking the cross-town L train to Union Square and then transferring to the 4/5/6. I caught the 4 train going downtown and stayed in that car for the next 2 hours between the City Hall stop and Union Square. Fortunately, I was in a section of the car with a bunch of jovial young guys on their way to work. I found out from them that each tower suffered a kamikaze, and I just could not believe it. While we were there, one guy was jokingly hawking his 25 cent newspaper for 5 dollars and reduced the price each time we got closer to the City Hall station.
While we were talking and joking, the conductor made numerous announcements about our delay being caused by the “incident.” After the 5th time, we commented how annoying it was because no one knew certainly got on the train in between stations during the last 2 hours. One lady was flipping out on the other side of the subway car out of site because the car was crowded but fortunately not packed. She was probably claustrophobic. Luckily, she was the exception and not the rule. People I saw were remarkably calm all day. What do you expect from New Yorkers? At one point, the conductor entered our car with a local news reporter, Arthur Chein of New York One News (a local CNN-type station), who apparently got stuck with us while the biggest story since WWII was unfolding. When he passed us, I told one of the jovial who the guy was. Arthur then mentioned over his shoulder that he was “still stuck down here with you.” I found this amusing since he went right off the stationary train with the conductor’s help soon after making his baleful comment. The conductor helped him disengage the guards between the cars, and he stepped down onto the track bed and walked across the tracks to an empty local uptown station platform. I guess he invoked journalistic privilege. Around this time (10:20 AM) the towers had collapsed, and I was about a mile away.
Ironically, the train starting moving soon after. One of the jovial joked that we should give Arthur a “half a peace sign,” which I called the “you’re number one,” hand signal (a very upright middle finger) to him when we passed him at the station. Sure enough, we saw Arthur on a payphone in the opposite platform when we passed. And no, we didn’t have time for the signal since we were too amused watching him make remonstrating gestures during his phone conversation.
Finally, we entered the City Hall Station and had to dock behind 3 prior abandoned 4 trains in the station. Then, we walked forward single file through the end-to-end trains until we reached the first where one side door was opened manually by the transit authority workers who did a great job of directing us. I then emerged from the City Hall station using the exit that put me in the south-west corner of Foley Square on Layette Street. NYPD detectives were herding people north to Chinatown. It was odd because they were very urgent but we were facing north away from the disaster behind buildings so I only saw a beautiful blue sky looking up at first. At this point, I was less than one half mile from the WTC and a half block from my duty station in 26 Federal Plaza.
I flashed my federal ID to the detective, and he let me pass west on Duane St. After making my way to the building, I was stopped right in front of the African Burial Ground by a FBI assault team. They are distinctive for wearing olive-drab, non-camouflage fatigues with black webbing and black Kevlar helmets. The agents carried Heckler Kock 40 submachine guns and asked me for ID. After explaining that I was reporting to my duty station, they told me that the building was closed. I asked whether it was just closed to the public or whether it was totally evacuated. They confirmed it was the latter, and I left.
I then started my 4-hour trek home. By subway, I would usually be home in
half-an-hour. However, the subways now were completely shut down in Manhattan.
I then began walking north by north-west to home. I made it to Church St. a few blocks north of Chambers Street. At this point, I finally witnessed the magnitude of the attack. I looked for the common landmark that so many New Yorkers used to navigate, but it was amazingly gone. A large dust and smoke cloud was the only thing there. I could not believe it.
I was joined by thousands of other stranded people just walking around in disbelief, staring at the void, standing around parked cars with radios blaring the news, and waiting in line for their turn using a pay phone. I started walking north up 6th
avenue seeing some people with ash on them and cars caked with dust. I would stop periodically just to look back at the incredibly altered skyline.
When I reached west 3rd street, a man was exhorting pedestrians to donate
blood at St. Vincent’s, which received the most victims initially. Restaurants were giving out water and free food to many. I also saw a motorcyclist ferrying a firefighter on the back of his hog. I proceeded to walk to St. Vincent’s and saw a mass of people outside waiting to give blood. Crude signs denoted where different blood types should stand with the O+ and O- sections most conspicuous. Neighbors came out to offer food and water to the waiting volunteers. I walked over to the AB sign and was told to just leave my name and telephone number since they were overwhelmed. After leaving my details I walked up to 14th street to find a working subway line.
Nothing was running as of 1 pm, so I went to find a place to eat and rest. I stopped at McKenna’s bar and saw the TV images for the first time. I quickly ordered a well-done burger and a stout. I was fixated by what I watched. While sitting at the bar, I was drawn into a conversation with an old veteran who had lost his right hand. He decried the suicide attack and asserted that if they had a problem with our nation’s policy they should have attacked the military not innocent people. A woman at the bar sobbed every time she saw the video of the towers collapsing. Many New Yorkers had family and friends in those buildings. The bar was filled with elevator and construction workers who wanted immediate vengeance. The plan of bombing “them all with God sorting them out” was somewhat popular.
I left after hearing about limited A-train service around 2PM. Nevertheless, the platform was very crowded so I jumped on a E-train at 14th Street and 8th Avenue and transferred to the D at 7th Avenue to finally reach 125th Street and St.Nicholas. After finally getting home before 4PM, I spent the next hours making phone calls to reassure many that I was fine. Then, I was glued to the TV set for many hours. Since my workplace is 7 blocks away from ground zero, I was called by management and told not to report there the day after. I found out that all of my coworkers were fine and that many saw everything happen much too close from their office windows. I spent the day watching the news and calling firefighters that I worked with at the bar I bounce at. I called Duane who is stationed by the WTC and talked to him directly. He said his company responded but were not deployed inside the towers when they came down. He sounded very depressed and related how he lost many good friends yesterday. I later found out that Steve and Tommy were also unharmed.
I also called by buddy Felix who is a cop in the South Bronx. He was exhausted after doing 2 consecutive 12-hour shifts keeping order in the Bronx and directing traffic in
uptown Manhattan. Felix related how on edge the cops were after hearing the cries and pleadings for help from cops caught in the rubble over the radio channels. Many broke down after hearing a doomed female comrade in pain and anguish. Their patience was especially short with problematic members of the public. Felix yelled at a guy who was bent out of shape because his auto route home was disrupted. He reminded him that many could not even go home. New York’s finest were overworked emotionally overwhelmed. They chased down a wheelchair bound person who was moving erratically with a strange package. Felix also told of a friend of ours, Francisco, who called him from Ground Zero and broke down. He is a NY State Park police officer who was rushed down there after the attack.
On Thursday, I had to report to my old duty station in East Harlem instead of 26 Federal Plaza because it is 7 blocks away from WTC. I will remain there for the immediate
So far, I’m glad to say that I am not aware of any friends, acquaintances, or coworkers that have been harmed physically by the attack. I hope my luck continues.”