The Passionate Eye

September 11, 2001: 5 firsthand stories from people who survived

Survivors, first responders and family members of people who lost their lives on 9/11 share their stories. "We are, all of us, survivors of 9/11. If you were alive on 9/12, you were a survivor of 9/11. "

'We are, all of us, survivors of 9/11. If you were alive on 9/12, you were a survivor of 9/11.'

N.J. Burke, Melodie Homer, Bill Spade, Lauren Manning and Nancy Suhr all survived 9/11. They share their stories in the documentary 'Surviving 9/11.' (Top Hat Productions)

Almost everybody remembers where they were when they heard about the events of September 11, 2001. 

In the documentary Surviving 9/11, people who were there share their stories: survivors, first responders and family members of people who died remember the day that changed their lives forever. 

What was it like to live through the attacks? And how does one move on from a day that no one wants to forget? 

Content warning: this story contains some disturbing details.

Melodie Homer

Melodie Homer's husband LeRoy Homer was the First Officer on United Airlines Flight 93 - the plane that was hijacked as part of the 9/11 attacks. It crashed into a field in Pennsylvania and killed all 37 passengers and seven crew members on board, including LeRoy.

Melodie Homer’s husband LeRoy Homer was the First Officer on United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that was hijacked as part of the 9/11 attacks. (Top Hat Productions)

LeRoy specifically had always wanted to work for United Airlines. That was his dream job. Even before he met me, he probably had ten photo albums filled of all the places he'd been.

He would write on the back of them where the place was. [I asked], "Why are you writing on the back of them?" He's like, "Well, what if I forget when I'm old?" He would send me postcards from places that would [arrive] two weeks after he came home.

Pilot LeRoy Homer would send his wife Melodie postcards from around the world. They'd arrive two weeks after he got home. (Top Hat Productions)

At some point, I turned on the television. My phone started ringing…with people wanting to know where LeRoy was and that's when I started to feel panicked. They didn't know what was going on and how many more planes had been hijacked. I had called the United Airlines flight office. They said everything was okay with his flight; specifically, the phrase the person said [was], "Don't worry. I promise you, everything is okay."

She said to me, "Would you like me to send him a message to him in the cockpit? And I said, "Yes, please just tell him that I wanted to make sure that he was okay." At that point, he would have wondered what in the world is going on. 

LeRoy Homer had always wanted to work for United Airlines. (Top Hat Productions)

Someone from United Airlines called again. He asked me, "Are you alone?" And he said, "I think that last plane was LeRoy's." I was next to the window. I remember just slamming my hand against the glass, I was just beating it and I was… I was just saying, "No, no, no."

I just said, "You promised me that he was ok."

Nancy Suhr

Nancy Suhr's husband Danny Suhr was a New York City Firefighter. He was killed on 9/11, when someone who had fallen from the South Tower landed on him.

Nancy Suhr was married to firefighter Danny Suhr. He was the first firefighter to be killed by a jumper as he was entering the South Tower. (Top Hat Productions)

Danny loved being a firefighter. He would say if we won the lottery, if I wanted to quit my job, fine, but he was never quitting the fire department. He just loved every minute of it. There's a little bit of crazy in all of them and there was a little part of him that liked the fire. He would be on vacation and I would hear him call the firehouse and be like, "Did I miss anything? I miss a good job?"

I put the TV on [on 9/11] and I was like, "This is going to be bad." 

"Danny loved being a firefighter. He would say if we won the lottery, if I wanted to quit my job, fine, but he was never quitting the fire department. He just loved every minute of it." (Top Hat Productions)
 

I was watching everything unfold on TV and I just got this wave of panic and sheer terror. And then the phone clicked and it was Brian from the firehouse. 

He said to me, "Nancy, Danny's been hurt. I'm coming to get you."

And you know that's not good. They're not coming to get you if he broke his arm.  

Brian picked me up. We didn't speak the whole ride, but there was not one car on the road, just us. It was eerie.

We pull up to Bellevue and there are nurses and doctors and they're standing outside. No one was coming. I ran inside. They were lined up in the hallway, all of the guys from his firehouse and Chief Jinkowski stood up and I said, "Where is he?"

And he just looked at me. He was like, "Nancy..."

And I'm like, "Where is he?"

And he was like, "He's gone."

I looked up and there was Chris Barry, another guy who was with Dan that day. He was grey. No one would look at me.

Apparently...somebody had fallen from the building [and] landed on him as he and his group were going into the South Tower. It cracked his forehead in half, broke his nose, broke his eye socket, broke his neck.

I just remember they brought me in and he was covered up to here. I remember just kissing him on the cheek and whispering in his ear and telling him that I would always love him and I would make sure [our daughter] Brianna knew him. She would know that he was a wonderful man and he would be part of our lives forever.

He was so proud of the fact that he played football since he was six years old and never broke his nose and I remember thinking, "God, he's gotta be pissed off he broke his nose."

Danny Suhr had played football since he was six years old and had never broken his nose. A broken nose was among his many fatal injuries on 9/11. (Top Hat Productions)

From what I understand, the person who ended up hitting [him] was a woman. People have asked me, "Aren't you angry?"

I'm like, "Are you kidding me? What [were] her last thoughts?"

But he was going into the South Tower. The South Tower collapsed. He was going to die one way or the other that day.

Bill Spade

Staten Island firefighter Bill Slade was the only one of the 12 firefighters on duty from his firehouse to survive 9/11.

Staten Island firefighter Bill Spade got a call from an off-duty firefighter who told him he'd just seen a plane hit the World Trade Centre. (Top Hat Productions)

I remember coming into the door to the firehouse that morning. The radio was blasting. There's French vanilla coffee made and there's a dozen bagels there. So now, without even looking, I know Doug Miller's working, I know Nicky's working and cooking on the stove is Joe Miscali and he's making French toast that morning. I remember telling him, "Joe, I want the first piece that comes off, I gotta taste this."

I get a phone call from on off-duty fireman. He tells me, "Bill, I just saw a plane hit the Trade Center." He says it sounds like it's going to be something. "You'd better head out also."

I popped on the corner of Liberty and West. I got my gear on. I made sure I had everything I wanted: two good flashlights, a heavy duty rope, but as I crossed those six lanes of highway, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Bodies were dropping right in front of us. One lady coming down screaming, hitting the ground and then there was really nothing left.

Producer: This is right in front of you?

Within three feet. I remember a man and woman jumping, hugging each other and they still had their arms around each other as they landed. That's the way it remained.

Lauren Manning

Lauren Manning was a new mom, just back at work in the World Trade Centre on 9/11. She was caught in a fireball and suffered an 82.5% total body burn. Manning spent months in a coma before a long period of rehabilitation.

Lauren Manning was caught in a fireball on 9/11. She suffered an 82.5% total body burn and spent months in a coma before a long period of rehabilitation. (Top Hat Productions)

Growing up during the 70s and 80s, what I wanted most was what was espoused in the pages of Glamour and Cosmopolitan: to have it all, to be at all, to do it all. In 2001, I was running the Worldwide Division of Market Data for Cantor Fitzgerald. The towers represented a place of great promise and great hope. It was my home.

I was still a new mom, filled with the joys of everyday new worlds opening for this little boy. At the same time I was anxious to get to work, because [of] the projects I had at hand. They were exciting and it was a place of peace.

I looked up and saw the second plane hit the South Tower. I could see the flames, but most of all, I could feel them burrowing deeper and deeper and deeper and through my clothes and through my skin. I began to feel my consciousness slipping away and I screamed to my son, "Tyler, I can't leave you now. I won't leave you now."

They diagnosed me with an 82.5 per cent total body burn. Most of it third and fourth degree, a fight that no one thought I would be able to come out of. For three months in the ICU, I learned to walk again. To do things like sit up, through extraordinary pain and open wounds that did not heal for years."

After 9/11, Lauren Manning had to re-learn how to walk. (Top Hat Productions)

I felt then the way I feel today, which is incredibly grateful and strong. I have so much to do with my life, but I feel so sorry for that person. Gee whiz, it's tough to look at. I got beat up pretty bad.

I was happier in a sense back then. Life was simple.

I had, through my injury, that beautiful moment of being able to be strong and unabashedly myself, whereas in business, there wasn't a time that there weren't unwanted passes. There wasn't a time where a role wasn't most often given to a man before a woman. Finally, I had a moment where I could be myself.

N.J. Burke

N.J. Burkett was a reporter for ABC on 9/11. 

Reporter NJ Burke covered 9/11 for four days, sleeping in the satellite truck. (Top Hat Productions)

So the plan on the way down was for us to get into one of the towers. I want to be there with the firemen. I want to document these heroic rescues. I want to see the heroism and the bravery of…of the firefighters. We parked a block from the North Tower. I come around the corner, I look up, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There was just no way we could get close enough to the towers to get inside.  

You had these guys standing there. I mean, they're standing like soldiers waiting to go into battle. Some of them who were just sort of staring up at the towers, unblinking, wondering if they were going to be sent in.

On 9/12, I covered the story, slept in the satellite truck at Ground Zero. On 9/13, covered the news all day, slept in the satellite truck again. Covered the news on 9/14, did the 6 o'clock news and then went home.  

Reporter NJ Burke covered 9/11 for four days, sleeping in the satellite truck : Surviving 9/11

1 month ago
1:24
"At the time, I thought 9/11 was just the beginning. That we were gonna have suicide bombers on Broadway shows, suicide bombers on the subways. I thought that this was sort of the – the opening salvo of an ongoing series of terrorism attacks on New York. It started to rule my world. " 1:24

At the time, I thought 9/11 was just the beginning. That we were gonna have suicide bombers on Broadway shows, suicide bombers on the subways. I thought that this was sort of the – the opening salvo of an ongoing series of terrorism attacks on New York.  It started to rule my world.  

When is the next event gonna happen?  

We are, all of us, survivors of 9/11. If you were alive on 9/12, you were a survivor of 9/11.  

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