I began my career at Morgan Stanley in New York in March of 2000. At some point during that year, I met a girl at the same company who, as it turned out, 12 years later became my wife. However if it were not for the heroic acts of the Morgan Stanley security team headed by Rick Rescorla (commonly known as "The Man Who Predicted 9/11"), that beautiful day in our lives most likely never would have happened.
Rick and his team saved every Morgan Stanley employee in the World Trade Center that day, and once they did, they went in to rescue others--giving their life in the process. In the spirit of #NeverForget, here is my wife's gripping 9/11 survival story.
ENTER, SHANA SISSEL
As has become my tradition, I am reposting my story regarding my experiences on that horrible Tuesday in September 2001. I still can't fathom that I was actually there, but as every year passes it gets a little bit easier, and the memories of all that I witnessed begin to fade a little bit more each year. And as the years pass I'm torn; while the memories fade, I never want to forget that day
I am truly blessed to be alive today, things could easily have been so different. While I was so fortunate to survive not everyone was as lucky, today I remember Linda George, who served as my "senior leader" during my 8th grade year of junior high school, and Sean Nassaney, whose family I was blessed to get to know a few years ago.
I was always told that the best therapy to help recover from the trauma was to tell my story. It was hard in the beginning, but over the years its become my little tradition to post the details of that day in a note on Facebook, my own brand of therapy. As we all remember those who were lost on September 11, 2001, here is my story:
Well the day is pretty much a blur, but I will do my best to give you some specifics. I was attending a training seminar for work at Morgan Stanley and was supposed to be in NYC from September 10-29, 2001. The seminar was on the 64th floor of 2 World Trade Center. We had just finished hearing from a speaker, Phil Roth, Morgan Stanley's Technical Analyst. He finished early, around 8:30am, and we were given a break until 9am. I was chatting with some other people in the class and we were admiring the view over the Hudson River on this clear and sunny morning. I couldn't really tell you exactly what happened next, but what looked like ash started falling from the sky, we didn't have any idea what it was so we didn't panic. I kind of looked down and watched the "ash" fall on cabs down below. Then a half burned copy of USA Today kind of floated (I don't know why that stands out to me so vividly but it kind of floated by in slow motion) by the window followed by a HUGE fireball.
That was kind of shocking, we all kind of jumped back from the window, and then the team leader for our group came running into the room and told us to "get the fuck out." At this point, nobody knew what was happening, but people started to panic. I still had no clue what was going on but being a bit of a do-gooder, I walked to my table and picked up my books and notes, my purse, etc. and walked to the stairwell. The evacuation was pretty orderly. We took our time, chatted with people around us, nobody seemed worried, rumors had started to circulated that a small plane had crashed into the other building. Yet, nobody seemed to realize it was as serious as it was. Later on, the newspapers would report that the intercom system requested that people go back to their desk--that was indeed true--that message was repeated several times over the public announcement system. However Morgan Stanley's coportate security team led by Rick Rescorla provided the leadership that would save our lives: keep moving and evacuate.
I think I was on the 32nd floor in the stairwell when the second plane hit 2 World Trade Center. The force of the impact threw me with some force up against the wall. I distinctly remember the walls cracking up the center of the stairwell. It was at that point that people panicked. People screamed, I think I even screamed. The whole building shook like we were in the midst of a devastating earthquake.
This fear prompted us to start moving A LOT faster. I remember thinking to myself that I didn't want to die, and I really thought I was going to die. I remember thinking about my grandfather, who I consider my guardian angel, and asking him to help me, praying that I would get out of the building alive and in one piece. By the time we got to the 10th floor it was incredibly smokey and we began to see firefighters go by heading up the stairs to rescue people in the floors above.
The smell was awful, it was a putrid combination of burning metal and jet fuel--an overpowering smell of jet fuel. It was very hard to breathe. I had on a cowl neck top, so I used the extra fabric to cover my mouth and nose like a mask. When I finally got down to the ground floor it was dark, only emergency lights on, and all the glass of the doors and windows had shattered. I don't know how familar you were with the World Trade Center, but the ground level was a mall. I distinctly remember walking by the Coach store and thinking I wanted to come back and buy this really cute messenger bag that was on display. I realize that seems weird, but we still didn't know what was going on, and now that I was on the ground level, my sense of panic had subsided.
We were directed by police and security to an escalator, we were directed to climb the escalator and the exit was at the top. At the door was a police officer, who stopped every person before we were allowed out. He would stop you at the door and count, look up, and then scream "GO!" and we were told to run as fast as we could across the street, we were also told not to look up until we were across the street.
What I didn't realize at the time was that the officer was basically helping us avoid the falling bodies and debris. I have NEVER seen that many police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and emergency personnel in my life! It seemed as though every single emergency vehicle in NYC was in front of the towers. There were even U.S. Army vehicles.
Once we got across the street, I kind of stopped and looked for some people I would know. I looked up and saw the buildings with huge flaming holes, and I swear to you I looked at my friend and said, "Do you think we'll have class tomorrow?" I called my dad, who at the time was a police officer in Worcester, MA, and he actually wasn't aware of what was going on because he didn't have a television on. I managed to tell him that something had happened at the World Trade Center and that I was ok, then my phone cut out.
It was then that I noticed human bodies falling from the towers; images that I would really prefer to forget. A couple of FBI agents walked by and told my friend and me that we needed to get away from the building and told us to walk uptown, so we just started walking. We passed FBI agents, DEA agents, police officers, National Guard, and many of these law enforcement officials were carrying very large automatic weapons. I felt like I was in a war zone.
I had on some pretty substantial heels, we were at about Houston Street when I just couldn't walk anymore. My friend Seth and I found a cab hidden in an alley, and we begged the cabbie to drive us back to our hotel in Midtown. I mean begged, he did not want to take us at all, but once we explained that we had been in the building, he took pity on us. About 30 seconds after we got in the cab the first tower collapsed. I absolutely lost it.
I started sobbing and I remember putting my head in Seth's chest and just saying over and over again that I wanted to go home, that I didn't want to die, I just wanted to go home. When we got back to the hotel we were required to sign in to ensure that a head count could be organized. I don't think I really said much for the rest of the day.
I have a cousin that lives in Times Square, and I walked up to her apartment where all of my relatives that work in NYC had gathered. They kind of wrapped me up in a blanket and let me lay on the couch. I was pretty much catatonic. I was shaking and rocking and not talking. I stayed there until very late in the afternoon, then my cousin sort of carried me to her car and drove me back to my hotel for an emergency meeting. We were told that our training would not continue, that we could stay at the hotel as long as we needed to, we had been given a $500 COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) that morning, and we were told we could keep it, that all meals at the hotel would be free, and we could expense any additional costs to get home.
A lot of people were stuck there for a long time because you couldn't get in or out of the city and all flights had been grounded indefinately. Fortunately, my uncle lives on Long Island and the next day my cousin drove me to his house where I stayed until I could make arrangements with my parents to get home.
For a few days after 9/11 you could smell the jet fuel strongly even on Long Island. After a few days with my aunt and uncle who treated me like I was their own child, they really took care of me despite my recurring flashbacks, nightmares, etc.. I was a walking zombie.
I finally coordinated with my cousin's husband to get a ride to Hartford, CT were my parents met me and drove me back home to Worcester, MA where I'm originally from. For weeks after that I had nightmares. The guy I was dating at the time used to tell me that I would shake while I was sleeping, and scream in the middle of the night. I was lucky because he spent a lot of time at my house which helped me sleep better. Unfortunately, I lived directly underneath the most common flight path for planes landing at Worcester Regional Airport, and it made it that much harder to sleep.
So in December I ended up moving out and moving back in with my parents. You know life went on after that, but several years later I had a serious setback. In June of 2006, I was driving on 195E just outside of Fall River, MA when I witnessed a fatal car accident. I only missed being involved by about a car length. It was the first time since 9/11 that I honestly felt like I was going to die, and that one incident triggered a flashback that resulted in a relapse of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For most of the summer I was a wreck, I wouldn't leave my house, I barely ate, I actually got down to a scary 89 lbs. The slightest noise made me jump out of my skin. I couldn't sleep because of flashbacks and awful nightmares. I was in a very dark place. On August 14, 2006 I brought home a new puppy and he pulled me out of my funk. He forced me to get out of the house, to see people. He certainly helped me through it all.
Life goes on, I'm fortunate to have survived that day, and I will move on and celebrate living every year on the anniversary, but I will never forget.
About Jason Sissel
Jason Sissel is an endurance athlete and philanthropist. For all media, speaking, or sponsorship/partnership inquiries, please contact us.