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Excerpt

 

Roselyn Braud


A Mother's Run for Her Life


Roselyn Braud was the master of the keys at the World Trade Center. Every day she would report to work in the key control room in the basement of the South Tower. Anyone who wanted to get anywhere that required a key needed to see her first. Elevator operators. Window washers. Electricians. Repair workers. Cleaning crews. Outside contractors. They all lined up outside her bulletproof window, produced the required ID, and signed out the keys before heading off to their jobs.

When things got hectic in the adjacent operations control center, Roselyn would walk down the hallway and help out answering the telephones or keeping an eye on the security monitors. The operations control center, or OCC, as it was known, was the nerve center of the Trade Center complex. Tenants called to report everything from burnt-out lightbulbs to slippery coffee spills in the lobby. The elevator alarms also sounded there.

September 11 was one of those hectic days, with more calls coming in than the four people there could possibly handle. For about sixteen minutes, Roselyn listened and tried to help, if only by promising to do her best. But when United Airlines Flight 175 struck her tower, she said enough was enough.

I am the only one from that basement office who made it out alive. And that's because I lost it. I went crazy with fear. I just had to get out. I was thinking of my two children growing up without their mother. My colleagues down there with me didn't want to hear about that. I was just screaming and making the men crazy. We saw on the security cameras what happened to the North Tower. We also got frantic calls on our radios from security officers who watched it burn. Then the second plane hit our building. We didn't know what it was. They tried to tell me the big explosion that threw me on the floor and knocked out our power was an elevator dropping. I knew better. "You think I am a damn fool?" I said to the operations manager, Edward Calderon. "I have been in this building for so many years. I know that is not an elevator falling." I cursed all of them and started to cry. I stayed on the floor and rocked back and forth. It was like I was out of my mind.

Then the emergency lights kicked in. We could see again. I jumped up and grabbed my bag.

"Where are you going?" Calderon asked.

"I am getting the hell out of here," I said.

Calderon ran ahead and disappeared for a minute down the hall. When he came back, he looked like he had seen a ghost. He hugged me.

"Ros, don't go out there," he said. "It is much safer in here."

"I have two children," I said. "I don't want to die."

Esmerlin Salcedo turned and looked at me. He was a security guard. He had been taking a training class upstairs. After the first plane hit, he came flying downstairs, threw his bag on the floor and started answering phones with the rest of us. "Ros," he said, "I have four kids."

"God bless them if you die," I told him. "But you have a wife. I am dead, mine have nobody."

I couldn't take it anymore. "Screw this," I said. "I am leaving."

I put my bag tightly over my shoulder and started walking down the dimly lit hall toward my key control room. No one tried to stop me. In the meantime, there had been an announcement on the radio from the police commander ordering everyone to evacuate the complex. Salcedo called out to me. "Let me take you out," he said. And he did. And I will tell you, he saved my life. We locked arms and started to run. When we passed the truck bay it was dark and very smoky. I began to panic again. If I had been alone, I know I would have turned back and died with the rest of them. That's how scared I was. But Salcedo gave me courage.

"Come on, you'll make it, Ros," he said. But I had no strength in my legs. I was so scared that I couldn't even get myself up the stairs.

"Come on, Ros, you have to make it, you have to see your kids!" he shouted as he dragged me up. I was dead weight for him. I knew it. My knees banged against the steps, but he kept pulling. Finally, we came out a door by Ben & Jerry's in the shopping concourse. I looked around. People couldn't get through the revolving doors to Liberty Street because there was so much smoke. I have never seen fire like that. It was thick with dark red and black colors. All I could hear were people hollering and the horrible sounds of panic.

I turned to Salcedo. "Let's go!" I said. "Let's run!"

He put his arms around me and hugged me. It was a strong squeeze. He was scared too. "Ros, you go," he said.

"You come with me!" I begged.

"No, I will be coming, you just go," he said. "I have to let the guys in the control center know how bad it is up here."

I looked around. There were so many people running. Somehow seeing them gave me strength. I started running with them, leaving Salcedo behind. I think he headed back downstairs, but I didn't wait to see.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for him back down in the operations control center. But I know it was some form of hell, because that's what it was like for me before he helped me get out. When the first plane hit, I had just finished reading my "daily word" and was reaching for the newspapers on a nearby desk. It was a slow time every morning after 8:30. I started work at 5:30, when we had roll call for the security guards one floor lower on B2, the second underground level. There was probably about a hundred of us there that morning. They called off our names, and for those who didn't have a regular assignment, they announced the duties for the day. I walked directly upstairs to the key control room, where I had been handing the keys for six years.

It was a good job. I came to New York from Guyana in 1992, not knowing what awaited me. I got hired by Summit Security and they posted me at the World Trade Center. I wore a uniform of gray pants, black shoes, white shirt and a blue tie. Our supervisors had red ties. We also had blazers, but I never wore mine.

That morning I had the regular flow of cleaners and elevator starters come by for their keys. There was also a guy from Motorola who was working a job up on the 110th floor of Building 1. Something to do with the antenna. His name was Mike and he had been there Monday too, but didn't quite finish. So he was there at my window again, well before seven a.m. "Wow, you are early," I said to him. "I've got too much to do," he said. He was back again in about an hour to return the key. I gave him back his driver's license, which I collected from all outside contractors, and he was off. Lucky timing for him. I am sure he made it. It was still early.

Roko Camaj wasn't so lucky. He was a window washer who came by around 6:30. Roko was a beautiful man. He couldn't stop talking about his vacation. Monday he was talking about it and Tuesday he was still talking about it. He and his wife went somewhere, I can't even remember where, but they had a really good time. He had kids, and one of them was studying to be a doctor. He talked about those kids all of the time. He got his keys that morning, and that's the last I saw of him. He didn't make it. Neither did Sonia Ortiz, who came to get her elevator key. She ran elevator 99A, which was a service elevator that went from the 78th floor and up in Building 1. The tenant elevators were self-service, but the service and freight elevators had operators. They were always bringing stuff up to the Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top. James Audiffred ran the same elevator in the other tower, Building 2. He didn't make it either. He didn't have a radio that morning. He probably never heard the orders to evacuate.

Samuel Fields is another one I saw that morning for the last time. He came at eight o'clock every day to collect keys for buildings 1, 2, 4 and 5. His job was to make sure that all of the security and fire doors were closed. We had cameras posted everywhere, and when one of the cameras showed that an emergency door had been left open, he was the one who had to go close it and lock it, if it was supposed to be locked. He was a quiet man. He would wear each set of keys on his belt. One bunch for each building. I was nice to him. I know what it is like to walk a lot, so I would slip him one of the elevator keys every morning. "Use the elevator when you have to go so high," I told him. He hid that one in his pocket. I am told that he was last seen helping some firefighters find their way through one of the towers.

When the first plane hit, the basement trembled and the screen on my computer started to blink. I turned down the music I had been listening to and turned up the security radio. There was a lot of screaming on the radio by officers out on the street who had seen the plane crash. "Oh my God, an airplane just hit the building!" one of them shouted. Another officer, Hermina Alam (we know her as "Joanes"), who worked on the 22nd floor where we had a security center with surveillance monitors, was yelling hysterically.

I went down the hall toward the operations control center and right away the phones started ringing. Most of the calls were from people trapped in their offices, but there were some from people wanting to know what was happening. There was a box on the wall above the console for communicating with the elevators. If you pressed the button, you could speak. The elevator buzzers were going off constantly. People were trapped and didn't know what to do. They pleaded with us to get them out. The monitors to the outdoor security cameras were showing bodies falling out of windows. At first I thought it was only paper, but then I realized there were people too. I stopped looking at the monitors. I didn't want to see that. Oh my God, it was so awful.

When I spoke to people on the phone, I tried to calm them down. That wasn't easy, though, because I was so nervous. My hands were so sweaty that the phone kept slipping from my grip. At some point, my friend Marie called. She was a security officer on the 22nd floor. She was crying. I could hear the fire roaring in the background. "Ros, if I don't make it, please help my children," she said. I told her to get some water from the water cooler, but she said it was so hot everywhere that even that water was too hot to use. Thank God, she made it out. And so did Joanes. A firefighter got there in time and broke the wall down with an ax.

I took calls from the outside too. People couldn't reach their relatives in the tower, so they were calling us. I feel bad, but I had to curse one of them out and hang up on her. She was crazy and shouting at me. Her sister worked in Building 1.

"What do you want me to do?" I asked her. "What you need to do is pray for your sister. Pray, pray, pray. And trust in God that she makes it out, because right now we don't know if we are coming or going."

My niece, Nebert, also called from home. She worked at the Trade Center too, but she had the day off. She was watching the news and told me to get out. I said that I had to work, that my colleagues had said that none of us should leave. She was crying and I was crying. She told me not to listen to them, to just get out as fast as I could. In a little while I would do just that. I also tried calling my sister, Pam, who worked at 5 World Trade Center, but I couldn't get through to her. The last person I spoke to was a woman up in the burning tower. I can't remember her name. It won't come to my head for nothing. But I wrote it down with the others along with her floor and building numbers.

I can still hear her voice. "Please, please send some help to me," she begged. "I can't breathe. The smoke is coming under the door. Please help me. Oh! It is getting worse. Please do something."

My God, what does someone do? I told her that I would do my best to help her—whatever that meant I honestly did not know—when suddenly there was a huge explosion. The second plane hit my building. We shook so much that I was thrown off my feet and was slammed hard on the floor. I saw Larry Bowman, one of the security officers in the control center, keep answering the phones. The others tried to calm me down. I had gone berserk. "Oh my God, what is going on! Oh my God!" I shouted. That's when they started telling me it was just an elevator dropping, that I should stop screaming. I didn't believe the story about the elevator. And neither did they. I've already told you what happened next.

Once I was up in the shopping concourse, after leaving Salcedo, I had some more hard times. As I was running to get outside, someone pushed me into another woman. My whole shirt was feeling wet and when I looked down I saw that it was soaked in blood. I started to scream and I looked at the woman. Her arm was practically gone. She had flesh hanging from the bone. I could see the bone so clearly. That made me freak out again. I screamed uncontrollably and was running in circles. Someone grabbed me and pulled me against the wall and slapped my face.

"Roselyn, calm down! It is David. Calm down!" It was David Achee. He worked in the locksmith's shop, but I knew him because he used to work in the OCC.

"Who did you leave downstairs?" he asked. "Who is in OCC? Listen to me carefully. Who is in OCC?"

"Ed Calderon," I finally said. For some reason, Ed was the only person I could remember, though I know Salcedo, Bowman and John White, a janitor who worked for ABM Industries, were also with him.

"I have been trying to get Calderon on the radio and I can't get him," David said.

I didn't know what to say. My whole world was spinning out of control. I broke loose and started running again. I would find out later that David also made it out. I ran past the entrance to the PATH trains. I saw firefighters and FBI people. "Get out of here," they were yelling. "Run for your lives! Run for your lives!" People were crawling on the floor of the shopping concourse, fighting to get up the stairs at the Borders bookstore. No one was helping anyone. The strongest survived. People were climbing over each other. When we got to the revolving door going outside, it was a mad scene as everyone pushed and crushed their way into the door. I wasn't going to take a chance with that, so I found another door that was open. Outside there was a firefighter with a microphone, he kept saying, "Go this way! Keep moving!"

As soon as I crossed Church Street I heard more screaming. I am telling you, it was so confusing. I was holding on to the fence at the cemetery and people were running all over the place. When I looked back, I saw our building come crumbling down. I squeezed the fence and screamed until I had no voice. Then I got covered in the dust. I couldn't see and I couldn't hear, that's how thick it was. I couldn't do anything but pray.

"Oh, my God, this is it. I am going to die right here. Oh, please I don't want to die. Please get me out of here."

A voice in my head told me to put my shirt over my face. I did and I could breathe again. I still couldn't see so I worked my way slowly along the cemetery fence, feeling the way and walking. Oh, Lord, please let me get out of here. I felt a car and then the front of a building. I didn't realize it, but I had crossed the street. I think it was Broadway. I kept walking when suddenly I could see something, it was a light. It was inside a store. I banged on the glass, but nobody would open the door. I kept banging. Nothing. So I moved to the next store, where they were pulling down the security grill. I threw myself underneath the grill and someone dragged me in. When I got inside, all I can remember is a blue towel, wet with water, being thrown on my face. "Breathe into the towel," a man said. My lungs cleared. I looked up. It was a policeman. All I remember is he was white. "Honey," he said, "Listen to me: Don't leave this store." He told the store owners to keep me there. After he left, they put towels under the door to keep the cloud of dust from coming inside.

When it started to clear up outside, and I could see my way, I left. "I am not staying in this store," I told the people there. "I want to get to Brooklyn. I just want to get to Brooklyn and see my children." I started walking, with the blue towel over my mouth and nose. That towel saved my life. I would have suffocated without it. I followed the crowd of people, crying all the way. My chest felt so tight and I was spitting up cement. People were staring at me. I stopped to look at my reflection in a window. It was just my eyes—everything else was covered in white ash. I had urinated on myself. "I don't give a shit," I said, cursing a woman who was staring at me. I stopped at a Chinese store and bought a bottle of water. Water never felt so good going down my throat. It gave me some new energy. I was almost at the Manhattan Bridge. My back was killing me and I could hardly walk. I can't do this anymore, I thought. This is it.

There was a white woman walking with a black guy. "Sweetie, come on, you are going to make it," the black guy said to me. "You made it this far, we're going to make sure you make it across that bridge." Each of them hooked an arm and we walked together. I breathed more in and out. Heavy in and heavy out. Someone else gave me more water. I tried my best, but I couldn't go anymore. We were reaching the bottom of the bridge. The woman said, "Come on, not much more." A policeman at the bottom was screaming, "Come! Come! Come!" But the last thing I remember was dropping to the ground.

When I woke up, I was in the hospital in Brooklyn. They were asking me my name and I was crying. They asked me how to get in touch with my husband, and I told them that I did not have a husband. "Who do you want us to call?" one of the nurses asked. I started to think about my sister, Pam, who worked at 5 World Trade Center. "Oh my God, I wonder if she made it?" I said. I gave them the home number of my other sister, Babs, who lived nearby. They gave me oxygen to breathe and soon, Babs walked in. "I'm looking for Ros," I heard her say. "I'm right here," I said. Pam was fine, she told me.

They wanted me to stay in the hospital overnight, but I had to get home to my kids, Kevin and Renautha. Thinking of them helped keep me alive. Besides, I wasn't hurt too badly. I injured a disk in my back and there was tightness in my chest. But I wasn't burnt or severely bruised. My pain was somewhere else-and it still is. Inside my heart, it hurts so hard.

Excerpted from September 11: An Oral History by Dean E. MurphyCopyright 2002 by Dean E. Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



 


         


September 11: An Oral History
Dean E, Murphy
0-385-50768-2
August 2002
$24.95