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
I turned to Salcedo. "Let's go!" I said.
He put his arms around me and hugged me.
It was a strong squeeze. He was scared too. "Ros, you go,"
"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
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
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