Michael McAvoy’s Story

I was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1959. I am the youngest of 3 boys. My Dad was was a 2nd generation American He was born in NYC & is 100% Irish. He was a WWII Marine who fought on Iwo Jima. Upon returning from WWII he became a New York City policeman. He retired after 23 years. Mom was a stay at home Mom early on. When I was 10 she went to work in lower Manhattan for Chase bank, 2 blocks east of the WTC. She worked there for 22 years.
I started my career in 1980 working for Wall Street Firms in downtown NYC. Most of my career was spent in downtown Manhattan close to or inside the World Trade Centers. From 1986 to 1992 I worked on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center 2 or the south tower as it is referred to. I hope I will help paint a clear picture of what it was like to personally witness the tragic events of 9-11 through my eyes.  Everyone remembers where they were when they first found out about the terrorist attacks. The morning of September 11th, in New York City was a crystal clear beautiful Autumn Day. I was in my 8th floor office that morning, which had a direct view of the World Trade Centers.  At about 8:30am I went to the 4TH floor company cafe to get some breakfast.  As I was heading back to my office I noticed some co-workers peering out at the windows facing the Trade Center’s. I casually asked what’s going on?   Someone said a plane had hit World Trade Center 1.  Everyone’s first thought
was that it must be a small plane, maybe a Cesna.  I over heard someone say that it was a commercial airliner that had struck the tower.  What – how can that be? I got up, walked a few feet and what I saw made my stomach sick.  In just a few short minutes WTC
#1  the North Tower had huge gapping holes. It was engulfed in flames and had black smoke pouring out from it. I rushed back to my desk. I wanted to call Jimmy, my lifelong best friend, who worked in WTC1 on the 104th Floor for Cantor Fitzgerald. Jimmy and I met in first grade 36 years ago and had been friends ever since. I called his office – no answer.  I tried his cell phone – no answer.  I tried both phones 3 or 4 more times. Jimmy lived in NJ right near a beautiful golf course. I thought ok maybe he stayed home today to golf. I sure as hell hope so. I dialed his home number and what I heard will never leave me.  Jimmy’s wife, Sheri answered – she frantically shouted HELLO.  My heart sank, for I knew she was hoping it was Jimmy – instead it was me.  Before I could say anything she asked me if Jimmy worked in the tower with the antenna on it, I said YES – and that was the building that had been struck  just moments earlier by the plane. I told her I’ll get in touch
with him and call  back. Don’t worry.  I tried his cell phone a few more times….no answer. I’m thinking maybe he didn’t have time to grab it. A few minutes went by I decided to get up from my desk and walked towards the windows again.  As I neared the windows  co-workers already staring out the windows screamed and some even fell to their knees. I asked what just happened? Someone said look at the other building …another plane hit WTC2.  Now I KNEW that this had to be terrorism.  A plane had never collided into the WTCs in their 30 years of existence.  Now in 20 minutes – 2 planes had struck them.  The sight was awful.  Both towers have gaping holes and are in flames. It is a sight I will never forget!!   As I walked back to my desk, for some reason I looked at my watch – it was 9:05am.  Ugh oh What about my older brother John. Is he working.
My brother John, is a NYC fireman, who worked in lower Manhattan, 5 minutes from the WTCs.  In NYC, a fireman’s shift starts or ends at 9am.  So he was either working the day shift or finishing the night shift. Maybe he had the day off.  I hoped once again. I knew my mother kept John’s schedule, so I called her. I was amazed at how calm she seemed. I asked her if she saw what was happening at the Trade Centers and she said yes, she was watching it on TV.  I asked her if John was working and she said NO he worked the nightshift last night.  For the 2nd time I got that pit in my stomach. I just knew John was at the Trade Centers!!  John was a 23 year veteran of the FDNY. He was the ultimate firefighter. He lived to help people.  There was no other place he would rather be on the morning of Sept 11th.  I thanked Mom and said I’ll call you back. I called John’s fire house – of course there was no answer.  Why would anyone be there?  All 12 of the firemen stationed at ladder 3 were at the WTCs.
My fellow co-workers and I tried frantically to get information . . . what’s happening . . . are other buildings being struck ..  Everything was moving fast and in slow motion at the same time. I tried to think of any other friends I knew that worked in or near the trade centers. I had friends who were cops a cousin who is federal agent downtown and Wall St. colleagues all over lower Manhattan. But one guy in particular came to mind, my buddy Paul….  We were co –workers for many years and we used to work in the Trade Center together, and now he works in the trade center and lives adjacent to them. I called his home number and he answered.  That was the best news I had all morning.  He told me he was knocked out of his office chair when the 2nd plane hit. He was ok but very frightened, he was in his apartment taking his 2 year old son out and heading to the basement or somewhere he thought was safe.  He said take down my parents number call them tell them I’m ok. That day at times phones worked other times not. I tried his parents once.. it didn’t go through and I never called again. I walked back over to the windows.  The day that started out so beautiful was not so beautiful anymore. Actually it was horrendous.  Both buildings were totally engulfed. Fire.. flames..ugly black smoke. How is anyone going to get out who is above where the planes hit. Someone in the office mentioned they heard the Pentagon had been hit too and more planes were in the air heading towards Philadelphia or Washington.  My thoughts were –This is war.  Why aren’t we defending ourselves?? Where the hell are the F14’s. What the hell is happening to us.
 I tried Jimmy’s cell phone – but now all the phone lines are dead… calls were not going through.  Did Jimmy get out in time? Maybe he lost his phone while he was rushing out. Is John ok …was he out of Manhattan and on his way home when this happened. I wanted some positive news.
At the office we were discussing what to do. We thought about evacuating our building, yet we seemed pretty safe where we were.  We were hearing that all the bridges and tunnels were either closed or full of emergency vehicles.  NYC subways weren’t running either. There truly was no place to go. So we just watched from the windows and things are completely out control. It was hard to believe what we were witnessing …we were starring at the trade centers .. when suddenly the South Tower collapsed.  Did that really just happen? In seconds a 110 story disappeared. I looked at my co-worker Brian and said – OMG 20 thousand people just died. The feeling was complete and utter helplessness and to this day it’s one of the hardest sights for me: to watch those buildings collapse. There was smoke and dust everywhere.  We thought we had seen it all – yet it was only getting worse.  I felt sick. I just knew my brother had to be down there somewhere. I had worked in and around those buildings for many years and now one of them was 110 stories of dust. No more flames just dust..no columns of iron. no metal just dust.
I saw it happen – yet I couldn’t believe it.  It was trulty a sickening feeling.  My co-workers were getting more information that there were still more hijacked planes in the air. Where is our defense…why aren’t we fighting back. A few of us decided to go outside to see what was going on. It felt and looked like war. People were walking around like zombies – covered in soot and dust some were crying and everyone was very scared. I kept trying Jimmy’s cell phone – or home phone but phone lines were still dead. At one point though I was able to get through to my wife Natalie working in NJ, she was 8 months pregnant at the time. I told her what I thought I knew about John and Jimmy and maybe she should go to Jimmy’s house to be with Sheri and the kids. Jimmy’s kids were 2 and 4.
The next news we heard was that a hijacked plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.  This day is a complete nightmare and getting worse by the minute. . I’m not a pacifist and I‘m not a sit back and let someone else do it type of guy. I love to help people and here I am unable to go anywhere or do anything for the people I love – in the city I love – in the country I love. I’m boiling mad, sad and feeling hopeless all at the same time.  People at the office, grown men and women were praying and crying. Once again we walked over to the windows hoping to see a miracle I guess. The north tower, the one with the antenna on it, was burning completely out of control. We were worried it might collapse too . . . and then it did. Gone in seconds.. How many more are dead. We were numb to what we were witnessing.  2 of the largest sky scrapers in the world are completely gone. Dust, smoke and papers. That was all that was left.  The silence at the office was deafening . . . no phones ringing – people were speechless and in shock. I could only imagine the destruction in and around those buildings..it had to be horrendous. Once again time was moving fast and in slow motion. No one knew where to go or what to do …the only news we had was from the internet and it was not good.
I couldn’t stay put I felt I had to go somewhere I couldn’t just stand around and do nothing. Then someone said some of the subways were running. I decided to try and get to my brother’s firehouse in lower Manhattan.  A co-worker and I boarded a subway train. The train was crowded yet eerily quiet..people’s expressions said everything. Moments later the train pulled into the Chamber St. station which is only 2 blocks away from the trade centers. The subway doors opened. No one got on or off.  We looked out to the subway platform dust and soot covered the benches and the platform . The train started to pull out of the station when suddenly it came to an abrupt stop. People gasped and screamed. NYC subways always stop this way, but on this day, with people’s nerves on edge, we all reacted to it. Everyone had looks of fear and disbelief. This has become the common expression of the day. 5 minutes later I got off the subway and started walking to John’s firehouse, which is Ladder 3 on the East side of Manhattan.  Smoke, ash and sirens fill the air.  No pedestrian traffic just emergency vehicles. Out of nowhere I heard a low flying plane. People walking in the street ran for cover I moved up against a building… it flew right over our heads and disappeared. Man it scared the hell out of us. It was like a scene out of the Twilight zone.
I started walking again I got within a few blocks of my brother’s firehouse – I could see many fire trucks and Fireman. I thought ok maybe John is there. I started to run…I got there and I’m searching their faces for John or any firemen I might know. But I didn’t recognize them. Looking at them they didn’t look right.  Even these big brave, courageous NYC firemen were scared & nervous.  They knew many of their fellow comrades, brothers as they called each other, were inside the towers when they collapsed. Then I see a fireman from Ladder 3 who works with John. He is covered in ash.  He just came back from the towers. I looked in his eyes and asked Billy if there is any chance for survivors?  Do you know if my brother was down there?  He didn’t know what to say. I said, Billy, tell me!!  He said, Mike I wish I had better news, but that place is unlike anything we’ve ever seen and we aren’t finding survivors. All 12 guys who were here this morning ..he paused….we think their gone. In my heart I knew John was gone, but I wasn’t going to give up.
I decide to walk to the nearest hospital, St. Vincent’s. When I arrived at the hospital, staffers were handing out lists of the injured. I scanned the lists over and over and tried to will a Jimmy Ladley or a John McAvoy onto the list. I would see a John or a Jim, but they didn’t have the right last name. Not the one I was looking for. Doctors and nurses were waiting outside the hospital for more injured patients – but none were coming. I met a guy who was looking for his brother who worked for the same firm Jimmy worked for, Cantor Fiztgerald. We exchanged numbers and said we would call each other if we heard any news of any one surviving from Cantor. We never called each other.  I did this at 3 or 4 hospitals. Those lists never had the right names on them.
My cell phone rang and it was my friend Mike. He lived in NYC, 3 minutes from the St Vincent’s Hospital and 2 stops by train from the trade center.  We were out together the night before. I had spent the previous night at his downtown apartment. I had walked the streets for a few hours and visited 2 or 3 hospitals with no luck. I was mentally and physically wiped out. I walked a few blocks to his apartment. The whole time I’m thinking this can’t be happening… Are my brother and best friend dead. It can’t be so.
Mike’s buzzed me into his apartment building. When I opened his apartment door he and his girlfriend were hugging each other almost as one sitting on his couch. He had walk home from his downtown job. He too had dust all over him. Everyone I met that day had this same look of fright and disbelief. We didn’t know what to say to each other. I sat on his couch. I told him that Jimmy and John were both missing and I had a bad feeling.  He was trying to be positive and supportive that’s his nature. But he too was frightened. It was 3 or 4 o’clock at this point and the day was becoming a very bad day for me my family and friends. I buried my head in my hands. For the first time the realization hit me…and I let it out and I started to cry.  I looked at Mike and said words I never thought I would ever say. I said Mike I think my brother John and best friend Jimmy are dead!! He had no response. I know I will have to go to my mother’s house and tell her what I know. BUT HOW. How do I look at her and tell her that her hero son is gone.  How is she going to react… I thought of my sister in law… my niece and nephew who were 15 and 11.  I thought of Jimmy’s wife.. they are so in love and their 2 small children. They had a perfect life. I was distraught yet trying to hold it together. By nightfall after spending a few more hours between hospitals and my brothers firehouse met my oldest brother and we decided to go to  mom’s. We spent 3 days at Mom’s listening to the radio watching TV and hoping for a phone call that told us John or Jimmy were found alive. We never rec’d that call.
 As fate would have it, those gut feelings I had on 9-11 became reality.  Both John and Jimmy perished on 9-11 inside the trade centers. It would take months for their remains to be recovered. We later found out John was in the firehouse in street clothes and off duty when the first plane hit. He and another fireman put on their gear hailed a cab and went to the trade center by cab. He was and still is a true hero.
My brother was a loving husband, brother, friend, son and father.  He was courageous and fearless.  He lived to help people. He was a tough guy, and fearless and my guardian angel too. .
Jimmy was the best friend any guy could have.  He was someone whom you asked for advice about life because he always knew the right answer.  He was my best man when I got married   in 1998. He was to be the godfather of my daughter born Oct 2001. He, my brother and thousands more were murdered on 9-11 and they must never be forgotten. I certainly will never forget them and what I witnessed on 9-11.
9-11 was truly one of our darkest days.  But it was also one of our brightest.  Ordinary citizens became heroes, rescue workers saved over 25,000 lives, the largest rescue in our history. Many young men and women volunteered to join our armed services to protect us against terrorism and take the fight to the enemy.  Some have died ..many have watched their fellow soldiers die and they still fight on. Their courage, dedication and sacrifice must never be forgotten.  On 9-11 the bravest and finest of NYC gave their lives so others could live. Ordinary citizens aboard flight 93 fought to saves lives on the ground and prevented another attack. And still today our servicemen and their families sacrifice for us. Their heroism is a testament of our American spirit.  We must remember the sacrifice all gave and still give for our freedom each and every day. We must ALWAYS thank our veterans, our police and fireman, not only today but everyday.
May God bless them all and God Bless America!!

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2 Responses to Michael McAvoy’s Story

  1. MIchelle M says:

    Michael thank you for sharing your story. So many people watched that day from their televisions but there are only a few of us here in AZ that actually walked out. I too walked out that day. I worked for AIG 4.5 blocks away. I was coming out of starbucks at the Milenium when the first plane hit. And we had a clear view of the second plane banking and flying into the tower fromour 34th floor picture perfect windows. The blast shook our building to its core. And we screamed in horror as people fell and they jumped. People like to tell me that they understand and they totally get what I was feeling that day. I lost only friends that day but they were good friends. Some that I developed over the years of riding on the train and one young man who risked his life to save others at the Marriott to ensure their safety I graduated high school with. I feared for one girlfriend only to find out later that she was safe at home. I remember my friend at work wondering where her husband was (he is a NYFD). He was home off his shift, waiting to make sure she was okay. He was called in after the first tower fell but wouldn’t leave until he found her. I remember how scarred she was as we all walked together to try and get out, and as we watched as the first tower fell. I remember my cousins wife calling me and getting through and telling me that I had to find Peter so she would know that I was safe. I remember that they only found our friends torso (he too worked for Cantor Fitz) but at least his family had soething to burry and have closure. I remember those smells in the after math, those horrible smells, what were they. I know what they were but the smells still haunt me. I remember the bomb threats and constant playing of taps. I remember as people started calling us obnoxious New Yorkers because we were so excited about the Yank. But what they don’t know is the hope (hope is the perfect word) for the future. They gave us something to hope for which is what we so desperately needed. I am not sure what I am doing that day. o, that isn’t true, a friend is taking me to the moview in the afternoon, so I remember with respect but I remember the people who risked thier lives to save others with fondness and the dignity they deserve. I miss that city, I miss my friends, and I miss my innocence because even though I am older, I still had a child like innocentce, but that day when the first plane hit, I knew, I knew right away. It changed me that day, but for the better. I know what is important. My family and friends are important, everything else is just necessity, such as my job. For you, I hope peace. I hope for closure, and I hope that you remember with love and fondness of the ones you loved and lost.

  2. Pam says:

    Thank you for your heartfelt story of remembrance and love for your brother and friend. God Bless You!

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