9/11 survivor leads life of service in South Florida after escaping Twin Towers
A photo taken 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, is both haunting and inspiring. And this week, a man in that photo spoke to Local 10 News about his experience.
The photo shows a woman who was in shock, stranded and alone. As he was running from the Twin Towers collapse, Serge Benjamin stopped in his tracks to help her.
“She was crying and she was turning around,” he said. “She had her hands up and said, ‘My husband, my husband.’ And I came in. I grabbed her from underneath and I said, ‘I don’t know about your husband, but the Lord wants you to come with me.’ And I grabbed her.”
Benjamin helped the woman to safety minutes after he escaped from the first tower that was struck.
Benjamin said to this day he has no idea who the woman or her husband are, but said he thinks about them often.
“I do a lot. Every time I look at that picture, and I said, ‘God, you know, one day, you’ll introduce me to them,’” he said.
A friend saw the picture on display weeks after the attack.
“No, I had no idea that this picture has been taken. I see that picture and I said, ‘Oh my God,’” Benjamin said.
At the time, Benjamin was an attorney for the Port Authority.
He’d worked in the World Trade Center for 16 years and was on the 68th floor of Tower 1 when the first plane struck. He had just finished a meeting.
“The whole building shook in ways I’ve never noticed before, and then out the window, I saw the debris, lots of debris fall,” he said. “And, you know, the little still voice inside that tells you ‘move.’ We started to move with all staff out.”
Benjamin spent 45 minutes in the stairwell trying to escape and helping others with severe back issues.
“I should not have been able to walk down the building for that long,” he said. “I was fearful. I felt fear from my core. But at the time, especially on the 44th floor, it was help out, you know? And so we started helping out. And there were a couple of people who came in with a person who was wounded. And I said, ‘Move, let him go. Let them go first,’ you know, that sort of thing, and then it was our turn.”
Benjamin said he remembers seeing the panic in people’s faces.
He said it was dark, cables above were arcing and then came a noise.
“And the noise that came was a phenomenal noise. And people started panicking, thinking the building is coming down, we’re about to die,” he said. “And then the noise came to a thundering stop. Later I learned that building two had collapsed. But at that time, we didn’t know. The next thing we heard was firefighters who say we got to go back.”
Outside there was a sea of devastation as Benjamin ran from the area — a moment of time for him captured in the photo.
“It’s actually kind of a signature picture for me. Because I believe that God placed me here to do a simple work,” he said.
Twenty years later, Benjamin is now an attorney at Legal Aid in Broward County.
“Where else would God put me? After he has put an imprint of a situation in which, with a strong arm, he pulled me out of there so I can be a help to others,” Benjamin said. “I work for the homeless, the homeless unit. We represent the homeless in a variety of legal issues and we provide this service free of charge.”
Benjamin uses the picture of him to inspire homeless clients who want to give up.
“So this woman who comments — she says with child, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ And she says, ‘God has abandoned me,’” Benjamin said. “And I take out this picture. I say, ‘He hasn’t abandoned me, he will never abandon you.’”