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Witnesses To Sad History

In the very first moments of the tragedy, it wasn't just journalists or professional broadcasters who told the world what was happening. We decided to go back and learn a little more about what citizen witnesses saw, what happened to them after they hung up the phone, and how they remember that infamous day.

The following are the accounts of four eyewitnesses who were on the air in the first moments of the Trade Center attack. They are:

  • Stewart Nurick, a former Early Show intern, who was waiting tables at a Soho Restaurant and saw the first plane go into the building. The restaurant spent the day serving food to evacuees.
  • Wendell Clyne, doorman at the eventually destroyed Marriott World Trade Center. A religious man, he described the intital debris destruction and was quickly evacuated from the hotel after his phone call. The hotel was destroyed a short time later, and one of his co-workers was killed.
  • Theresa Renaud, wife of The Early Show producer Jack Renaud, is a vice president at Deutsch Advertising in Chelsea. She was live on the phone and dramatically described the impact of the second plane. She, too, lost a close friend who worked at KBW.
  • Fred Schneider is an attorney whose 42nd floor office is a block and a half from the Trade Centers. He eloquently describes his evacuation and fleeing the tower collapse and his concern for his daughter, a senior at Stuyvesant High School.

Here is their account:

Fred: It was September 11, but the weather was balmy.

Wendell: There was not a cloud in the sky.

Stewart: And I remember coming into work thinking, 'Wow, it is absolutely gorgeous out today.'

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Fred: I practice law from an office at 140 Broadway.

Stewart: I was working breakfast buffet at Thom Restaurant

Theresa: I'm senior vice president at Deutsch; it's an advertising agency.

Wendell: And I was the doorman at the Marriott World Trade Center.

Stewart: I was pouring coffee for one of the guests. And for some reason, I don't know why, I looked up. And I did see a plane…And saw it go right into the building.

Fred: And suddenly, this building shook and the windows buckled a little bit and there was the sound and pressure of a huge explosion. And the air all around downtown filled with papers, there was a hurricane of 8 1/2 by 11 papers.

Theresa: Oh my God, the World Trade Center is on fire!

Bryant Gumbel was reporting the news as anchor of The Early Show: "It is 8:52 here in New York, I'm Bryant Gumbel. We understand there has been a plane crash at the southern tip of Manhattan."

Stewart was on the phone describing what he had seen to Gumbel. "It looked like it bounced off the building and then I heard a - I just saw a huge ball of fire on top," said Stewart.

Stewart: I do not remember that phone call at all. I couldn't tell you two words I said. I just remember my heart being in my throat and being really nervous and just not knowing a lot of information.

Gumbel continued with another caller: "We're on the line with another eyewitness - you're Wendell?" Wendell answered in the affirmative.

"Can you give us an idea of how much came crashing to the ground?' asked Gumbel. "Oh man, it's just a lot. Bricks, a lot of bricks a lot of glass. Like enough to damage cars on the street; made cars swerve into each other," he said.

Wendell: People didn't know which way to go, to escape. And there were people even fainting. I heard people saying that there are people jumping, and I just conditioned myself not to look, 'cause I just couldn't look at something like that.

Gumbel continued..."I understand Theresa Renaud is on the line."

Theresa: While we're on the phone, I saw a silhouette of a plane fly across, behind where the North Tower was.

Gumbel: "So you have no idea right now.." Theresa: "Oh there's another one - another plane just hit - oh my god, another plane has just hit - it hit another building - flew right into the middle of it - explosions!"

This is what Fred said to The Early Show that tragic day:

"I'm a little shaken 'cause I saw the plane pass before my eyes. It was just about eye level." Gumbel asked, "How close to you? "A block and a half," he answered.

Fred: And things were falling out of the building - I thought about my daughter who was a senior at Stuyvesant High School, which is on the other edge of the World Trade Center site.

Wendell: There were people who were crying, there were people who were hugging each other, there were people who were praying.

Fred: And at that moment, the South Tower was crumbling in that scene we've seen a hundred times on TV. And with that, thousands of people started to run in a herd directly at us. And all we could do was run out of the way to clear a space for them, or they would have trampled us.

Stewart: A lot of people were heading up Thompson Street to evacuate the area. We took whatever food we had and just left it out, for on-lookers or people who needed water, or people who were shook up.

Theresa: The thing that was working that day was the Internet. We had e-mails going on between friends you know, are you okay, where are you, everybody was checking - trying to figure out, where was Karol?

Wendell: Well, I heard from my co-workers. They told me that Joe Keller is missing. He was devoted to his family, I know he had two kids and he loved his wife.

Theresa: Oh, Karol, she was great. She lived in the moment. You know, she had a lot of joy and spontaneity to her. She painted pictures of what she saw….she danced.

Fred: When I got my call through to my daughter and she answered her cell phone, and from her voice you could tell that she hadn't really expected to hear from me again, because her first words were "Daddy, you're alive!"

Stewart: I just appreciate things a lot more in life. I do take things a lot less seriously. I am a lot less stressed.

Fred: For many weeks, I didn't feel good about what I'd seen and I didn't feel good about what I'd done. It went through my mind: was there something else I could have done? Was there another step I could have taken to make more people survive?

Wendell: I just basically delved even more into spirituality, read my Bible a lot. I did a lot of crying too. I guess that was one of the symptoms of the post-traumatic stress.

Stewart: It seems kind of just like yesterday.

Fred: Every detail of it's very etched.

Wendell: It's unbelievable that a year has passed.

Theresa: It's very fresh because I think you re-live it every day. I mean you come into work every morning and the fact that the towers are not there, makes them more there, every morning.

And, of course, along with the hole in the Manhattan skyline, there remains a large hole in the collective heart of New Yorkers.

One other thing that all those witnesses remember very clearly is the unbelievable sense of community and compassion that enveloped this city for many days and weeks after the attacks.