Port Authority Cop Who Survived 13 Hours Under Collapsed Towers Shares Message of Darkness and Light

Yves here. There’s going to be a lot of misplaced sentimentality and emotional manipulation on this anniversary of 9/11. As someone who was in NYC when the towers fell and had worked in One World Trade Center, I’m generally not a fan. Yes, ~3200 people died, but the US has inflicted far more damage in our many undeclared wars, even before getting to our greater dedication to nation-breaking after the attacks. But as with Covid, the immediate costs fell most heavily on lower and lower middle class workers. Those who perished in New York consisted mainly of the “bridge and tunnel” crowd. McKinsey, with its extensive financial services network, had only one link to lower Manhattan fatalities. No one connected to any clients died, but the fiance of a secretary did.

And first responders and others who offered to help also suffered. I was about eight miles from the rubble, but even at that distance, when the wind turned, the acrid smoke was nasty, and the pile burned for weeks. Our Jules volunteered to do work near the site, and the time spent there ruined his lungs.

A tall, very clean cut blonde young man had recently moved into my apartment building. I heard him tell the elevator man how pleased he was to be moving from Morgan Stanley to what was a promotion at Cantor Fitzgerald. I didn’t see them at the time, but I was told how devastated his family was when they came to empty out his unit. In the bizarre way the world works, I met his parents many years later, in France, when on a cruise escorting my mother. They pulled out his photo and told me stories.

Survivors have to find ways to come to terms with traumatic, life-changing events, whether on a personal or much larger scale. It isn’t easy.

By Ibrahim Naber. Originally published at THE CITY on September 10, 2021

The worst day of Will Jimeno’s life is memorialized on an entire wall in his New Jersey home and now serves as an inspiration.

On the shelf is his former Port Authority Police badge, framed above his black-silver service weapon and below a piece of concrete from the World Trade Center.

For 13 hours on Sept. 11, 2001, Jimeno lay buried under the rubble of the collapsed Twin Towers.

The PA police officer, then a 33-year-old rookie, and his team arrived on the scene shortly after the first plane hit the North Tower. When the South Tower fell a little over an hour later, Jimeno and his colleague became trapped in what felt like an “earthquake.”

“It was raining concrete. It felt like a million freight trains coming down on us,” he told THE CITY in a recent interview reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks that claimed more than 2,600 lives in New York.

Pinned 50 feet below ground by tons of debris, Jimeno struggled to stay alive. Three teammates were next to him and his sergeant, John McLoughlin.

Jimeno witnessed one after another die from their injuries until only he and McLoughlin were left. They kept talking to keep each other alert, in between pleading for help aloud and on their police radio.

“I wanted to die. I was exhausted. I was hurt,” Jimeno recalled. “We had lost three teammates… I just wanted it to end.”

After 13 hours, Jimeno heard the voices of two Marines who would eventually rescue him and McLoughlin.

A Feeling of ‘Failure’

Jimeno recalls the moment he rose from under the rubble.

“I remember looking up and I see the moon. I see the sky. I see a lot of smoke, but I don’t see the buildings. I said, ‘Where is everything?’ And a firefighter said: ‘It’s all gone.’ That’s the first time I cried that night. I didn’t cry when I got hurt, I didn’t cry when the guys died. I cried because I felt like we failed.”

Jimeno said he couldn’t let that thought go in the years following.

Coming out of the hospital weeks after 9/11, Jimeno was still in a wheelchair. His hands had swollen to three times normal size, he was suffering from compartment syndrome and had undergone multiple surgeries.

One great wish from his time in the rubble did come true: He was able to attend the birth of his second daughter, Olivia, who arrived on his birthday that November. “She was my birthday present and my happiness,” Jimeno said.

Jimeno alongside his wife, Allison, and daughter, Bianca, as he became a Port Authority cop in early 2001. Courtesy of Will Jimeno

But he also harbored sadness and anger. For years, he often didn’t realize when or why he was lashing out.

“I had outbursts,” he recalled. “One time I got mad because I couldn’t find the remote control.”

Then during an argument with his wife, Allison, he picked up a shoe. He had never done anything violent to a woman before, Jimeno says, but at that moment he wanted to throw the shoe at her.

“But I caught myself and I said, ‘Well, this is not who you are. What’s going on?’ I remember dropping the shoe and I was embarrassed,” he said. “I got in my truck, I went up to the countryside and I sat and I thought.”

This was the moment, he says, when he realized he had a problem.

When he went home that night he talked to his oldest daughter, Bianca.

“She goes, ‘Yes, Daddy, sometimes you scare me,’” he recalled

‘Don’t Let Fear Ruin Your Life’

He decided to seek help. Doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Probably before 2010, I had survivor’s guilt,” said Jimeno, whose story was featured in a 2006 Oliver Stone movie. “There were tough days and I didn’t feel I deserved to be alive. You know, my friends were dead. So many people lost their loved ones. Why am I alive?”

There were days when he thought about taking his own life, he said. Just a few weeks ago, he published a book with a psychologist Michael Moats, “Sunrise Through the Darkness,” in which he reflects on that time.

Jimeno started seeing a department therapist and also met with a psychologist through his union.

But it took a third, private, therapist to fully open his eyes, he recalled: “She said, ‘Will, you’re never going to cure PTSD. You learn. You have to learn how to live with it. And it clicked. OK, I realize this.”

The injuries Jimeno sustained during the Sept. 11 attacks require multiple surgeries and several months of physical therapy to recover from.

Today, Jimeno wears a brace on his leg and he can’t do everything he used to before being injured. There are days where his leg just doesn’t work, especially in winter, he said.

“You have to accept that when life changes things, you have to adapt. And it took me a long time,” he said.

Today, he finds joy in his family, being outdoors and practicing archery.

“Mentally, it’s an ongoing game,” he said. “The day I get rid of PTSD, the day I get rid of 9/11, is the day they bury me.”

Jimeno’s message 20 years after 9/11: “I want to inspire people to know that you can overcome whatever tragedy you have.”

“I tell everybody this,” Jimeno said. “The days you have on this earth is not as much as you think it is. So do something good. Don’t let fear ruin your life. Make sure you do the most for you and those you love.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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  1. Geo

    Thanks for sharing this story and your own perspective on today’s meaning.

    “Yes, ~3200 people died, but the US has inflicted far more damage in our many undeclared wars, even before getting to our greater dedication to nation-breaking after the attacks.”

    I too was in NYC at the time but my view of the falling towers was from the safety of my rooftop in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. I was supposed to start a new job that day at Markt (a hip Belgian restaurant) on 14th Street and in the following days went in to help the others there bring out food and drink to first responders and the media.

    In the following weeks and months the city was unlike anything I’d ever conceived. It was quiet, tranquil in its somber state of shock. I got a new job as a graphic designer that October and my workspace was in Union Sq where there were constant vigils.

    As the calls for war grew in the media the protests started swelling and I took part in a few as well as writing letters and emails to newspapers and politicians. Even pleading with friends and family to help stop the wars. Got called every name in the book (even “pinko” which I had only read in old books on McCarthy).

    In 2002 I got my first place in Manhattan: an 8×8’ bedroom in a co-worker’s apartment. He had immigrated from Egypt in the 80’s and lived in this place for decades. We had many long and deep discussions on American involvement in his homeland and the region – often with his friends of varied Arabic and Muslim background. At the same time I had family in the war. A pilot and a Marine. Both active in Afghanistan (we assumed as they weren’t allowed to tell us – though I’ve heard some stories over the years to confirm).

    It felt hopeless as we raced to invade Iraq. The reporting of the time was ridiculous to anyone with their critical thinking not blinded in the flashing lights of bloodlust and patriotism. Osama’s cave-lair in the mountains that would have been too far fetched for a Bond villain; Saddam’s mobile weapons labs and wack-a-mole nuke factories. The obvious lies about Pat Tillman and rumors of dark sites and torture creeping into the fringe news on blogs.

    Then, on the eve of Shock and Awe I stayed home and was glued to the little 14” TV with a rickety antenna watching fuzzy news footage of our invasion. Watching explosion after explosion throughout Baghdad while the voices spoke in tones of pious supremacy and righteousness I broke down crying.

    I hadn’t cried after 9/11. Maybe it was shock, stoicism, numbness, disassociation… whatever the reason, on this night I did. For hours. Watching what I’d witnessed the people of NYC experience happening to the people of Baghdad over and over again that night – in my name as an American – broke me. That broken feeling hasn’t gone away. Maybe it’s a mini-PTSD or something. Maybe it’s just basic empathy. But, I haven’t forgiven myself or my country for taking the pain we experienced and turning it on innocent others multitudes of times over.

    I feel for this man’s story and his long road of healing and coping from his trauma and injury. I just can’t help when reading it thinking of how many people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere that have experienced what he did for much of the past two decades at our hands.

    To me, that is what today is about. Reflecting on the suffering and devastation I witnessed from my safe space in Brooklyn and considering who I would be right now if that one day had continued for 20 years. Imagining what the people in the lands we’ve waged war on must think of us and how they can even manage to go on when us Americans are still scarred by that one day. And pondering how we could ever make it right again – if we even had the will to do so – is it even possible?

  2. Eustachedesaintpierre

    Perhaps 9/11 has become the equivalent of remembering how that day was lived, pretty much how it was with JFK – a day transformed from all those normally ordinary days that are usually lost to memory.

    I had no idea until around 6pm when I arrived home from a day of being out with the camera, as the light was great as it was in NYC. I noticed on arrival through the window that my wife & daughter were staring at the small TV in the kitchen, so I entered picked up my grandaughter who had toddled to meet me & was greeted with the sight on the box of one of the towers collapsing. As this happened Jasmine who was in my arms started into one of her delicious giggles, making the whole experience even more surreal, which as I continued watching didn’t feel real perhaps as it felt almost movie like in glorious technicolor.

    I guess that it will always be with those who were directly involved with it, especially for the guy featured above & many like him which was later added to as an addendum with a vengeance elsewhere & I think the families of the bereaved are still battling for what might give them some closure.

  3. Mikey Joe

    A family member has nasal cancer. He routed trucks who were removing debris from the pit. Like the man in the story above there are many Americans still with physical and emotional scars from the terrorist attacks.

  4. The Rev Kev

    So strange this day now. I have spent the past few hours looking at docos on 9/11 (it is night-time here) made up of collections of videos taken on the day. But it is strange to reflect that the people in it are already a part of history as much as those who survived the Japanese onslaught against Pearl Harbour. Yes, most are still here but all the people in those videos are now twenty years older – or they are no longer with us. They had a doco on the other night that I missed. Remember when Bush was told about the attack when he was in a school class reading lesson? They were interviewing those kids as they are all grown up now and in the mid-twenties-


  5. Lee

    Recommended watching: The Other Afghan Women, an interview.

    “What can life be like for the women of the Afghan countryside, who have suffered through decades of civil war and foreign occupation? New Yorker contributor Anand Gopal embedded himself among the people in places rarely covered by Western media. The result is his in-depth article “The Other Afghan Women”. He joins the show to discuss.”

    The vast majority of women in Afghanistan are not those who live in cities and were uplifted by the U.S. and its corrupt allies, yet what rural women suffered often at the hands of their putative liberators, has been for some odd reason rarely told.

    It is a strong antidote to “misplaced sentimentality and emotional manipulation” associated with what I have come to think of as OBLV day.

    Suffering the wounds and bearing the costs of war is for the little people, while elites tend to fail upward, or at worst shuffle off the main stage to a very comfortable retirement.

  6. YankeeFrank

    And let’s not forget that, as glad as most of us are about finally leaving Afghanistan, the US is still doing its best to break/starve/impoverish/immiserate Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, Somalia, Iran, Cuba… much of Central and South America.

    I was in NYC on 9/11 as well — living in the East Village, working 2nd shift. I woke up to the first tower burning, watched the second plane hit, and saw them fall. I knew two kids from childhood that died in the collapse, both firefighters. The air in our neighborhood was acrid and gray for weeks. We were angry and terrified, and our government cynically used our fear and anger to gin up war after war, and W told us to go shopping.

    Then we learned that there were ample warnings about the attacks, and yet few stated the obvious: that 9/11 was preventable and Bush/Cheney failed to protect the nation. Any chief with even a modicum of responsibility, upon receiving the August CIA brief, would’ve shouted down the bureaucratic lines to get any and all info to his desk yesterday and the FBI would’ve scrambled to get him the info they had. Instead W said “all right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

    And all the horrifying disasters that followed: the ever-expanding wars and sieges (“sanctions”), drone strikes, the constant drip of soldier deaths and suicides, Katrina, the GFC and its “foamed runways”, the 2016 election, Bernie, Russiagate, mass domestic hunger, homelessness and poverty, and now the ongoing disaster that is our government’s response to the virus — all have one thing in common: they are all, in a thousand different ways, fattening the profits of the bloated and revolting 1%. And the most hilarious irony of all is they aren’t even satisfied.

    Has there ever been an elite set quite so narcissistic and miserable. I don’t really ask because I don’t really care… the dubious gift we’ve been given to witness such monstrous gluttony and graft in our lifetimes. Pride is the deadliest sin because it gives rise to, and justifies, all the others. Merit is just a thin cover for pride. And we all know what pride goes before.

    1. Towfiq Al-Thawri

      I was in basic training for the US Army that day. It was a very disorienting and dystopian experience. Much like the rest of the United States I suppose, all information and context was controlled by our superiors and, due to a random set of circumstances, I had more information than my fellow trainees – not much, but more. So, I was something of the go to for confirmation, dismissal or ambiguity of the many different rumors running through the ranks.

      I later was an interrogator at a prison facility in Iraq. It is truly impossible to overstate the crimes against humanity we have inflicted prior to, and then in ‘response’ to the 9/11 attacks. The abject cruelty and dehumization experienced during my 7.5 years in the army drove me to study sociology upon my exit and has been an unequaled influence in my path to becoming an anti-imperialist communist.

      This morning I reread a paper I wrote in college juxtaposing and comparing a national address regarding the 9/11 attacks from George W Bush and an essay by Ward Churchill titled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” written the day after. It is incredible how all people have learned lessons from, and been changed by, the events of 9/11 – but in such wildly different ways. $21 trillion has been pumped into the war economy since then, and most of us on the bottom are far more insecure than 20 years ago and cynicism is perhaps the most conspicuous attribute of the American psyche. I choose revolutionary optimism in the vein of Peter Tosh: “you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time – so now we see the light, we gonna stand up for our right”

    1. Oh

      I tried the link but the message is “this is not available outside Canada”. Too bade because I would like to know the Saudi role in this.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Here is a post by guest-poster “harper” at the turcopolier blog successor to SST blog, called ” Saudis Got Away With Murder”. Here is the link.

        Rigorous Intuition 2.0 blog has a whole set of articles under the category ” 9/11″. One of those blogposts is titled ” Plan Nine From Saudi Arabia”.
        All the articles in that ” 9/11″ category are worth reading and considering over time.

  7. sharron

    We were living in Singapore when 9/11 happened. Stayed up all night in shock realizing what had happened. Everyone overseas was so supportive of the US at that time. Got Gurka guards at the American school after a small attack at the US naval installation, so there was concern in the American community. My husband(a vietnam vet) and I were so against starting a new war in the Middle East. I am glad our family missed the continuing reliving of the attack and traumatizing of the public. Living among many lovely muslims at that time, we had no issue separating the people and faith from the terrorists. When we came back to the states we were amazed at intelligent folks that kept saying we have faith that Bush knows what he is doing to protect us.

  8. CoryP

    This guy’s experience is completely horrific and I probably rather would have died, as he seems to have felt at some point during the ordeal. I’m glad he has a family to support him in spite of how broken he might be.

    I recently listened to a podcast that talked about this movie (and this man’s ordeal) at some length. (I think it was an old Trashfuture episode)

    Apparently World Trade Center was an extremely non-Oliver Stone movie, despite being made by Oliver Stone. The argument was that the film tried to be as non offensive and non controversial as possible and resulted in something very dull and seemingly pointless.

    I’ve never seen it, but I’m considering it. Does anybody recommend it ?

    1. The Rev Kev


      I haven’t seen that film except for clips and gave it a miss when it was on TV last night. It was a bit gung-ho which is unlike a Oliver Stone movie. Here is a clip where two Marines find those buried cops so that they can be rescued. But in real life one of those Marines was actually a black dude. How could they miss that?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEnaRGQc8Ls (2:40 mins)

      And in the epilogue for that films, it states that one of those guys rejoined the Marines full-time and did two tours in Iraq – a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

  9. Eustachedesaintpierre

    Two lines from a song that turned up on a playlist I had on the go yesterday that chimed with the above account.

    ” I’m dug from the rubble, and cut from the kill “.

    Sung & written by Lisa Hannigan, a song that I got from the excellent biopic Maudie, about the severely disabled Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis.


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