Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cheating Death Three Times

By Joseph Kellard

Some might call it the loss of her innocence, but she sees it merely as the loss of her comfort zone.

Andree Marshall survived the terrorist bombing while working at the World Trade Center in 1993, and she never imagined anything like it would happen again.

“I didn’t feel the least bit fearful working there after that bombing,” she said last week from her Harbor Isle living room. “No way. This is the United States. We’re safe.”

Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an atrocity that proved an even closer call for the change management manager with a large brokerage firm that had offices in the World Trade Center and New Jersey.

During the 1993 bombing, Marshall recalled seeing people fleeing the towers in terror and covered in soot, but nothing could compare to the horrors she witnessed up close on 9/11 -- none more stunning than the people who plunged from the top floors of the burning towers.

Marshall, like many other workers at the WTC, survived both attacks, but she finds it hard to wipe away the unforgettable images in her mind of human suffering. “With 9/11, I saw the bodies, I saw the people killing themselves, I saw that people had no choice,” she said.

On top of all that she experienced at the WTC, Marshall survived another brush with death two months after 9/11, when an airliner crashed near her home in Bell Harbor, Queens, the second deadliest aviation accident in U.S.history.

That day, Marshall heard an enormous explosion, and all the decorations and knickknacks on her walls tumbled to the floor. About two blocks away, American Airlines Flight 587 crash-landed not long after taking off from Kennedy Airport, and all 260 people on board, as well as five on the ground,were killed.

For Marshall, the close call in her Queens neighborhood was the last straw. “My mother said I walked into the living room screaming that ‘They’re coming after me,’ and that ‘I have to get out of here,’” Marshall recalled, noting that at the time she was clutching her 6-week-old daughter so tightly that her mother had to pull the girl from her arms. “My thoughts were, I did something to someone,” Marshall continued. “I didn’t know who it was, I didn’t know what I had done. After the ‘93 bombing, the World Trade Center [attacks], and six weeks later, I felt I had to have done something to someone.”

Six months after the crash of Flight 587, Marshall sought a new place to live, and found peace and quiet in Harbor Isle -- or so she thought. Unbeknown to her when she purchased her new home, Marshall had to contend with the noise of planes flying overhead to and from Kennedy Airport. When hearing any one of them, to some extent, she cannot help but be reminded of her horrific experiences six years ago.

“That feeling is always, always, always there,” she said about hearing the planes overhead.

In recent weeks, as the sixth anniversary of 9/11 approached, Marshall found herself more anxious than in previous years, since this Sept. 11 would fall on a Tuesday, the same day of the week as 9/11. She also started re-experiencing the nightmares she had for up to two years after the attacks on the WTC.

What haunts her most is the people she watched jump from the towers. “Not being able to help them, knowing that they were going to die, they had no choice, and that their only choice was jump and die or burn to death,” she said.

On 9/11 Marshall was pregnant with her twins, Andree and Aiden, who turn six on Sept. 20, preparing to take maternity leave that Friday. When the first plane struck, she was shopping in a Duane Reade on the ground floor of the WTC, and the air conditioner blasted on much more forcefully than usual.

While she chatted with Barbara Jo Sciequan, a travel supervisor for 17 years for their firm, they noticed people scrambling around, lights flickering and a hunk of metal crash outside the front doors. A man had told them that a bomb had gone off.

Marshall simply wanted to go down to the subway below to take a Path train to her firm’s office building in New Jersey, but Sciequan stopped her.

”She sternly said, ‘You’re not going down there,” Marshall recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going.’ And this petite woman literally pulled me back up the stairs. I was pregnant and weighed over 200 pounds, but she pulled me out of that building.”

“I told her, ‘Let’s get out of the building,” said Sciequan from her Williamsburg residence last week. “I told her, ‘You’re not going down there.’ I was thinking of her with the babies.”

Eventually, Marshall and Sciequan walked over to a building their firm owned a block away on Broadway. From the fifth floor, Marshall gazed upon the horrific scene, at the bodies, body parts, the lone shoes and pocketbooks, the people screaming and crying in terror, and others jumping from high above, all of which are part of her nightmares now.

Then, suddenly, the heavy vibrations from the low-flying second airliner pierced her chest just before it crashed into the second tower. Later, when the towers crumbled, she could feel her unborn twins react to the enormously loud, massive rumbling. The pains in her stomach were sharp.

Several hours later, firefighters got Marshall and others out of that building, onto a truck and over the Brooklyn Bridge, from where she walked to a fire hydrant that was open. Marshall cupped some flowing water to clean the gray soot covering her body, and while she lifted her shirt to wipe herself, exposing her pregnant stomach, a uniformed officer walked over, held her hand and insisted that she sit down. He sat with her on a bench for hours as Marshall waited for her then-husband Craig to find her.

Ernesto Robinson, a court officer with Brooklyn Family Court, was on Jay Street helping stunned, dazed and bewildered people over the Brooklyn Bridge, when he spotted the pregnant Marshall. Noticing also that her feet were swollen, he felt a duty and compassion to help her, he said.

“Well, 3,000 people died that day,” Robinson said, “and in the midst of all that chaos, here’s this woman who looks like she’s about to give birth.

”I believe when one life goes out, a life comes in, and you can’t save the dead. So I felt I had to save her and her unborn children.”

The next day, Marshall checked into a hospital, and eight days later she gave birth to her twins six weeks premature.

Last week, as the anniversary of 9/11 approached, Marshall was determined to stay home from work rather than commute two hours into New Jersey via the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan. While in recent years she finally was able to watch the televised ground zero ceremonies on Sept. 11, she planned to keep the TV off this year and focus on her children. Several pictures of them fill two walls in her living room.

“I’m just going to stay home and appreciate what I have,” Marshall said last Thursday.

She noted that whenever she travels on a plane now, she always takes her children with her. “They are my life,” she said.

Despite the unending anxieties she must still struggle with, Marshall still focuses on the good that nevertheless grew out of these horrific experiences. For one, she said, she appreciates life so much more now.

“I think back then, of the fur coat, the diamonds and wearing expensive clothes, and none of those things were important,” she said. “Sept. 11 affected my understanding of life, my patients and how fast life can be lost,” Marshall continued. “When I’m driving behind people who honk at me to go faster now, I pull over and let them go. Or if my boss is yelling at me, I’ve learned that if you just take that deep breath, it soothes so much of the anger.”

Also, Marshall has two new friends, Robinson and Sciequan. She’ll never forget how Robinson helped her, and two years after 9/11, she returned to his courthouse with her twins.

“They came back, and that meant a lot to me,” Robinson said, “because I never ever thought I’d see them again.”

“I kind of cried when I met him,” Marshall recalled. “I explained to him, that it was important for me to have my children meet him. It was very emotional for me.”

And Sciequan visits her Harbor Isle home for the twins’ birthday each September. At last year’s party, Marshall’s son, Aiden, thanked Sciequan. “The boy came up to me and said, ‘Aunt B.J., thank you for saving my mom from the World Trade Center,” Sciequan said. “I wanted to cry.”

Please post a comment about this article. For private comments, email Joseph Kellard at Theainet1@optonline.net.

Copyright © 2007 Joseph Kellard

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