The news that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was discovered and killed on Sunday, May 1, came as a shock to many who had let him slip from their minds during the near 10-year search. For those who were in New York City on September 11, 2001, the news hit much closer to home.
Brookfield resident and Danbury attorney Kristan Exner was a law student in 2001 while working on the 52nd floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center and was in her office early on the morning of the attack.
“I was able to wake up this morning for the first time in a decade and feel safer,” she said Monday. “The things I saw that day… I’m always going to remember.”
Exner said she watched the news Sunday night with her husband and four-month-old daughter and could clearly remember the events of that day.
“Most of our office was not in yet” when the first plane struck her tower shortly before 9 a.m., she recalled. “It was like standing on a boat when that one wave comes along and knocks you off balance… then everything was fine.”
Though the building seemed stable at the time, everyone inside was quickly being evacuated.
“Everybody gathered together — only one person knew where the stairwell was, which seems stupid of us now — and we made our way down,” however the evacuees were clogged at the bottom and it took Exner over an hour to make it out of the building.
She was able to get two blocks away before the first tower collapsed.
“I’m glad he’s dead,” Exner said. “I don’t mean to be a dramatic person or wish death on anyone, but I’m glad.”
As she watched President Obama address the nation Sunday night with her family, she thought, “I almost didn’t have that in my life — my daughter and my husband — because of that man.”
Brookfielders Bill Tinsley and Matt Grimes rode into the city together on the train that morning, Tinsley off to his consulting practice on Broadway and 50th and Grimes to his job with AIG on Water Street, five blocks from the World Trade Center.
Grimes remembered leaving the office around quarter-to-nine to try a new coffee place that had opened in the company’s main building and seeing paper floating through the air and covering the streets. Then he realized the paper was burning.
“I looked up and the Trade Center was on fire,” he said.
Grimes ran back to the office to find out what had happened. Out the window, he and his co-workers could see people throwing computers and desks from the towers. One employee had a pair of binoculars and a closer look showed that “it was not computers and desks coming out of the Trade Center.”
As they looked on in horror, the second plane struck the south tower.
“We could feel the heat of the explosion through the glass,” Grimes said. “With the first plane, there was never a thought but it was an accident. With the second, there was never a thought but terrorism.”
The death of bin Laden is “hugely important to those of us who were there,” Grimes said Monday. “That man is so squarely responsible for bringing Hell to Earth that day.”
While the news is important to Grimes, he also noted that nothing could truly assuage the grief wrought by that tragic day.
“Does it bring closure? No, but it brings some justice,” he said. “Is the world a better and a safer place? Yes. Will it every truly be safe, probably not.”
“It was an important day for all of us there,” Tinsley said of being in New York on September 11. “It really rattled us to the core.”
Tinsley was awoken to the news last night by a call from his son, Pfc. Patrick Tinsley, who recently completed a tour in Afghanistan and is preparing to redeploy once more.
“It’s a very exciting time for everyone in the military — it’s like getting the head of the snake,” Bill Tinsley said Monday, however, for Patrick and the other soldiers on duty, the fight continues.
“By no stretch of the imagination does [Patrick] think it’s over,” Tinsley said.
While bin Laden was the head of the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda, the influence of his and others’ doctrines is still strong in areas of the world.
“We want to keep them on the run over there and not here on our streets,” Tinsley said, asserting that this is his son’s belief as well and the reason he continues to fight.