Briefcase Found At WTC On September 13, 2001
The Events Surrounding Lisa Lefler's Briefcase That I Found At The WTC
by Boyd E. Harden
At approximately 9:00 AM on September 11, 2001, my wife, who works in New York City (NYC), called me at our apartment in NYC and asked if I had seen what had happened at the WTC at 8:45 AM. I had not, so I immediately turned on the TV and watched as the newscasters attempted to explain what had happened to Tower One. As a former pilot in the United States Marine Corps, I could not understand why an airplane would have flown into one of the twin towers under cloudless conditions. Then, the unimaginable happened as I watched a Boeing 767 (UAL flight 175) airplane fly into Tower Two at 9:03 AM. Within seconds of this devastating act, I recognized this as an act of terrorism and took actions to protect my wife and myself.
First, I sent emails to my immediate family members to let everyone know that my wife and I were not harmed. Since I was online at the time of the WTC incident, I took advantage of communicating with as many people as possible. I knew that I would have been unable to get a phone line to call people, since everyone in NYC would be trying to do the same thing.
Second, I clogged the bathroom tub, bathroom sink, and kitchen sink and filled them with water. I took this step to ensure that we had potable water in the event that attempts were made to contaminate NYC's water supply. Then, I packed a survival kit in my backpack and went outside to get cash and to buy food for our home. Upon completion of these basic survival steps, I felt an uncontrollable desire to get involved and to help out in the efforts to respond to this tragedy.
Here are the additional actions that I took prior to arriving at the WTC area:
1. Went to Lennox Hill Hospital and attempted to donate blood. The lines were too long, so I decided to volunteer my services elsewhere.
2. Introduced myself to the chief physician of the emergency room at Lennox Hill and volunteered to help out in the emergency room. Although, my emergency medical technicians credentials had expired, I felt that I could contribute in some way as the injured people arrived. Lennox Hill Hospital did not receive any WTC victims while I was there, so I decided to leave.
3. Decided to go to the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue and volunteer my services to the National Guard efforts. I was able to use my honorable discharge papers from the USMC and talk my way into helping out in the beginning stages of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's attempts to organize the military resources that were available for the rescue efforts. I spent approximately two hours at this command and control center and assisted the senior officers with organizing these efforts. As a former Major in the Marine Corps, my services and advice were welcomed. Eventually, the National Guard mobilized its personnel and my involvement became redundant.
4. Convinced steelworkers, who were staging at the Armory, to let me accompany them to the WTC site to assist with the recovery process. At approximately 4:45 PM, we were given a police escort in military vehicles to a staging area 5-10 blocks north of the WTC area. Upon arrival, we watched in horror as the third (7 WTC) building collapsed at 5:00 PM.
At approximately 1O PM, we-the steelworkers and myself-were allowed access to the WTC area and began using steel-cutting saws and blowtorches to remove the metals beams and to look for survivors. My experience as a Marine in Somalia and emergency medical technician experience in California had hardened my ability to cope with catastrophic events, but the devastation of the steel abattoir that I witnessed firsthand on the evening of September 11, 2001 overwhelmed me. I spent the next 14 hours with the steelworkers, firemen, policemen, and other rescue personnel searching through the mangled steel and debris. Our efforts did not recover any living victims. At noon on September 12, 2001, I went home to spend time with my wife.
On the morning of September 13, I decided to return to the WTC site to assist with the rescue operation. I arrived at Ground Zero at 4:15 PM and witnessed a completely different rescue scene. Instead of the chaos that I observed on September 11, I saw a highly organized rescue effort that impressed me. After spending six more hours helping out, I began to realize that I no longer belonged at the rescue site. In all reality, I did not have proper equipment to protect myself and decided that the professionals should be left alone to do their work. Thus, I made the decision to leave the WTC area and vowed that I would not return until the entire area was redeveloped.
As I was leaving the area, I found a wallet and submitted it to a police officer. Then, I saw a briefcase on top of a heap of soot and steel between the Bankers Trust Plaza and the former Tower Two locations. Essentially, these buildings were located in the southeastern corner of the WTC complex, which is near Liberty Street and Church Street. I decided to look inside the briefcase and found the following: a Pop Tart wrapper, a wedding invitation, a train ticket (Newark, New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and six resumes. The briefcase belonged to Lisa Lefler.
Although, I struggled with my decision, I decided to call the home phone number that I saw on her resume to let her loved ones know that I had found her briefcase. I fully expected to speak with a member of her family or her spouse and dreaded the uncomfortable moments that would follow. However, I was pleasantly stunned when Lisa Lefler answered the phone at 11:25 PM on September 13, 2001. We both remained shocked as we exchanged stories. She had left her briefcase on her desk at AON Corporation on the 103rd floor of Tower Two, which was the second building to get attacked, but the first to collapse. And, I had found it. I promised Lisa that I would return the briefcase to her as long as I was allowed to do it. After telling a police officer the story, I was permitted to head home with her briefcase in my backpack.
On September 24, 2001, Lisa Lefler met my wife and she received her briefcase. Unfortunately, I was away on business and could not attend this reunion. Although my wife and Lisa did not know each other, they exchanged hugs and felt thankful to be sharing this warm moment. Obviously, this experience is one that we will not forget and Lisa Lefler, my wife, and I have remained in touch through phone calls and emails.
On February 11, 2002, Lisa Lefler and I met in NYC at Bryant Park Grill and discussed the experiences of the past five months with each other. It was a poignant moment for us and it is evident that we will maintain a friendship as a result of the incredible bond that we share together.