NEW YORK, NY (WJHL) – September 11, 2001 – it’s a day many of us remember well.
We remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news that America was under attack.
2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania after four planes were hijacked.
Two of those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth – crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden took responsibility for the attacks.
Tragic stories of loss and heartbreak came out of that day – but there were also so many other stories of strength and survival.
One of our own here at News Channel 11 lived very close to New York City that day and his dad worked in the north tower of the World Trade Center. That tower was hit by American Airlines Flight 11 at 8:46 a.m.
Justin’s dad Fred Soto was on the 32nd floor of the north tower, the first building hit.
Thankfully – he was one of the ones who made it out of the building before it collapsed.
It feels like something you could only imagine in a nightmare, but that became a reality for him that day.
Fred Soto says it feels like September 11, 2001 was recent, and 17 years later the memory of that day is still clear.
“It was a Tuesday just like today,” Soto said.
It was an average Tuesday in New York City, and Soto was heading to work.
“It was a beautiful day. I walk in, got off at the train station. I walked in to the Twin Towers. I took the elevator to the 32nd floor and I went into my office,” Soto said.
And that’s when an average Tuesday changed instantly, “as soon as I sat down, I heard this loud bang,” Soto said.
His company then sprang to action.
“Some of my colleagues came running towards me and they said Fred you need to leave the building because something hit the building, we don’t know what it is,” Soto said.
They immediately all hit the stairs. He left all of his belongings behind.
“By the 18th floor, the building shook again. It was another plane that hit the south tower. So there, people panicked. People were saying well this is not an accident, this is a terrorist attack. At one moment coming down the stairs, my legs froze. I couldn’t walk,” Soto said.
He remembers seeing firefighters and first responders making their way up the stairs to help.
“I remember one fireman’s face. Our faces locked. To this day, it troubles me. That our faces just locked and he never lived,” Soto said.
He then made it outside and was able to call my mom on a phone nearby.
“I’m okay. I’ll get back to you later. Then, she never heard from me again until 7 o’clock at night,” Soto went on to say, “at some point, I thought that they were filming a movie, and I was an extra just running around back and forth,” Soto said.
He made it home around 11 o’clock that night.
Months later – Justin’s mom got a letter in the mail saying his belongings had been found in the rubble.
“I hold that for memory. My wallet, some credit cards,” Soto said.
Those belongings are reminders of the worst day of his life – a day that could have been his last.
“I am blessed. I guess it was not my day. Unfortunately, 3,000 people lost their lives that day and sometimes I wonder why was I spared. I will never forget this day. And I’m thankful I’m here to tell you this story,” Soto said.