It looked like something out of a horror movie. Will Jimeno, a retired Port Authority police officer, was shocked when he first arrived at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“There were papers flying everywhere. There was debris everywhere. There was smoke everywhere,” he said.
Jimeno, whose daughter attends Auburn, said he began that morning at his post by the bus terminal on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, a block down from Times Square, when he got a call for all officers to go back to the station. A rare request, especially during rush hour in the morning when people from New Jersey and upstate New York are coming in, he said.
When he got there, he said he could see the distress on everyone’s faces. They went into the reserve room where a TV set showed the first tower had been hit.
As a Port Authority police officer, Jimeno said the force owns and operates all the major transportation in New York and New Jersey, including the World Trade Center. He said they teach in the academy to protect target-rich environments like airports, bridges and tunnels.
These environments are targeted by terrorists, he said.
“As soon as I saw the TV set, right away in my heart, I knew what they were — they were terrorists,” Jimeno said.
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After he saw it, Jimeno said he immediately went to the payphone to call his wife Allison to let her know he was all right and to check on her.
Jimeno then got word a bus was coming to take them down to the World Trade Center, where, when he arrived, he saw people jumping from the tower — some alone, others holding hands.
Each time he saw someone fall, Jimeno said he would think that it was someone’s mother or that it was someone’s child and realize the weight that each life has.
“I just remember feeling very, very small,” he said. “Because here we are, as cops — we have our uniforms on, our shields on, we got our gun belts on, but you realize what 9/11 really taught you is that we are all very small.”
He said we are all just one piece in a vast world and universe.
“But together we can be big,” Jimeno said.
He said he remembered wanting to get up there and help those people.
“That’s why we swore the oath to serve and protect, and you live by that oath,” Jimeno said. “It’s like the creed from Auburn. You believe in that and you’re going to live that, and that’s what we were doing that day.”
Jimeno remembered a police Suburban pulling up with Police Sgt. John McLoughlin asking if anyone knew how to use a Scott Air Pak, the breathing equipment firefighters use.
Jimeno said as a Port Authority officer, they were trained as first responders and firefighters so himself, Dominick Pezzulo and Antonio Rodrigues, who had all recently graduated the academy together, volunteered.
Along with McLoughlin, they became a team of four, and as they were running toward the tower, he said he could see debris and human remains in it.
“Courage comes from overcoming your fears, and I got to tell you — I was in fear,” he said.
McLoughlin told Jimeno to put the extra equipment in the Suburban and meet them in the E-room, a place set up for first responders with any equipment they may need for an emergency.
Once he met back up with his team in the E-room, Jimeno said they promised they would not leave each other no matter what.
Jimeno said he remembers Christopher Amoroso, another officer who had been injured from a piece of concrete falling on his face.
That officer had saved four other people and joined their team of five.
They got more equipment and put it all into a mail cart, which Jimeno pushed, and they went back up to the mall level.
They did not yet know tower two was in distress, he said. McLoughlin told him to stay with the cart while the rest of them got more equipment from tower two’s E-room.
“It was a very scary thing,” Jimeno said. “Especially the sounds because there were sounds of concrete falling from the sky, and then there was a different sound, and that was a sound of a human being, of a body hitting the ground.”
Jimeno listened to these sounds as he waited with the cart.
As they were going to tower one, Jimeno said they heard a boom and looked back at tower two. He saw a wall of fire.
“I was in the military, but I don’t think anything or any seasoned veteran was prepared for what we saw on 9/11,” he said.
Jimeno said McLoughlin told them to run to the elevator to protect them with the debris coming down.
While traveling down the hall, Jimeno recalled Pezzulo, one of the other officers on the team, started to turn left. Jimeno turned and followed him, remembering their promise not to leave each other when a wall came down.
He said he started yelling “A13,” which means officer down, into his radio, but communication was down.
As the debris was falling, something hit his hand, causing him to lose his radio. Jimeno said he then started holding his helmet for dear life when something also tore his helmet off. He then covered his head the best he could, he said.
Once the debris stopped coming down, Jimeno said they could see they were in a little cavern of debris with a little hole around 30 feet up letting in some light. With the light, he said he could see Pezzulo buried in debris to his left and McLoughlin also covered in debris a few feet behind him.
He said McLoughlin told them to sound off and all that was heard was “Jimeno” and “Pezzulo,” meaning Rodrigues and Amoroso did not make it.
“That was very difficult for me,” he said. “I mean, I called their names out for about two to three minutes and Dominick said ‘Willy, they’re just in a better place.’”
Jimeno said Pezzulo was able to get out and stayed to try to free him but could not.
Soon, they heard another boom of the second tower coming down and being in the hallway — both towers were now falling on them.
McLoughlin got crushed further, he said, adding he remembered him letting out excruciating yells. Pezzulo got hit on the head with some of the concrete, and when Jimeno looked over, he saw him bleeding out of his mouth. The hit was fatal.
As Pezzulo was dying, he made his last effort to try to signal where they were, taking out his weapon and shooting it straight up in the air. Then, just two or three feet from Jimeno, Pezzulo passed away.
A little while later, fireballs started coming down from above. Jimeno said the fire heated up Pezzulo’s gun and caused it to start going off with the remaining rounds, which miraculously missed Jimeno.
At one point he just wanted to die, Jimeno said. His friends were gone. He made his peace and thanks with God, asking God for two favors: to let him see his daughter being born since his wife was seven months pregnant and a glass of water.
Jimeno remembers having a vision of someone with no face, brown hair and a white glowing robe reaching out with a bottle of water.
“When I snapped out of that vision, again, you can call it whatever you want, I had a fire in my belly that I’m not going to give up, and if I die tonight, I’m going to die fighting,” he said.
At 8 p.m. that night, Jimeno and McLoughlin heard two marine reserves who were with a civilian and called them over. The New York Police Department Emergency Service Unit also showed up.
Three men dug him out even though it was extremely dangerous, he said. Many times, he remembered their superiors told them to leave them, but they would not. It took them three hours to get Jimeno out.
Once he got out of the World Trade Center, he looked up.
“I didn’t see anything,” he said. “[I] said, ‘Where is everything?’ and that’s when the firefighter said, ‘It’s all gone kid,’ and that was the first time I cried that day.”
Jimeno said he cried because he felt like they failed since so many people who didn’t get brought home to their families.
“The road to recovery was a very long one — not only physically but also mentally,” he said.
McLoughlin and Jimeno were in the hospital for a long time and went through many surgeries. He said he somehow had no broken bones, but his nerve was severed on his left leg, and he needed a brace to walk.
Jimeno shared he went through post-traumatic stress disorder. Once he realized he needed to talk to somebody, life got better, he said.
Jimeno said to go through something like that, no one gets rid of it — they just learn to get through it.
“I tell everybody we all have our World Trade Centers,” he said. “You might have lost a loved one, you might have been in a car accident, you might have found out you got cancer or it could just be a student who says, ‘I don’t think I can get over this final exam.’ It’s when you’re faced with your own World Trade Center, how you respond and how you overcome that will show you who you are.”
Today, Jimeno lives in Chester, New Jersey, and has been retired since 2004. His oldest daughter will be graduating from Auburn this year.
Jimeno donated a piece of the World Trade Center to the Veterans Resource Center in Foy Hall for anyone to visit.
“On that day, the worst and darkest day in U.S. history, what I saw, personally, is a lot of love,” he said.
He said he remembers total strangers helping each other and really seeing the strength Americans can have together.
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