Tracy: Good morning. My name is Tracy Fleischman. I’m interviewing a former student of Pace University for the Oral History of September 11th project.
Erica: Good morning. My name is Erica Hammond and I am a former student of Pace University.
Tracy: Why were you at Pace University on the morning of September 11, 2001?
Erica: Um, I’ve been attending Pace University to obtain my masters degree in Business. On that morning, September 11, 2001, I was waiting on line at SARS.
Tracy: Were you aware that anything was going on?
Erica: Well, all was going well, I was waiting on line when I overheard another student say that they heard that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Tracy: Um, what did you do at that point?
Erica: To be honest, I was concerned and worried but I thought that after I was finished at the SARS office I would call home to see if my parents had heard any further news.
Tracy: Was there any chaos at this point?
Erica: It just felt like short, a few short minutes later, when security guards started to race from the building, um, I knew something was weird. I started to ask other people around if they knew what was going on. One of the workers in the outside office turned on a radio and I overheard her telling other employees that the World Trade Center was on fire.
Tracy: Wow! Um, did you have any idea how serious the situation was?
Erica: This really weird feeling started to come over me. It didn't feel like there had just been a plane crash, I sort of was inside the building so I didn't know but it felt like something a whole lot bigger was happening.
Tracy: Did you then start to hear more details?
Erica: Well I continued to wait on line for a while, and then I started to hear all of the horrible news. A second plane had crashed into the other World Trade Center building.
Tracy: What were you thinking at this point had happened?
Erica: My mind just started to race. I remember that the security guards in the building started to evacuate all the students and faculty.
Tracy: Did you panic?
Erica: At this point I was sort of felt numb, started to follow the crowds and in doing so I was by myself. So I just started to listen to what the other people were saying to get some kind of straight information.
Tracy: What were some of the things that you heard? Or had heard?
Erica: I heard another student saying that she had spoken to her mother and that the plane crashes were a result of a terrorist attack.
Tracy: You must have been nervous, then what did you do?
Erica: Well at that point I just picked up my cell phone and started to call home. First I could not get through, that really you know made me, you know, more nervous. Then my father finally reached me.
Tracy: What did your father tell you?
Erica: He basically told me that terrorists had hijacked some airplanes and were flying them into buildings in New York.
Tracy: Did he tell you which buildings were hit?
Erica: Um, yes, and when he did, when I found out that the World Trade Centers were the target, I really panicked.
Tracy: You must have been very frightened. Did he give you any advice as to what to do next?
Erica: Well after he sort of knew that I was panicking and after our little short, felt like thirty second conversation, my cell phone lost the call. 1 tried to get him back, but all circuits were unavailable and I started to cry.
Tracy: Did anybody give you direction as to where to go?
Erica: Nobody really knew what to do. Um, there was complete pandemonium and confusion, everybody looked lost.
Tracy: Did you meet anybody that you could possibly walk over the bridge with?
Erica: Um, yes I did.
Tracy: Were there any police officers present?
Erica: Well I saw many, many, many police officers there, they were all around. I mean after all, we were right by the courts and everything but they seemed to all be headed toward the World Trade Center which I was making an assumption on that, but they were all rushing in that direction and nobody really knew what to do. I found several people to talk to and we all started to walk together and to bond together.
Tracy: Where did you walk to?
Erica: We were really all nervous to walk near the bridge. Pace is right near the Brooklyn Bridge but still at this time, we didn’t know if it was safe to walk across and they sort of had it barricaded.
Tracy: Do you have a visual at all of the World Trade Centers?
Erica: No, you couldn't see the World Trade Centers from where we are um, and at this point the air was getting so thick with ashes and smoke, that it was hard to breathe or see anything.
Tracy: What did you do next?
Erica: Well, a few minutes later after I kept trying, I was able to reach my house by pay telephone and my mother informed me that one of the towers had collapsed.
Tracy: Did your mother inform you that all bus and subway services was suspended?
Erica: Yeah, she did tell me this because she didn't want me to go looking around for any bus or subways to try to get home. So I was happy that she did and but at this point I had no idea how or when I would be able to get home.
Tracy: Did you realize at that point that you had to walk in order to get home?
Erica: It didn't hit me at that point that cars could not come into Manhattan and that I was virtually stuck where I was but after walking and thinking and panicking I, I came to that conclusion.
Tracy: Could you detect in your mother's voice how serious this situation was?
Erica: Well funny that you ask that, because my mother’s usually the calm one in our family. But she sounded so alarmed and she told me to do the best I can to stay safe. I could tell that she wanted to say other things to me but she knew I was alone, I heard her voice cracking so she just told me that she loved me and to try to get over the bridge and see if I could get as close to home as possible and then she or my dad would come pick me up.
Tracy: Did you then realize how serious the situation was?
Erica: Yes, at that point, especially after my mother just said, “Oh I love you,” I remember thinking that this day started off as such a beautiful and sunny day and I was looking forward to registering so that I could that over with and continue my studies. But at that point I really, really did realize how serious this situation was.
Tracy: Yes, I remember too that it was a hot and sunny day and I remember thinking that it still felt like summer, not a school day.
Erica: Yeah, it started off like that, but really soon after that, it became one of the all time most horrible days in American history. I, I felt like life would just never be the same.
Tracy: I agree. Did you have any idea what your next plan was?
Erica: Well, as I was walking and pacing--it felt like I walked around the same block like twenty times-- I had like a brainstorm. I went into the store called J & R, which sells electronical stuff, its right down the block from Pace, and I ran in there and I bought a portable radio. At least now I felt like I could have, I could have a little control and access to the outside world.
Tracy: Then what happened?
Erica: Well I had first heard a reporter on 1010 News crying, and I lost myself. I finally started to really let go and panic. I figured if a reporter on1010 WINS radio was crying, we were all in big trouble. And another lady on the street was staying with me now, which felt good, at least I didn't feel that much alone. And soon after that, the radio went dead, there were no more broadcastings but now we were both aware that we really has to get out of Manhattan.
Tracy: Did you hear at all about the hijacked plane that was headed toward Washington?
Erica: Yeah I did, I heard other people talking about this and at the point that my radio was working I did hear the reporter say, you know, tell, you know, state about this and I had a visual in my head about how many people had died already and the thought that they were headed you know, toward our government office in Washington was really, really scary. Um, you know, a plane hitting the World Trade Center was horrible, but now they were headed to destroy our total government. It was really scary.
Tracy: How did you feel when you eventually heard what had happened to this plane?
Erica: I thought that the people on this plane were heroes. They were unbelievable. They gave their lives to avert another potential disaster and you know, they averted the loss of the White House and thousands of other lives. It’s something that we all should be grateful for.
Tracy: Where do you live? And where does the lady that you met live?
Erica: Well I live in Brooklyn, in Park Slope, which is right near Prospect Park. The lady I was walking with, the nice lady that we bonded with, lived on Long Island.
Tracy: Did you both decide to walk together?
Erica: Yeah, we both made a decision that if we would try to stick together and that if we could get over the bridge and keep walking, then maybe someone in one of our families could pick us up in Brooklyn.
Tracy: Did you do that?
Erica: It took us about two hours to walk over the bridge. Um, of course it took about another one to two hours before they opened the bridge for us to get across. Um, but it was a good feeling when they finally did.
Tracy: Were a lot of people walking?
Erica: It was the weirdest feeling ever. There were hundreds and hundreds of people walking together. It felt like a sea of people. Everyone was covered with soot, ashes, and dirt. But it was so quiet, it was the weirdest thing. So many people were walking, but it was so, so quiet. Everyone seemed to be in shock. No one was saying anything but occasionally you would hear people crying, it was just so sad.
Tracy: Do you think everyone was in shock?
Erica: Oh, if everyone felt somewhat like I did, then they were in shock. Everyone was crying softly, looking stunned, and just walking like zombies. Mostly everybody at the point of the attacks happened was at work, so you saw men in business suits covered in blood and soot and women in dresses and dress suits and they’re wearing big heels, some of them were taking them off and walking barefoot and it was really quite a sight.
Tracy: Oh my God, I can only imagine what the scene was like. I happened to be a student in high school and when one of my classes were over, I was told by a teacher that we had to evacuate and what had happened. I lived pretty far away from school so I looked for some of my friends and found that everyone had gone. I tried to use my cell phone to call my mother but it did not work, so I started to walk. I was hysterical and so, so lonely. I felt abandoned. Finally after I had walked about one mile, my sister got through to me on my cell phone and she was driving home from college and she came to pick me up. We were so scared.
Erica: Yeah I, I felt the same way, abandoned. I will never ever, ever forget this day, ever. It was hard to grasp that this was happening.
Tracy: Did you have any friends that were in Manhattan?
Erica: Well my mother is a teacher in Brooklyn and I was very, very lucky and fortunately did not have any friends or family that were In Manhattan on that day.
Tracy: Did it feel especially weird because a terrorist attack happened on American soil?
Erica: Yeah definitely, I had always been proud to be an American. I had always felt extremely safe on American soil. I had been a transfer student and studied abroad in England for six months. You should try it Tracy, it was great! And even though I had a wonderful time there, I absolutely could not wait to get back to America. When I got off that plane, you have no idea, I almost felt like kissing American soil for the safety that had always, safety feeling that had always been in my head and unless you really are an American, you cannot exactly know what it is that I am feeling and saying but, it once you go abroad and then come back to your home that feeling is just unbelievable or at least it was unbelievable.
Tracy: How did you feel once you knew that this was a planned, planned terrorist attack?
Erica: I felt so hitter and angry but most of all I felt like an American that had been betrayed by its government. I felt that our President had known more information regarding any impending terrorist attack but we were not properly informed or protected.
Tracy: Do you blame the President or his cabinet?
Erica: Oh I definitely blame both. But to be totally honest, the President is the leader of a country. He is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on while he is in command. So whether he was informed or not informed or misinformed, he is definitely responsible for what happened.
Tracy: How do you feel New York City reacted?
Erica: Well, I think that Mayor Giuliani was absolutely terrific. He is a hero in his own right. Um, he reacted swiftly and appropriately. He was compassionate but be took control um, there’ll never be anyone like him again.
Tracy: Do you think the people of New York reacted okay?
Erica: The people of New York are amazing. They band together to become one big family. Strangers helped other strangers on that day. Everyone cried together and tried to help those in need. It was incredible. It was wonderful to see that in a time of need, New Yorkers could rise to the occasion and help one another. It’s funny that when you go out of New York City or even to another state, when people find out that you are a New Yorker they always say, oh my God, New Yorkers are nasty their this, their that, but there’s nobody, there’s nobody like New Yorkers. Um and in a case of, of this um, disaster we could see how wonderful, caring, and loving they really are.
Tracy: Now do you think the firefighters and police department responded?
Erica: That's a really tough and complicated um, question. Um, they were first in line, responded swiftly and as usual put their lives on the line. Their always heroes, everyday they’re heroes.
Tracy: I know they were criticized for equipment failure? Do you have any opinion on this?
Erica: Oh yeah, sure. I think that budgets are cut all of the time and if firefighters and police departments’ equipment were antiquated, then shame on the government. We cut expenditures until a tragedy happens and then everyone--and then you know, everybody--questions “Oh, Oh what happened” and puts blame on people, but uh, quite frankly it's the government’s fault also that this equipment wasn't checked and checked and rechecked and new equipment wasn't bought before this.
Tracy: So you feel that all of this should have been in order before a tragedy of this magnitude occurred?
Erica: Oh absolutely, why have the opportunity to look back after such devastation and say what should have been done? With the technical knowledge that Americans have um, we should, we should have had state of the art equipment.
Tracy: What about the lives that were lost and the government's lack of funding for the unfortunate families that lost loved ones?
Erica: There was absolutely…
Tracy: Sorry, had to take a brief break the phone was ringing. So to continue, I am going to ask you the question again. What about the lives that were lost, and the government's lack of funding for the unfortunate families that lost loved ones?
Erica: There was absolutely no excuse. Families lost loved ones that provided a sole income. They should have been subsidized by our government in a swifter manner. They could have filed the appropriate paper work later on but these families were without money, they were panicking, they were looking for their lost ones. They had other things to worry about um, and it was really, there's just no excuse for that.
Tracy: I know that my mother has told me that all her life she never even thought of the prospect of being attacked on American soil and now that entire sense of security’s gone. Is this the same way you feel?
Erica: Absolutely, it’s sort of what I explained to you before. Life in America is forever changed due to these September 11th attacks. Um, there was always a sense of “Oh lets come to America, everybody in America is safe” but now that the terrorists attacked on our ground we’re in the same position as virtually a lot, you know, most other countries in the other parts of the world.
Tracy: Do you blame anyone for the attacks?
Erica: I happen to think that there were definite warnings that some kind of attack was going to take place.
Tracy: There were warnings. How about the other attacks in 1993 on the World Trade Center when there was a bomb in the garage?
Erica: Yeah, I remember that too! That was sort of pushed under the carpet until this tragedy happened, then all of a sudden people remembered. I think the government is partially to blame cause they had previous knowledge and they really didn't take it seriously enough. They should have done more after 1993.
Tracy: I know that while you were walking you must have been thinking about the poor people that died?
Erica: I actually had visuals of people being burned alive. Um. at times now, now that we're discussing this I could close my eyes and sort of hear people screams and visualize the horrors they must have gone through. Um, these innocent people were just trying to make a living, um they were at their jobs and their lives were taken for no reason at all.
Tracy: At this point, you must not have known how many people died?
Erica: No, I didn't know at that point. I walked over the bridge and it took a lot of hours to walk down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, there were so many people. Um, I reached Grand Army Plaza Library and I was still walking with the same lady. I don't think that lady and I said two words to each other. It was just comfort knowing that we were with one another. And when we got to the library we sat on the on the steps for a long, long time and my cell phone was, you know, wasn't working the whole time but I was finally able to call home and my mom picked us up. Um, actually when I went to, to go back up the stairs to look for the lady I couldn't find her and I, I was so sad about that. I was willing to help her and my mom was willing to drive her home um, but it was like she disappeared in midair. I, I wish I knew her name um, but I don't. I just wish her and her family well and hope she is safe.
Tracy: At least you knew she was safe too.
Erica: Yeah definitely, um, I wish I would have asked her name but my brain was not thinking right. I never saw her again, which is so sad.
Tracy: What happened after you arrived home?
Erica: I could not even speak or think. I just sat in front of the television for hour after hour um, it felt like, like I had just lived through such a huge tragedy. I was grateful to be alive, I was grateful that all my family and friends were alive but I was very much in shock. I just don't think I came to myself for months after that
Tracy: I know, it was like the world had come to an end and the only thing left to do was to watch television and see what was going on.
Erica: Yeah, I know I could not believe how close I was to losing my life also.
Tracy: Did you think that the tragedy was so bad when you were still in Manhattan?
Erica: Oh, no way. When, when this first happened. I just went uh! You know, “Oh my God, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,” but I really didn't know the impact and uh, and the horrible devastation and I didn't know that those buildings has collapsed actually until I was sitting in my living room listening to um, to the television.
Tracy: Wasn't it as if you were in someone else's nightmare?
Erica: That's exactly how it felt, except that thousands of peoples, thousands of people lost their lives. People jumped to their deaths or were burned or crushed or just lost um, lost in this tragedy. There are just no words to describe what happened.
Tracy: Was it hard for you to go back to Pace after?
Erica: For a really long while after that day, I did not think that I would ever go back to Manhattan. I did not even want to leave my house. I was grateful that my family was safe but so sad for the other families that were suffering. It took my mom and my dad a really, really long time to convince me that um, life is, should go on and that I should go back to continue my education and I, I did in fact return to Pace and graduate with my masters and um, I can't tell you that I ever go a day without thinking that something else is going to happen, but as time goes on its disappearing a little bit at a time. I guess I can say that easily because I didn't lose a loved one but so many people did.
Tracy: I know my father lost one of his best friends. He was a firefighter on Rescue One and died on this day. My family has suffered losing such a good friend.
Erica: Oh, I’m sorry for your loss, I truly am. I am just totally sorry for America's loss.
Tracy: The attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 has changed America forever, do you agree?
Erica: Oh absolutely yes, I do not think that anyone will ever think that America’s as safe as it once was. Part of the American dream has been shattered. I think America lost some of its powerful position on that tragic day. Um, we, we don't stand the same as we did in the world that we did before with all our knowledge and our “know how.” Um, that's a very sad statement but unfortunately that's true.
Tracy: I would like to ask you another important question.
Tracy: Do you think the Iraqi war is a direct result of the September 11th attacks?
Erica: Um, actually I have a very strong opinion on that question. Um, I don't think the government reacted properly before this tragedy happened and I think um, we got into the Iraqi war almost to save face. I think President Bush um, I don't know whether I can say he sort of took information from his cabinet and should have investigated more before we got into this war. But I think because he didn't react properly and because the government did not react strongly enough to what was going on in the world before the World Trade Centers and before Washington tragedy, um, I think he almost took the strong um, stand and entered this war in Iraq too hastily. I don't think our men should be there dying um, to protect us. I don't think this is protecting us. I don't think its answering all of the questions regarding to this tragedy.
Tracy: Do you think Americans being in the Iraqi war helps reduce the threat of America being attacked again on American soil?
Erica: Uh, I absolutely think the opposite. I think, I'm not a hundred percent sure that we're in the war for the right reasons like I stated before, but I think that there is still a definite threat to Americans on American soil only because we really don't know what is going on as far as terrorist threats here, we only find out after. I wish we had more knowledge and more insight as to what is going and the actual threats that do happen.
Tracy: I absolutely agree with you on that note. I think the position that America’s been taking in the Iraqi war has totally been for the wrong reasons and I almost, I almost feel like its time for Americans to get out of there because we are losing so many American soldiers in the act of being in this war.
Erica: Yeah, right and we're not sure um, that their losing their lives for the right reasons, you know. It’s wonderful to help other people in the other, in the other parts of the world but what about us?
Tracy: Have you since gone by the, where the World Trade Centers were since the attacks?
Erica: Um I, I’ve passed by several times um, actually quite recently and it gives you such an eerie feeling um. You could almost feel, if you can feel a howling that's what it feels like cause its such an empty vast site. Um, it’s just so sad and so tragic and so hard to believe that this was like the capital of our business world and so many, many lives were lost for no reason. It’s such a weird, weird site. I don't think that will ever change.
Tracy: I agree. What, what do you feel about a new building being constructed there in the future?
Erica: Yeah, I absolutely, absolutely think I, I thought about both sides of it but um, there should definitely be a memorial um, uh a fitting memorial but I absolutely think that we should rebuild um, bigger and better than ever um. We need to bring total life back to New York City. Um, we are the financial capital of the world. We have to um, show that we stand tall and firm and um, yeah definitely, it would be a positive thing.
Tracy: Do you think the buildings should be as tall as the World Trade Centers were or do you think that poses as another target?
Erica: Um, I actually seem to feel that um, any building in, can pose as um, as a target. After all even though the White house was a huge, huge complex it didn't merely um, well it doesn't merely, as you know, it doesn't stand as tall as the World Trade Center but um, unfortunately these terror, terrorists were smart enough to figure out a way to get to a tall building. I think now that we are aware that they can hijack planes which no one could ever think they could do, I don't think that could ever happen again. So building tall and beautiful and um, displaying a symbol that we all stand for I think would be a good thing. Uh, should it be as tall? There are other buildings in the world that are, are as tall, not many, but you know in some cities there are. I think that this would be a positive, wonderful thing.
Tracy: On another note, how do you think the children of the victims will react to this, as they grow up, to the way the parents have died?
Erica: Well um, its unfortunate that its such a sad, sad tragic way that their parents did die but um, hopefully they'll grow up and think that um, their parents did them proud um, that the government and that their family really um, have good memories and have shown the proper, proper respect for the way that they died and you know. These children, the remainder of the parents that are alive will put forth a wonderful effort to show to the children that their parents were wonderful. It is tragic that these children are growing up without one or two of their parents but they can rest assure that um, that they, well actually we can rest assure that, that hopefully they will fight for a free America and they will really, really cherish living here and do all they can to prevent other tragedies like this from happening.
Tracy: Unfortunately, the only thing I can say is that I wish we weren't here discussing this. I am grateful that you are here to help me with this interview for your, for my class and for your experiences during this tragic time.
Erica: Um, your welcome Tracy. I wish we weren't here um, discussing this. It’s really hard to believe even reminiscing at this point that this ever happened, it’s really unbelievable. It feels like when I used to go to public school and we used to learn about history, you know, historical things and you hated to go to history and learn it and now I feel like I am part of history and unfortunately it was a tragic part of history and I just hope that we should all be safe and everybody should be well and my pleasure helping you. And I hope you get a good grade.
Tracy: Thank you.
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