The Puerto Rican William Rodriguez (photo), now 60 years old, cleaned the stairs of the Twin Towers, in New York. Early in the morning, I used to have a free breakfast at the Windows of the World restaurant, which was located on floors 106 and 107 of the North Tower. On September 11, 2001, when he was 40 years old, he arrived late for work and went downstairs to talk to his supervisor in one of the building’s six basements. That’s when he heard the first plane crash into the buildings. The walls cracked, the floor shook, and fire devices began to squirt water.
Over the next 102 minutes, Rodriguez left and entered the building several times, rescuing victims with burns, carrying a wheelchair user, and leading a team of firefighters up the stairs to the 39th floor. On the way up, the janitor opened the emergency doors with a master key, which allowed hundreds of people to escape. He was one of the last to pass through the building’s revolving doors. He ran through the bodies of people who had jumped from the higher floors and threw himself under a fire engine. It was pulled out of the rubble hours later. Today, he lives in New Jersey and lectures around the world. This Saturday, 11, the attack on the Twin Towers completes two decades. Rodriguez spoke to Crusoe
Twenty years after 9/11, what mr. do you feel when you touch this subject?
It’s a wound that’s always open, because I’m always remembering something. There isn’t a single day that I don’t remember what happened on that 9/11. Like other survivors, I suffer from post-traumatic stress and carry the guilt that comes with survivor syndrome. My house is full of objects from the World Trade Center. I live in a small museum.
Why did you decide to keep these memories?
I lost about 200 friends at the World Trade Center where I worked for twenty years. When they disappeared, a ravaging void opened up inside me. So I decided to glorify those people’s lives. After all, it wasn’t the towers that mattered. It was what was inside them. I also took on a mission, believing that violence is not more important than compassion. I became an activist. Nobody was defending the victims of the attack, especially the Latinos who had no documents. When they created a federal fund, they weren’t even included. In addition, a hatred began against all foreigners and many immigrants began to be deported. So I started to defend them.
How are the people today that mr. helped save?
Many are still suffering. Seven years ago, I spoke to one of them, Kenneth Johannemann, for a documentary for personal use. Three days later he committed suicide with a pistol. It’s like Kenneth is waiting for someone to come to him and give him the opportunity to talk about what he’s been through. Many still need psychological help. This was a tragedy that not only changed the history of the world, but directly affected the lives of many innocent people.
Why mr. organized rallies against the Iraq War?
When the US military went to Afghanistan in 2001, there was so much hatred in society that people supported the war. Then US President George W. Bush tried to connect 9/11 with Iraq. But there was no relationship at all. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hated each other. Then the president went on to say that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. That’s when we realized they were using our tragedy for a political purpose. They wanted to create a war of fear.
Does the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, ordered by current President Joe Biden, have any meaning for the victims?
I think the departure from Afghanistan is correct, but that had to have happened ten years ago. If they had done it sooner, it would have been unhurried and without losing the confidence of our allies. The biggest disgrace for those who survived 9/11 is having to deal with the deaths of so many soldiers in Afghanistan sent to defend us. It’s a very serious meaning.
Mr. Do you think an event like 9/11 can happen again?
I can guarantee you it will happen again. We don’t know how or when, but it will happen. Maybe not on American soil, but in another country. Terrorism has a great capacity to do harm not only when it kills people, but when it affects everyone else, psychologically. Terrorism creates a fear that never goes away.