Stories of Hope: A Story of Survival

A group of young professionals stand together and smile for the camera during an office party.
Lolita Jackson, second from left, with her colleagues.

Lolita Jackson is a survivor of two terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. On February 26, 1993, while Jackson, an employee at Morgan Stanley, was eating lunch at her desk on the 72nd floor of the South Tower, she heard a loud explosion.

In the hours and days after the explosion, it became clear to investigating authorities that this was a terror attack on the World Trade Center. At 12:18 p.m., a small cell of terrorists, with links to a local radical mosque and broader Islamist terror networks, detonated approximately 1,200 pounds of explosives in a rental van in the underground parking garage of the complex. Their hope was to bring the Twin Towers down. The explosion created a five-story, 150-feet-wide crater, filled with 4,000 tons of rubble, in the sub-grade levels of the two buildings and undermined the floor of an adjoining hotel.

Describing the conditions on the 72nd floor and her subsequent evacuation, Jackson says, “Soon after, our floor began filling with smoke, and we began our slow descent down the pitch-black stairways—50,000 people going down six sets of stairwells, two by two. It took us hours to get out that day, and we walked outside into a snowstorm.”

The general evacuation of the Twin Towers took over four hours, aided by the largest coordinated rescue effort in New York City history at that time. Local, state, and federal agencies responded, rescuing people trapped in elevators in the building, leading evacuations down the stairwells, and even evacuating some people on upper floors by helicopters on the roof.

As a result of the attack, more than 1,000 people were injured, and six people were killed: John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen A. Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Rodriguez Smith, who was pregnant.

Jackson maintains that the impact of the attack continued beyond that day for Morgan Stanley. “Many lessons were learned from what took place in 1993 and changes were made,” she says, “including adding emergency lighting and reflective paint in the stairwells, regular mandatory fire drills, and most importantly, increased vigilance of those of us who worked there.”

She credits the resilience of the company and the safety protocol enhancements they implemented for saving hundreds of lives on September 11, 2001. “While the loss of life on 9/11 was devastating, there would have been a much greater loss of life if we had not learned from the experiences of 1993,” Jackson reflects, “Our company had 1,500 people in the buildings the morning of 9/11, but we only had 13 deaths. Even one death is too many, but hundreds more would have died had we not become more resilient after 1993.”

Having gained the title of “dual survivor,” Jackson changed her perspective on her life and her career, as did many of her colleagues: “Many, many of us changed our lives after 9/11. After going through this twice, I decided that if I could get killed at work, I had better really love my job.”

She left her job at Morgan Stanley in 2003 and pursued a new career path that landed her in the New York City Mayor’s Office in 2006. Fifteen years later, she serves as the climate diplomat for New York City—“a job I excel at and love,” she says. “I have been thriving, as have many of my colleagues who changed their careers post 9/11, becoming artists, non-profit executives, philanthropists, and more.  We took something that was profoundly devastating and turned it into an opportunity to change our lives.”

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum will commemorate the 28th anniversary of the February 26, 1993 attack on the World Trade Center on Friday, February 26, 2021. A moment of silence will be observed at 12:18 p.m. near panel N-73 where the names of those killed are inscribed. Each name will be read aloud.

To learn more about the 1993 attack or to participate in a free virtual tour of the 9/11 Memorial Museum offered on the anniversary, please visit our February 26, 1993 commemoration page.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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