Survivor Recalls the Collapse of the Towers

Image of Will Jimeno

On the morning of September 11, 2001, William Jimeno, a rookie officer with the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD), was just beginning his shift in midtown Manhattan when news of the attacks broke. Just nine months earlier, the former U.S. sailor had graduated from the police academy during a ceremony held at the World Trade Center’s Marriot Hotel. “The World Trade Center really, to me, symbolized the strength that we, as Americans, have,” Will shared in an oral history he recorded with the Museum in 2012. Little did he know that his eventual return to the World Trade Center site on 9/11 would be under very different circumstances that would test the strength of both the nation and himself.

On 9/11, after seeing the towers aflame on television, Will called his wife Allison, who was pregnant with their second daughter, and then boarded a bus full of police officers headed downtown. Upon arriving at the World Trade Center, Will quickly joined Sgt. John McLoughlin and several other officers in collecting specialized rescue equipment to aid in the evacuation. As the team made their way through the shopping mall beneath the buildings, suddenly and without warning, the South Tower began to collapse above them.

When everything stilled, Will found that he, Sgt. McLoughlin, and fellow PAPD officer Dominick Pezzulo had managed to survive, though they were now trapped 30 feet beneath the pile of debris. Thirty minutes later, when the North Tower collapsed, Officer Pezzulo would be killed, leaving Will and Sgt. McLoughlin miraculously alive but still trapped, injured, and in desperate need of help. Several hours passed before their hopes of being rescued were finally realized when two Marine reservists searching for survivors heard them calling out in the wreckage. It was then that Scott Strauss, a detective with the Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD, and members of his rescue team would begin their perilous journey to free the officers.

It would take three hours for Strauss and his team to finally pull Will to safety, with Sgt. McLoughlin being rescued several hours later. Will was taken to Bellevue Hospital where he underwent several surgeries and began his long road to recovery. While his injuries, both physical and mental, still impact him almost 20 years later, Will has taken many positive lessons from his 9/11 experience. “As a survivor,” he said, “I want everyone to know that there was more love than evil on that day … [and] as survivors, the way we honor all those that we lost is by being better human beings, keeping these memories alive, and talking about them.”

Since retiring from the PAPD, Will has dedicated much of his time talking to people, especially students, about his 9/11 experience and the importance of remembering. 

Beginning on September 10, 2021, Will Jimeno will share his story, along with five other speakers, as part of this year’s sixth annual Anniversary in the Schools webinar. Register for this free program here.

The webinar is made possible thanks to generous support from The New York Life Foundation.

By Meredith Ketchmark, Assistant Manager of Youth & Family Programs

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