One Year Later
As the anniversary of 9/11 nears, most Americans are still taking stock, wondering if life really has changed. For 11 people profiled in this issue, the answer is clear

Rudy Giuliani
Building the right kind of memorial

Michael Kinsley
Let's worry less about terrorism

Andrew Sullivan
Why life will never be the same

Michael Elliott
Why life hasn't really changed

The Numbers
Tallying up the toll of Sept. 11

This Issue: Table of Contents

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Shadow to Light
The attacks and the aftermath

High-speed | Low-speed

A City of Ashes
Eugene Richards captures a grieving city

Remains of a Day
Rarely seen photos from the Fresh Kills landfill

Through Children's Eyes
Young perspectives on 9/11

Digging Out Ground Zero
Documenting the clean-up

More 9/11-related photos >>

Cover Collection
Browse every TIME cover related to Sept. 11 and its aftermath

9/11: The Secret History
A cover story examining what happened in the months before the attacks

Sept. 11 Archive
From Ground Zero to the war, a guide to our most compelling coverage

The American Spirit
Meeting the challenge of Sept. 11
Faces of Ground Zero
Portraits of the heroes of 9/11
One Nation
America remembers Sept. 11

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HOLY SPIRIT: Praying in the sanctuary of her church in Brooklyn

Genelle Guzman-McMillan was the last person found alive in the debris of Ground Zero. Having cheated death, she isn't quite sure how to live

Posted Sunday, September 1, 2002; 3:38 p.m. EST
hy isn't Genelle Guzman-McMillan dead? Nearly everyone else who had not left the Twin Towers by 10:28 a.m. on Sept. 11 perished. Unlike those stranded on higher floors, Genelle, who worked for the Port Authority on the 64th floor of the north tower, could have left earlier, but she tarried, fearful and uncertain like so many others. She was still walking down stairway B when the building collapsed. Unlike so many others, she lived.

Anyone who watched the avalanche, even from behind the safety of a TV screen, knows how extraordinary it is that someone could survive it. New York City's medical examiners are still trying to identify 19,858 pieces smashed from the bodies of the 2,819 people who were slain. Steel beams weakened to their breaking point; solid concrete was pulverized. But somehow Genelle's tumbling body found an air pocket. She was buried in the rubble for more than 26 hours; on Sept. 12, around 12:30 p.m., she became the last of just four people caught in the debris to be found alive. (An additional 14, mostly fire fighters, survived relatively unscathed in a lower part of stairway B that stayed upright.)

Some victims' families received only a shard of bone to put in a coffin; many got nothing. Genelle's family got her back with a crushed right leg and a few other injuries—but basically whole. Relatives held a joyous 31st-birthday party for her in January, after she had fully recuperated. By May, she was walking without so much as a leg brace, an accomplishment that astonished a doctor who had told her she would walk with one for the rest of her life. It's difficult to envision how those who were extricated from the fiery heap survived. Like Genelle, two Port Authority cops were buried but not mortally wounded by hurtling chunks of stone and metal—even as people in close proximity were killed. Pasquale Buzzelli—who worked with Genelle on the 64th floor and was also in stairway B at 10:28 a.m.—fell when the stairwell broke under him but somehow landed atop a rickety pile of debris. These four were rescued before they were burned in creeping fires or crushed in mini-collapses in the later hours of Sept. 11 and after. It's not known whether anyone else could have been found alive—just that Genelle was the last. Was this luck? Was it the hand of God? We are a long way from answers: we scarcely have a vocabulary for these people. They are truly "survivors," but that word has been largely appropriated for the relatives of dead victims. We could call Genelle and the others "escapees," but they didn't really escape—they just dodged fate. After ground-zero workers unearthed Pasquale's soot-encrusted briefcase a few months ago, the New York police department mailed a letter to his wife Louise saying searchers had found an item that belonged either to her or to the deceased. When Pasquale presented himself at One Police Plaza to pick up the case, the clerk wouldn't let him have it; Louise Buzzelli, the addressee on the letter, would have to come. It was a simple misunderstanding—an officer had found bills in Louise's name inside the briefcase and assumed it was hers. But the incident gave Pasquale the uncomfortable sense that the city couldn't quite comprehend that he was alive. "This is me! I'm right here," he said, clutching a newspaper clipping about his survival.

If we can't seem to fully register people like Pasquale and Genelle, their own senses of identity have drifted, wavered since that day. Having cheated death, they aren't certain how to live. Genelle has put on a brave face for friends—and for the many reporters who have called. But in June, on a trip to Macy's with her cousin Gail LaFortune, a caterer for New York City's Oxford Cafe, Genelle confessed that she wasn't sure what life was about anymore. She wasn't sure if she had ever really known.

"For Judy," says Gail, using her cousin's middle name, as do those who grew up with Genelle in Trinidad, "there's a sense of ... of misplaced things, of misplaced parts of her life." If that's true, how does Genelle Guzman-McMillan find herself again? It turns out there is no shortage of people who want to help create a carefree, well-centered version of Genelle—and an inspirational Sept. 11 tale for the rest of us: Victim miraculously lives, turns to God, finds true love (in July, she and longtime boyfriend Roger McMillan had a free "dream wedding" arranged by Bride's magazine and CBS's The Early Show, an event both then covered as news). But her story isn't so simple. People say Sept. 11 was a crucible for our nation, which may or may not be true, but it was doubtlessly a crucible for the person you see in the pictures on this page. The question is, Who emerged from that crucible? Why did the last survivor survive?

It's such a pretty day. Genelle has gold braids woven into her hair. Her cousin Lauren Lavin did them the previous Saturday, one of their "special hair days" when some girlfriends get together to try different hairdos, makeup and outfits. The braids remind them of their native Trinidad.

Now Genelle is setting up her computer. A contracted clerical worker assigned to the Tunnels, Bridges, and Terminals Department, she has worked at the Twin Towers just nine months. The job, mostly data entry, doesn't inspire her much, and she rarely talks about it at home. She also took the position illegally—her nonimmigrant visitor's visa expired in 2000, making her eligible for deportation—so she keeps a lot to herself. Many of her relatives will discover only today that she works at the Trade Center.

After booting up, Genelle carries her egg-on-a-bagel and hot chocolate down a few cubicles to gab with Susan Miszkowicz, a co-worker. They are gossiping about one of the bosses. And—wham! The building gives a mighty shake that just about knocks one of Genelle's colleagues out of his chair. They don't realize it, of course, but it's American Airlines Flight 11 puncturing their building upstairs, across floors 94 to 98. "What the hell?" says Genelle. She's not scared yet, just curious, so she goes to the window. Seeing a snowstorm of papers in the air, she stands in awe and confusion, motionless. Now people are saying a plane has hit the building. "We have to leave," she hears someone urge.

Genelle walks over to find Rosa Gonzalez, her closest colleague. She and Rosa have never socialized outside work—oh, they mean to, it just has never happened—but they have spent many a lunch hour together talking about their guys and the weekends they can't wait for. Now Rosa is on the phone, and Genelle breaks in: "We have to leave." Rosa nods. Genelle goes to get her bag and runs into one of her supervisors, Joe Roque. "Get your stuff now, and let's get out of here," he says, turning to gather his belongings. "One second," says Rosa, who has appeared at Genelle's side. "I want to call my sister." Co-workers are saying that if they will be gone the rest of the day, they need to let relatives know. That makes sense to Genelle. "O.K., I'll call Roger," she says. When Joe comes back, Genelle is gone; he assumes she has left, and now he starts down the stairs without her.

Like many people who come to life within the anonymity and cacophony of a nightclub, Genelle is actually shy by nature, a virtual Trappist around strangers. Her first conversational gambit is most often a big, gap-toothed grin. It was that way when she was a girl too. Judy, as she was called, was the youngest girl of 13 children, three of whom died as babies. Her father drove trucks for the Trinidad Ministry of Works and Transport; her mother was usually pregnant.

Genelle's father was strict—she had to be home at 4 p.m., an hour after school let out—and as a teen she chafed at his rules. By 18, she had a job at the big Holiday Inn in Port of Spain, the capital. She had also met Elvis Yip Ying, an older guy of Spanish and Chinese ancestry who had light skin and a steady demeanor. "I wanted independence," Genelle says. "[It] was not love at first sight, like Roger. It was like, you're young, and you just want to get out on your own, have a kid, get on with life." She had Kimberly, her only child so far, when she was 18. "But I wasn't in love with Elvis," she says, and they eventually broke up.

Genelle moved to New York City in 1998; she left Kimberly in Trinidad with Elvis, who she says is a devoted father. Genelle already had family in New York, and there wasn't much opportunity at home. (The year she moved, Trinidad and Tobago had an unemployment rate of more than 15%.) At first, she didn't like the loud people on the subways or the run-down look of Brooklyn, where she was staying with a sister. She moved back to Trinidad for a while, but in 1999, her mother lost her fight with ovarian cancer. Genelle was devastated. Trinidad seemed far too quiet without her mom's kind voice; Genelle moved back to New York soon after.

She wasn't sure what she wanted from Gotham, but as with many pretty young people, its nightclubs beckoned. She and cousin Lauren and other girlfriends liked downtown Manhattan's Webster Hall, a long-running if slightly cheesy dance club, and the more upscale, sexy NV Bar. These places don't get going until quite late—after 11 p.m.—and Genelle would be out until dawn some nights. "Roger would say, 'Just one [drink].' I would say, 'No, two.' And I would have two or three, and do all sorts of crazy stuff." Genelle loved to dance, and those nights wore her out. She usually slept most of Sunday so that she could look decent for work on Monday morning.

Everything is starting to get hot now. There has been another shake, and people are saying another plane hit the other building. Genelle is terrified. She has no idea whether to take the stairs now or wait for official orders to do so. Many of the people who remain—there are now just 15 others on 64—say they should stay put until they hear something definite from their Port Authority bosses. At least two of the senior people have been glued to the phones most of the time, trying to get an answer.

The fire alarm won't quit. Genelle keeps calling Lauren, Roger, her niece Carla Guzman and others on the outside who are watching the horror on TV. As the clock ticks, they begin to insist: LEAVE NOW JUST GO PLEASE HONEY GET OUT. But she is too frightened to depart by herself. Susan Miszkowicz, with whom she was chatting when Flight 11 hit, hugs her and says, "Genelle, don't worry. We will be all right." She will say it several more times, but there is fear in Susan's eyes. Finally, Genelle tells Roger, "O.K., I'll take the stairs." He will meet her outside Century 21, the discount-clothing emporium across the street. But now someone says the stairwell has filled with smoke. People have taped the entrances shut, and they are wetting jackets and shoving them under doors. Everybody is worried about smoke inhalation; they are all corralled in the northwest corner of the floor because it has the least smoke. Genelle has an urge to look out the window again, but she doesn't—she is too scared the building will tip over. At one point, one of her co-workers says something about the building being unstable, and Genelle nearly loses it.

Just then the ceiling makes a loud noise, sending a fresh wave of terror through Genelle. She thinks she could die, not realizing that it is hundreds of people in the south tower who have just perished in its collapse. It is 9:59 a.m., and the north tower still has 29 minutes.

Finally, with the smoke thickening even in the northwest corner, Pasquale and a colleague remove the tape on the lobby doors and go to stairway B. They are surprised to find a reasonably bright staircase without much smoke. Genelle calls Lauren and says they are leaving. Only about half the lights on the floor are working, and everyone knows that if the power goes out, they are in serious trouble. Pasquale is at the front of the pack, at the door to the stairs. He has words with a co-worker who still wants to wait for a go order; the co-worker relents. It is just after 10 a.m.—an hour and a quarter since the first plane struck—and they all start down.

 Nancy Gibbs: The
 Day of the Attack
 Shattered: Photos
 by James Nachtwey
 Lance Morrow:
 Rage and Retribution
 Cover Story: One
 Nation, Indivisible

 America Remembers

 Sept. 11 | A Memorial

 World Trade Center: Your Proposals

 Stories of Hope

 The Widow

 The Father

QUICK LINKS: Main Index | Table of Contents | Cover Story | Photo Retrospective | 9/11 Cover Collection | Back to Home



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