There have been 11 years since the terror attacks and Will Jimeno, the former Port Authority Police Officer and Morris county resident who spent 13 hours trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9/11, still bears the physical and mental scars of his ordeal. But Jimeno will be the first to say that his memories of that day transcend the physical and emotional pain of he experienced.
“I saw a lot that day, but what stays with me the most is that I saw tremendous love,” Jimeno said. “I saw tremendous love on 9/11.”
How Jimeno ended up where he was on 9/11 is . Growing up in Hackensack, Jimeno aspired to be a cop his entire life and the day before the 9/11 attacks considered himself to be living the American Dream.
As a child, Jimeno’s father used to caution him he had to be careful because he was always helping people, putting himself on the line for others, and that could lead to trouble.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Jimeno left for work on a bright and clear morning and made his way to work like it was any other day. After roll call, Jimeno was issued the assignment of 42nd and 8th street and headed out to his morning post.
“I remember standing at my post watching thousands of people pass me,” Jimeno said. “And then I looked down the block and saw a shadow pass over me.”
What Jimeno couldn’t have known at the time, was that shadow was a plane headed for the World Trade Center.
All Hands on Deck
According to Jimeno, a few minutes after the shadow passed over his position, a call came over the radio calling all officers back to the police desk. Once inside, Jimeno saw the World Trade Center burning on a large television.
“I remember everything sort of clicked with my training,” Jimeno said. “Port Authority officers we are cross-trained as firefighters and as first responders. We deal with drugs, domestics and are prepared because we monitor a target rich area.”
As his superiors went to commandeer a bus, Jimeno called his wife on a pay phone before joining up with Dominick Pezzulo, Antonio Rodrigues and Sgt. John McLoughlin, a 21-year veteran of the force.
“That was basically my team,” Jimeno said. “And we decided that no matter what happened we weren’t going to leave anyone behind.”
Within moments, the officers were loaded up on to the bus and made the trip from mid-town to the Trade Center in record time.
Following a police-issued Chevy Suburban, the bus with the Port Authority officers arrived two blocks from the towers and soon nearly 50 cops were amassed outside the site that would be known as ground zero.
“I looked up and it looked like Armageddon,” Jimeno said. “It was bad.”
While the bus was in transit, the second plane had hit the towers. And the macabre scene had gone from bad to worse.
“Another Officer, Ronny Delmar said, ‘they’re jumping.' And he was crying. People were jumping from Tower 1,” Jimeno said.
The officers stood in stunned silence, mustering until a game plan was ready.
They didn’t have to wait long.
“Soon they were asking for volunteers who knew how to use Scott Air Packs,” Jimeno said, referring to the respirator devices. Those devices were well known to the members of Jimeno’s team. “We just came out of the academy and we knew how.”
Soon the group, led by Sgt. McLoughlin, were running toward the towers.
“I remember looking back and it was a lonely feeling,” Jimeno said. “There were four of us running down the street and there was debris and glass and unfortunately body parts.”
Jimeno was tasked with unloading some unneeded equipment in the Suburban and as he met up with his team in one of the Emergency Rooms in the towers to pick up what equipment they could.
“We went under the mall level to the police desk. And there was a piece of the fuselage there,” Jimeno said. “That is where we hooked up with Christopher Amoroso.”
Amoroso was a Staten Island resident and fellow Port Authority officer who was there helping with the evacuation.
“We grabbed a cart and threw as much gear as we could and headed out,” Jimeno said. “We went out to the escalators on the concourse and the marble was cracked, which showed that the plane hitting the towers had it shook it to the base.”
Jimeno said that there was a steady flow of people coming through making their way to the exit and was overwhelmed by the love and humanity he saw in them.
“I remember seeing a black man and white man carrying this woman out. She had a very bad cut on her leg and they were just in the line of people helping her out,” Jimeno said. “I know I was scared and the other guys were scared, but for us we had taken an oath. I remember thinking if these civilians can be this brave, than us in uniform need to step it up.”
Everything changed at 9:59 a.m. when the South Tower collapsed.
From where he was standing on the concourse, Jimeno could see the revolving doors, but before he saw anything he heard an explosion.
“The sound was so loud it shook my helmet like a movie,” Jimeno said. “And then I saw a fireball bigger than my house coming toward us.”
Jimeno followed Pezzulo into a hallway, which held a freight elevator as they were bombarded with concrete as the South Tower pushed in on them.
Amoroso and Rodrigues never made it to the elevator, and died instantly.
“Dominick was packed in concrete but uninjured, a wall was on me and I was in a lot of pain and Sgt. McLoughlin began, who we couldn’t see, began calling for us to sound off,” Jimeno said. “And that was when I realized we lost two guys.”
According to Jimeno, Pezzulo was miraculously uninjured, and he worked himself free and attempted to extract Jimeno.
“The plan was to free me and then we would go free Sgt. McLoughlin,” Jimeno said. “But it was hard. Dominick could see daylight above us. We were all fathers with kids at home and he could have left us. But if he left he never would have been able to find us again. So he stayed and kept trying to free me.”
Then at 10:28 a.m., the North Tower collapsed.
Despite repeated attempts, the large piece of concrete that had pinned Jimeno was too much for Pezzulo to move by himself. And when the North Tower collapsed, Pezzulo was still in the process of wrestling with the rebar when their situation took a turn for the worse.
“We heard another boom and it was Tower 1 coming down,” Jimeno said.
The collapse of the north tower triggered further settlement of the south tower debris and Pezzulo became pinned beneath a falling concrete wall.
“There was blood coming out of his mouth and he said to me, ‘I’m dying Willy,’” Jimeno said.
Now mortally wounded, Pezzulo fired a single shot from his service weapon in an attempt to alert any nearby rescuers to the group's position beneath the rubble.
“Last thing he said to me was ‘Willy don’t forget I died trying to save you guys',” Jimeno said. “His last ditch effort to help us was he fired his gun in the air and then he falls over and dies.”
Horrified and devastated by what he saw, Jimeno struggled to keep it together.
“Now it is me and my Sergeant and I say ‘Dom’s gone’ and the sergeant just kept telling me to keep it together,” Jimeno said.
Rain of Fire
As if the metaphor for the hell he was is wasn’t enough, fire began to reign down on Jimeno, literally.
“It was the jet fuel burning. I could smell it and I recognized it from my time in the Navy,” Jimeno said. “I covered my face as best as I could as these balls of fire came down and burned my arms.”
One of those fireballs landed near Pezzulo’s weapon and impossibly, ignited the remaining ordinance in the weapon.
“Dominick’s weapon proceeded to fire these rounds just over my head,” Jimeno said. “I told Sarge, we’ve been crushed burnt, shot at. What else is going to happen.”
It was around this time Jimeno felt ready to succumb to the darkness.
“At that point I really wanted to die,” said Jimeno, a devout Catholic. “I thanked God for my wife and for my family and I thanked god for letting me be here to try to save people. My one regret was not seeing my little girl being born. And I asked God when I got to heaven if I could just have a bottle of water. Because my mouth was full of dust and smoke and debris.”
Jimeno said after making peace with God he closed his eyes and prepared to die.
A Vision of Salvation
As Jimeno made the sign language symbol for “I love you”, a message to his wife and daughter and prepared for the end, he said a remarkable vision came to him.
“I remember seeing a man with a beard. Dressed in white and I couldn’t see his face but it was very bright,”Jimeno said. “Behind him over one shoulder was this tranquil lake and the other shoulder was a field of wheat like in the movie ‘Gladiator’. And in his hand he had a bottle of water.”
According to Jimeno, that vision changed the game on him again.
“I opened my eyes and I knew I wanted to live,” Jimeno said. “The next several hours were torturous. We were in a lot of pain. We prayed. We said our fathers over and over again. But I knew I wanted to live.”
It was then that Jimeno asked McLoughlin to put the call out over the radio that he wanted his second daughter to be named Olivia.
“My wife wanted that name, but I didn’t like it,” Jimeno said. “The women always win. Sarge put over the air that I wanted my daughter to be named Olivia.”
Suffering from compartment syndrome from the compression, the two men tried to keep their spirits up, but it wasn’t until 8 p.m. that they had their first dose of hope.
Rescue By Hand
The two men were located and extricated after former U.S. Marines Sgt. Jason Thomas and Staff Sergeant Dave Karnes heard their cries for help. Both survivors, were severely injured.
“It took almost three hours to get me out. Every piece of equipment they had to get us out was broken. They basically had to dig us out by hand,” Jimeno said. “I remember telling them to cut off my leg but they said no they would get me out. And they did.”
Jimeno said as he was passed out of the hole he saw the moon shining brightly in the sky and realized the towers were done.
“I asked a firefighter where was everyone, where were the buildings? And he looked at me and said, ‘they’re gone kid’,” Jimeno said. “That was the first time I cried.”
As Jimeno was handed from person to person to be loaded into the ambulance he tried to connect with all who were helping him.
“I remember grabbing patches on their uniforms,” Jimeno said. “And I just kept saying thank you.”
Although he asked to go to Hackensack Medical Center, Jimeno was taken to Bellevue Hospital.
“When they opened the door to the ambulance there were all these doctors and nurses standing around there,” Jimeno said. “And I realized there weren’t other survivors being brought in. That was the second time I cried.”
13 Hours, 13 Surgeries
Jimeno underwent 13 surgeries, one for each hour he was trapped in the rubble. McGloughlin was worse for wear, coming out after 22 hours. The two Port Authority officers were the only two who came out of the rubble alive.
“My poor wife. I flatlined twice on the table,” Jimeno said. “But after 13 operations I was ok. I flatlined twice on the table. But I came out alive and I am here today. It took me two years to recover. I have a hole in my leg and my foot doesn’t work, but I am ok.”
Jimeno has since retired from the Port Authority Police and lives with his wife Allison, oldest daughter Bianca and youngest daughter—Olivia—in Chester.
And the lessons he learned that day he shares when given the opportunity.
“We all face adversity. We all have our own World Trade Centers. It can feel like having two buildings fall on you,” Jimeno said. “It is important to have faith and hope and love. There is more good in the world than we know.”
You can read the first part of Jimeno’s story on the site as well.