‘Shock’ of 9/11 events recalled | Yadkin Ripple


“I thought that was I was far enough away and all of a sudden I heard that rumble and bam, bam, bam and I got scared…I still thought I was going to die because it was so loud and there was so much crap that was just landing everywhere.” — Antonio Delgadillo

Millions watched in horror the events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City, but most were well out of harm’s way. Such was not the case for Antonio Delgadillo. Now a resident of Jonesville, Delgadillo called the New York City area home for nearly 10 years and at one time worked inside the World Trade Center.

Delgadillo was not inside the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 but he was nearby working and it is something he said he hasn’t spoken about until just recently. At the time, Delgadillo worked in the photo archives for the Associated Press. His office was in Rockefeller Center but on Sept. 11 he was asked to accompany some photographers who were heading to the Twin Towers when the first reports began coming in of a plane hitting the building.

Delgadillo said at first he didn’t think much of it and thought maybe it was a Piper or a Cessna that had hit the building. He recalled having just seen photos of a small plane hitting another New York City skyscraper in the photo archives from 1939.

Along with the photographers, Delgadillo got into a car and headed straight for what would soon become ground zero of the attack.

He said they saw everything going on and the chaos unfolding.

“All of sudden I heard this really loud noise and I heard people screaming and it was another airplane that hit,” he said. “People were saying ‘we’re being attacked.’”

Utter shock and bewilderment followed, Delgadillo said.

“I just wasn’t focusing. I was trying to keep track of my people but I couldn’t. I remember saying, ‘you, guys, let’s wrap everything up because it’s going to get dangerous.’”

“After I got my computer packed up and put everything in my bag I felt like I was on autopilot. I was just numb and I didn’t really know where I was going,” Delgadillo continued. “I ended up maybe 30, 40 yards away from Mayor Giuliani. I just remember him saying, ‘oh my God, oh my God.’ That’s when I looked up and I saw people hanging out of the windows and eventually falling to their deaths.”

Delgadillo said he heard law enforcement trying to get nearby buildings evacuated as he began to make his way away from the scene.

“I thought that was I was far enough away and all of a sudden I heard that rumble and bam, bam, bam and I got scared,” Delgadillo described. “I feel like I found the only unlocked vehicle that was in Lower Manhattan, this white work van, I just got in it. I still thought I was going to die because it was so loud and there was so much crap that was just landing everywhere.”

Luckily, Delgadillo did not suffer any injuries though he said he had lots of dust in his eyes and suffered from asthma attacks in the days following the attack. He attributed his business suit and overcoat as a sort of “armor” that kept him from getting any cuts or lacerations from the falling debris.

“After about maybe 10 or 15 minutes I got out of the van, there was still white smoke and people yelling and people had blood on them,” Delgadillo continued, drawing a deep breath as he recounted that day.

“I remember thinking I got to make my way uptown, I got to make my way uptown,” he said. “I walked the entire way from downtown to 50th street where Rockefeller Center is and that’s where my office was.”

“All of it was evacuated,” Delgadillo recalled. “I figured the best thing to do would be just keep on walking northbound. I was walking by 5th Avenue and there was not one single car on 5th Avenue, it was the eeriest thing.”

At one point Delgadillo said he just needed to sit down and found a lounge in a hotel. Inside the hotel was a businessman from Ireland and his family.

“I guess I had enough of all the powder and crushed cement on me and they looked at me and told me to sit down and got me a pint of Bailey’s. I didn’t turn it down,” he said. “I didn’t really watch the television but everyone was glued to the TV at the time. Nobody even voiced an opinion, everybody was just quiet.”

As he made his way through the city that day, Delgadillo said he was increasingly worried about his girlfriend who worked at the Woolworth building. He tried calling her but phone service was nearly impossible. At last he reached his own father, who was living in North Carolina, and Delgadillo’s father was able to get a message through so Antonio and his girlfriend could meet up in New Jersey.

Delgadillo was living in a condo in New Jersey at the time and said it took forever to get back home.

“All these people who were my neighbors were just waiting for everyone they knew to come back,” he said. “When they saw me it was like this overall feeling of relief.”

That went on for several days, Delgadillo described, the waiting on friends and loved ones to return. Of course, not everyone did return.

The shock of what he experienced, at first, kept him from thinking about those who did not survive.

“It was shock, just utter shock. When I say shock, it made me forget everything,” he said. “It didn’t even occur to me that I had friends that worked inside the building, even the day after it didn’t occur to me that I would never see them again.”

Though he survived without any physical scars, it wreaked havoc on his life at the time, Delgadillo said. It has only been in the past year or so that he has even spoken about the events of that day. On this the 20th anniversary of that horrific day, Delgadillo has plans to return to New York City in search of healing.

“I met a Vietnam veteran who said in the 90s he went back to Vietnam and said it was very healing. Maybe that’s what I need to do,” he told a friend. His friend quickly went to work planning the trip.

“I started getting cold feet about it,” Delgadillo said. But with some wise words from his friend and former pastor he was encouraged to keep his plans.

“He said ‘you should go, don’t feel like you have to be sorrowful. Don’t carry the guilt with you. Since your friend is going you may want to party.’”

“I thought it was ridiculous when he said that but he mentioned a passage in Ecclesiastes.”

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

“Maybe he’s right,” Delgadillo said.

Going back to New York City for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Delgadillo said was in large part a way to honor his friends who died that day.

“I just want to go back over there, just physically go back and say, ‘I remember you guys. You guys are with me everyday of my life,’” he said.

“And I guess, just to let some of it go.”

This story originally appeared in a special section of The Tribune for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @news_shewrote.


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