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Slylight in the building

Posted 15 Apr 2011 at 16:52 PM by clive

An Article About Joy Shepard

Western Days Parade Grand Marshal is 9/11 survivor
An Escondido woman who escaped from the second World Trade Center tower a few minutes before it collapsed on 9/11 will be the Grand Marshal for this year’s Western Days Parade.
Joy Shepard was on the 61st floor of the second tower on the morning of Sept. 11, when the first of the hijacked airliners struck the other tower.
After 28 years of teaching, she had decided to change her career and become a financial advisor. She had arrived in New York City a few days before to begin the final three weeks of training at Morgan Stanley’s headquarters in the tower.
On Monday she went to work in high heels, but because she was uncomfortable in them, she changed into flats before going to work on Tuesday. That was one of the factors that may have saved her life.
About 9:30 a.m. they got a break in the training. Mrs. Shepard went out to the break area to get some decaf.
A young man told her, “We’ve been bombed!”
She looked out the window. She could see the Statue of Liberty, and she could see the fiery hole in the tower next to them.
“I could not believe my eyes! The PA came on and said, ‘Go back to your rooms,’ but I didn’t. I stared at the fire ball. I saw a gaping area and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I saw an airplane tail being consumed.”
That didn’t make sense at the time, because most people then thought that a bomb had gone off in the tower.
“I just stared at it. I kept staring at it and analyzing it,” she recalls. She flashed on what had happened on her birthday in 1993. That was the day that someone drove a truck full of explosives into the World Trade Center.
She eventually wandered back to her office, stood in the door looking at her cell phone and day planner and thought; “I’ve got to go down.”
She told one of the trainers, “I’m really sorry. I can’t stay. I’ve got to get back to the ground.”
She started down the stairwell At the 44th floor she left the stairwell. The elevator stopped and someone offered to hold the door open so she could go back up. The PA came on again and repeated the announcement for people to return to their jobs.
She decided to continue down, this time through the stairwell. “If everything is all right, I’ll return,” she told herself.
The second plane slammed into the second tower while she was in the stairway.
Two women who were climbing down with Mrs. Shepard were knocked down by the impact. She kept her feet.
“When it hit, it just jolted the whole stairway. You could smell the jet fuel. A crack appeared in the wall. Smoke filled the stairwell. The skylight above us blew out of the building.”
Both women with her were wearing heels. One said she couldn’t go on.
“You’ve got to!” she told her. “I’m from California. This is like a little earthquake. You can do it. Put one foot in front of the other. We can make it.”
They heard the thunder of people entering the stairwell.
“Honey!” she told the woman. “You’ve got to get up right now. It’ll be a disaster if you don’t.”
She took her hand and they went down together.
On the way down a man, Mike, from the 84th floor, joined them. He had seen the first plane hit. He tried to persuade his co-workers to leave with him. Most of them stayed. Those who did were killed.
“We walked down together,” Mrs. Shepard recalls. “All of us. Nobody panicked. We kept each other calm. We prayed. We moved like one giant organism. Two by two all the way down the stairs.”
A young black man offered her his shirt to breathe through. She gave it back after a few minutes and told him he needed it for himself. She breathed through her blouse from then on.
They made it to the ground floor. It was dark. All the lights were off. .
Some firemen with flashlights met them. Her friend needed oxygen.
“By that time it was just Mike, the second woman and I,” she remembers. “A lot of people were trying to get through the revolving glass doors.
“Mike and I noticed that no one was going through the doors to the right. He held her hand and they both ran.”
She thought she would be OK on the ground, but it was worse than inside the building.
“People and debris were falling all around me. Wounded and torn people. It was a horrible disaster!”
Sheets of concrete fell like bombs. “ I don’t know how I was missed because I saw people being killed by concrete as big as buses. It was the grace of God that I survived.”
Mike told her: “We’re going to go north on Broadway.”
“OK, I’m with you kiddo,” she answered.
“I know a little Irish pub there. Do you want a drink?”
When they arrived he ordered a beer and she ordered ice water.
Suddenly there was a rumble and the pub shook from side to side.
“Joy,” Mike said. “Tower two is coming down.” There was a huge plume of smoke and a tidal wave of debris coming towards them.
“They are after the symbols of America. The Statue of Liberty. The Empire State Building. Let’s go to Greenwich Village. Nobody wants Greenwich Village,” he said.
They kept moving quickly, as did many. Others just stopped like deer in the headlights, and stared at the carnage.
They went to an apartment of a friend of Mike’s in Greenwich Village.
Mrs. Shepard was unhurt, except for some bruises on her left arm.
She was one of a handful from San Diego County who survived the attack. She is astounded that people want to hear her story.
“People are just amazed and I think my story had a happy ending. People like to hear happy news.”
Since September she has spoken to the journalism class at the school in San Dieguito where she taught for many years.
She’s also spoken at a Lutheran Church.
She told the school children, “There’s evil in the world, but there’s so much more good. I saw people helping people, and what was lost is a human loss, not a financial loss. If those buildings had been filled to capacity it could have been 50,000 dead.”
Her own firm lost 12 people out of 3500 employed.
Mrs. Shepard is very flattered by being named Grand Marshal. “I don’t know why I was chosen.”
She doesn’t know either why she was invited to speak to a gathering at National Heroes Week.
She told the audience, “First of all, I want you to realize, I’m not a hero. I’m a survivor. That’s the only distinction I have. The people who are your heroes are your parents because they are with you 24/7 and the teachers, the armed forces, your firemen and your police, who literally protect us and give up our lives in order to protect us.”
She remembers the firefighters who were waiting when she reached the ground floor, and who stayed at their posts with flashlights.
“I call them my golden guardian angels. They lit the way for us.”
They didn’t make it out themselves.
“I don’t think anyone thought those buildings would come down. They were magnificent buildings.”
She has a fear of heights, and that, more than anything, was probably what told her to start down when the first airplane hit, and what gave her the andrenaline rush to complete the climb down.
For several hours her husband of 43 years, Alan, and oldest son, David, thought she had perished.
Her husband had been awakened by his sister-in-law shortly after the first plane struck.
Her son, David, was driving to work when he heard the news. He turned around and returned home.
They watched TV for more than three hours, while Mrs. Shepard kept hitting the redial on a borrowed cellphone, trying to get through.
Finally she did.
Alan didn’t recognize her voice. He had already given her up for dead.
“Darling, it’s me, I made it!” she told him.
“What’s your birthday!” he demanded before he would believe her. They told her youngest son, Steven.
Another son, John, is a flight attendant living in France. He lost some of his friends on one of the three hijacked flights.
He spent the night in a cathedral, praying for his mother, until he finally got word that she was alive.
She was stranded in New York City for two days.
“I’m telling you, the way people helped each other back there. The spontaneous vigils. When the troops were coming into the city, the New Yorkers would form a parade route for them and hold up signs saying, “Welcome to our armed forces!”
A young woman from Florida offered her a car ride west to St. Louis, where she was able to book a flight out on Saturday.
During the drive to St. Louis she saw evidence of how the nation had pulled together. “We saw people waving flags. We saw American flags painted on the sides of barns.”
The plane home was filled with Marines, flying to Camp Pendleton.
Her family was waiting at Lindbergh Field as the plane landed shortly after midnight.
In retrospect, she’s glad she didn’t know just how serious things were on Sept. 11.
“At the time I was in a very calm mode, and maybe it was all those years of disaster training at the schools.”
She didn’t sleep for three nights after the experience, `nd really not for two months.
There were no nightmares, but when she closed her eyes she could see bodies falling.
“It’s with me. It will always be with me.” Vietnam vets tell her, “You’re a veteran, Joy. You were in a war zone.”
But she IS a survivor, and she feels that has to be for a reason.
“I’ve got a lot of living to do, and I’ve got a new lease on life. I’m going to do what I can to help people. I’m still an educator and enlighten them a little bit by how they can plan for their futures.”
Having a future of her own given back to her helps give her a unique perspective to that.
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