Twin Tower survivor recalls Sept. 11 attacks

Photos by Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealAnn Silver talks about her experience on Sept. 11 on Thursday at Carson High School.

Photos by Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealAnn Silver talks about her experience on Sept. 11 on Thursday at Carson High School.

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Ann Silver has never watched footage from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She's never seen the planes crashing into the Twin Towers or watched as they crumbled in on themselves and collapsed.

But she can never forget the sound of the plane hitting the north tower, the burning in her throat from the jet fuel that poured down the building and covered the windows, painting her world with darkness.

She'll never forget the horror of realizing the glass she heard shattering around her after she reached the atrium was from the bodies of people who jumped from the top floors in an instinctual effort to escape burning.

"For me, it's not a picture," she said. "It's not a Bruce Willis movie. I don't have to see it. I have my own memory from the inside out."

Silver, the CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Reno, was working as vice president of human resources for a restaurant company on the 105th floor of the North Tower at the time of the attack.

It's not something she likes to think or talk about. She's only spoken publicly about her experiences twice - the first time was last year to Angila Golik's sociology class at Carson High School. The second time was Thursday to the same class.

She told them how she had arrived to work late that day because of a doctor's appointment, so she was only on the ninth floor when she heard "what I can only describe as the largest sound I have ever heard."

It was the first plane.

"The whole building shook," she recalled.

Jet fuel streamed down the walls and combined with the smoke filling the building after the plane burst into flames.

"There was crying and screaming and darkness," she recalled. "Everything went pitch black."

Chaos ensued as thousands of people tried to flee the building, breaking through exit doors that were locked because no one ever used them, opting instead for the elevators.

They still thought the plane had hit by mistake. Terrorism was not a word in her vocabulary. She was in the stairwell when the second plane struck.

For all they knew, the entire city, the entire country, was under attack.

"I thought it was the end of the world," she said.

When she finally made it into the atrium on the ground floor, bodies began crashing through the glass as workers jumped from windows to escape the flames.

She thought of her colleagues 105 stories up, and her mind went immediately to the stories her father would tell her of World War II.

"He would talk about his experiences, and I couldn't relate," she said. "I didn't know what it was to see death. I didn't know what it was like to see friends die or dying in agony."

She's grateful her mind won't let her remember images of the bodies, but she remembers stepping over them as she fled the atrium, passing police and firefighters as they rushed inside.

Once outside, balls of fire and smoke were all that greeted her. Fellow survivors were so convinced the city was under attack, some ran straight to the Hudson River, known for its filthy and swift-running waters, and jumped in.

All Silver could think to do is run. So she ran. She ran 40 blocks - about two miles - through ash, still stepping over bodies and body parts. She ran from what might kill her and toward her family.

"It sounds strange now," she said. "But I just wanted to find my family so we could die together."

It took 11 hours before she was reunited with her daughter, who was huddled with classmates in the basement of her high school.

And it took weeks to realize the devastation from that day.

Three years after the attack, she moved to Reno, close to Carson City, where she worked just out of college.

"I found peace of mind and a lifestyle that is preferable out here," she said. "Even though I still love New York City."

She's only been back to New York once, and she didn't visit Ground Zero, thinking of the ashes of all her friends and colleagues that still dusted the area.

But she hopes that people will never forget, especially the younger generation, what happened that day.

"Everything was random that day," she said. "There was no advance preparation for being a soldier in a war we didn't know was coming."

She wants to share the lessons she learned from her experience, particularly with those affected by the shooting spree at Carson City's IHOP last week.

"I don't believe in living in fear," she said. "I believe in living in strength and that every day matters."

She wished she'd listened to her father more when he talked of his war experiences. And she wishes she could tell him her own.

"I would tell him, 'You were so brave, and so was I,'" she said.


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