Almost 16 years ago, lower Manhattan lay shadowed beneath the dust cloud of the collapsed World Trade Center towers. Today, One World Trade Center, defiant and erect, stands in its place. The shadow, however, still looms. Through portraits, interviews, and a short film Through The Dust explores the looming legacy of 9/11 on American Society.  

The portraits and interviews were published by NewsWeek and can be seen here


Nick Rotondo

9/11 Responder- MTA Bus Operator

Nick Rotondo 9/11 Responder- MTA Bus Operator For 34 years Nick Rotondo drove a MTA bus weaving through the bustling traffic of New York City. On September 11th, 2001 just after the second plane hit the world trade center the New York Police department commandeered his bus. For 18 straight hours he shuttled police, firefighters, and equipment to and from ground zero. The events of September 11th, 2001 reminded Nick of the fragility of life. In 2004, he turned his passion into a profession. Nick the Balloonatic was born. He considers himself blessed to make a living delivering happiness as a balloon artist all sorts of functions and events. “I go to visit sick children also… I get such joy out of it because if I could take the pain away from them for that minute or two minutes or three minutes being silly, being funny, you know, I love it…I love making balloons, it’s wonderful.” Nick noticed that after September 11th, 2001 driving a bus in NYC had changed overnight. “If you saw even anything, a bag or something, you had to call in” Most of the time it was nothing more then the remnants of someone’s breakfast, nevertheless “Everybody was on pins and needles.” Police started stopping his bus to ask if everything was normal, sometimes boarding in groups to look things over.   “They would just drive around like 30 cars with their lights on just to show force, and it’s a shame that we have to live this way.  It’s just a shame.  Sometimes I tell my wife you watch the news… I go to cartoons—you watch the news, everything is depressing.”

Nick Rotondo

9/11 Responder- MTA Bus Operator

For 34 years Nick Rotondo drove a MTA bus weaving through the bustling traffic of New York City. On September 11th, 2001 just after the second plane hit the world trade center the New York Police department commandeered his bus. For 18 straight hours he shuttled police, firefighters, and equipment to and from ground zero.

The events of September 11th, 2001 reminded Nick of the fragility of life. In 2004, he turned his passion into a profession. Nick the Balloonatic was born. He considers himself blessed to make a living delivering happiness as a balloon artist all sorts of functions and events. “I go to visit sick children also… I get such joy out of it because if I could take the pain away from them for that minute or two minutes or three minutes being silly, being funny, you know, I love it…I love making balloons, it’s wonderful.”

Nick noticed that after September 11th, 2001 driving a bus in NYC had changed overnight. “If you saw even anything, a bag or something, you had to call in” Most of the time it was nothing more then the remnants of someone’s breakfast, nevertheless “Everybody was on pins and needles.” Police started stopping his bus to ask if everything was normal, sometimes boarding in groups to look things over.  

“They would just drive around like 30 cars with their lights on just to show force, and it’s a shame that we have to live this way.  It’s just a shame.  Sometimes I tell my wife you watch the news… I go to cartoons—you watch the news, everything is depressing.”


Arthur Gudeon

9/11 Volunteer Lead Coordinator of Podiatry Relief Efforts

“I think Trump is something of a post-9/11 phenomenon. He uses [9/11] for his demagoguery, bigotry and racism”

Arthur Gudeon, has practiced podiatry out of Rego Park, Queens for the past 56 years.  After the towers came down he immediately started volunteering his podiatry services. Working out of George Washington’s pew in the St. Paul’s Chapel right across from ground zero he treated foot injuries suffered by the men and women working on the pile.  

When asked about the political climate post 9/11, Gudeon opposes the “the Trump mentality and stopping all Muslims from coming into the country. One of my own office assistants happens to be Muslim.  She’s a young, intelligent, beautiful, peace-loving person.” He has become very close with her family and they have made it clear to him that “It’s not a Muslim thing, it’s an extremist thing.”

“I’m going to vote for the ones I feel are trying to get more towards the unity…not focus on the retaliation end of it because you’re never going to get anyplace with that. No matter what you do there is always going to be another group that’s going to take over [for] the group that you’ve retaliated against.”

 


Pamela Rinando

Retired NYPD Officer  1982-2002

Pamela Rinando is a retired New York City Police officer who spent much of her time as a domestic violence specialist. She fought from within the police force for the rights of victims of sexual abuse. Pamela spoke openly about mishandling and lack of sensitivity that plagued the NYPD in their handling of sexual abuses cases during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Her candidness, in particular her appearance on the Phil Donahue show, made her a target by fellow police officers.  Despite fearlessly fighting for twenty years in the police department she retired in 2002 after the events of 9/11 shook her to the core.

15 years later she still does not enjoy travelling into Manhattan from her home in queens. “I am uncomfortable in Manhattan…You know, there is an apprehension. It can happen again...We see it all the time now.  We see it in France, we [saw] it out west.”

As a police officer she was trained to be cautious, but terrorist attacks have her made more leery than ever. “You know, it makes you more aware of what’s around you. You’re just more cautious [with] people.”

Charles Diaz

NYC Sanitation Police Lieutenant, Retired 2009

Charles Diaz doesn’t like being called a hero.  “One thing that bothers me, when people call me a hero, is I correct them right away.  I say no I’m not a hero.  The heroes are the people that died that day.  Those are the heroes.” That day, as the first plane hit World Trade Center 1, Charles Diaz rushed to help from his post in Staten Island. As the first tower collapsed around him, he fell to the pavement, breaking his arm.  “I’m trying to get up, I couldn’t get up, the force of everything coming down, and I just put my arms over my head. [I] said a little prayer, and figured that was it, it was over”. His thoughts turned to his daughter’s sweet sixteen party, scheduled for that Friday. “That was my surviving thing.  I had to get out of there.  I had to make it out of there for [her party].”

His father daughter dance that Friday, his arm in a cast, was “the best feeling in the world”.

Now, as his daughter turns 31, he is still reeling from the lasting effects of 9/11. He is told that at night, especially around the anniversaries, he jumps out of bed and starts running. He doesn’t remember. He does remember vivid dreams “about the guys I was with and what I saw, what I heard. I heard the bodies hitting, you know, the people jumping out of the buildings… that’s still in my head, and it’s never going to go away obviously.”

In late 2013, Charles was diagnosed with bones marrow leukemia, a 9/11-related cancer with no cure. His neck is scarred from a lymph node biopsy, which revealed sarcoidosis, another condition linked to 9/11 responders and volunteers. “People are still dying from [9/11]…its still happening…they should be remembered also. And they’re not.”


Patricia Workman

9/11 Volunteer 2001-2004

“I think a lot of people made a decision that [Muslim] people were all evil… People didn’t like the way they looked; they didn’t like the way they dressed.  They kept to themselves.  Well, they kept to themselves, because nobody made them feel comfortable, and they’re certainly not making them feel comfortable today.”

 Patricia Workman has always loved to travel. She worked as a travel agent to earn moments to herself wandering the world. After the World Trade Center came down, she dropped everything to volunteer for the next two and half years.  She dedicated her life to helping the responders and the families of the victims.

Years later, she started developing small fractures all over her body. In July of 2008 she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer now covered by the federal World Trade Center Health Program, 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.  “My life changed drastically.  You know, I [couldn’t] travel anymore… I was breaking bones like crazy. I had fractures all over the place. I had undergone stem cell, [and] I was on maintenance medication for cancer.” When she underwent stem cell therapy, her skin “cancers became much, much worse.  I literally at one time had almost 150 stitches on my face.”

Although Patricia can no longer travel freely she feels “very fortunate that in my travels I spent a great deal of time in the Middle East,” where she found the people “to be very wonderful, sociable, welcoming people who wanted the same things we want…They’re no different than we are.”

“Fear plays a big role… once people know each other, they’re not so fearful of each other, because everybody’s pretty much the same underneath it all.”  

“I think we have to stop pointing fingers at people that have nothing to do with what’s going on. We have to stand together as Americans.... [Muslim] people are as American as you and I are, and they have to be made to feel that way.”     


Anthony Miranda

Retired NYPD Sergeant, Chairman - National Latino Officers Association

For months Anthony Miranda after the towers came down he worked on the pile in command of a crew of 8 fellow police officers. His most vivid memory, one that still comes to him in his dreams, was uncovering a man and woman clinging together beneath the rubble.

“9/11 for me was the worst tragedy that could ever happened to anybody, but it gave us the greatest opportunity, a vision of hope in the response… all over America there was no separation between us.  There was no rich, there was no poor, there was no black, there was no white.”

“Then we saw it crumble.  And that’s more heartbreaking than anything else. You saw what was possible and [we] couldn’t keep it together.”

“15 years later when you see the people who are working across the stage and the people they’re talking about, if you look at the families they’re talking about, you don’t see too many people of color… It’s an exclusive club now of who gets to speak on the issue of 9/11”

“Look at all the ceremonies…who gains access to it now?  I don’t know too many poor families that get to walk through there. Where are the working people that were [there], the kitchen folks, the regular people?”

“But for that moment in time where the rules were broken, we shook the foundation of our beliefs… we had a chance to grab hold of something that would have changed us forever if everybody would have just kept the faith and kept that camaraderie.

 “Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the truth of what happened and we lost the truth of purpose.  There was a unity message there.”