Rahsaan Diaz shares his recollection of 9/11


Andrea Barrera

Rahsaan Diaz looks on.

It’s been two decades since the Sept. 11 attacks known as 9/11, that killed many people in New York City. Rahsaan Diaz, a Public Service Academy teacher, shares his recollection on the happenings of 9/11.

“I was at my father’s office at the World Trade Center,” said Diaz. “I thought it was a gas explosion at first so we saw papers, flames and stuff falling down, metal and everything. I thought a gas line had exploded in the building next to us because that’s what they look like. A lot of buildings in New York are old and sometimes buildings just explode in New York, it happens often.”

Diaz figured that something had ignited from a gas pipe from a restaurant called Windows on the World, which was located in one of the towers. 

“Me and my father were looking out the window, and my father who survived the first attack on the World Trade Center had said, ‘No, this is something else. Let’s get out of here’,” said Diaz. “[I was] not really scared. My father was in the military, Vietnam, and police after that, so he’s always like ‘you gotta be ready’. I say that to the students too. You got to be ready. The fight can come at any time. So when this happened, like, adrenaline just kicked in. You know, so the fear didn’t set it until later.”

Something that his father always told him growing up was that “Any moment in time can be your last on Earth.”

“He’d always say that to me growing up, this could be the last day, tomorrow’s not guaranteed and being a kid, like I kind of listened to it, [but] it didn’t really set in until that day,” said Diaz.

Diaz and his father head downstairs to see what is happening. They looked out the windows, onto the street and what they saw was absolute mayhem.

“Bodies in the street, fire department trucks were trying to get to the building next door, and it was pandemonium,” said Diaz. “While we were in the lobby, standing there, the second plane hit our tower and glass blew out from in front of us into the street. 

There was another explosion moments later in the lobby below us because the World Trade Center had several different levels where you could get off and access different things, and discovered later, that was the gasoline from the aircraft going down the elevator shaft and then the gasoline ignited and blew out the whole shaft.”

Minutes went by and Diaz bolted across the street and began working his way up to a sandwich shop with his father.

From left to right: Kevin Schmidt and Rahsaan Diaz supervise their students during a field trip.
Andrea Barrera

As we are walking away, we’re looking back and buildings are on fire and people are jumping. They show you on the news, one or two people jump here and there. People were jumping regularly, it was consistent. It wasn’t that one or two people you see on the news,” said Diaz.

Diaz wanted to go back and help, but his father disagreed and told him that they would die if they both went back.

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to leave. I want to go back. This is not who we are. We don’t run from this stuff’,” said Diaz. “As we’re arguing in the middle of the street, the first tower collapsed. Once that happened, it was like ‘There’s no going back now.’”

Diaz began walking up to midtown and to 50th Street, got on a train and went back to the Bronx. The next few weeks went by and the entire city was in shock. Everyone was quiet.

“To New Yorkers, 9/11 is very personal, like it’s ours. Nobody else’s,” said Diaz.