ATLANTA — Survivors of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001, have lived the past 20 years with memories no different than what warriors forever carry with them from their fiercest battles.
There is no firm number of how many people escaped the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Possibly more than 30,000 people escaped based on estimates of how many would normally have been in those buildings on a Tuesday morning when the planes struck.
After 20 years, many survivors talk about having to live with permanent injuries, battling depression, guilt, and crushing grief at the loss of family, friends, and co-workers they wish they could have saved.
Many have found healing, with gratitude for every breath they have with those they love.
Teresa Tryba of Villa Rica embraced her second chance at life and never let go. She was on Floor 70 of the north tower of the World Trade Center when the plane struck in the floors above her. It took her an hour to walk down the narrow stairway.
It was jammed with thousands of other people trying to get down and with first responders in full gear trying to climb up.
When Tryba got outside, she was able to run just as the towers began to collapse. Back home several days later, as if still in a daze, she showed 11Alive the shoes she had been wearing, saving them as symbols of her survival. They were caked in the dust of the destruction.
And she was trying to be strong after the horrors she witnessed and experienced.
“When the buildings started to fall,” she said then, “I accepted that I was going to die. I really, honestly thought that that was it.”
In her 20 years since, Tryba said she has pushed forward, trying to live in a way that honors those who perished.
“The anniversary of 9/11 is always an emotional day for me,” she wrote in an email to 11Alive. “Even after 20 years I can still hear the sounds and remember the smells and feel the earth shake as if it were yesterday.”
Her two children, Jeremiah and Jennifer, grew up, got married, and had children.
“My son, Jeremiah, was inspired to join the Air Force from the events of 9/11 and is now serving in the newly formed Space Force.”
Her first husband, Bill, died three years ago.
And this past Saturday, one week before the 9/11 memorial services marking 20 years since the attacks, Teresa Tryba married Herman Keller, who also has a daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.
“I am grateful and blessed,” she wrote.
Here is her full statement:
“The anniversary of 9/11 is always an emotional day for me. Even after 20 years I can still hear the sounds and remember the smells and feel the earth shake as if it were yesterday.
“I am grateful and blessed to have survived such an awful event. My two children (Jeremiah and Jennifer) have grown into awesome adults and now have families of their own. They have blessed me with two awesome grandchildren. My son, Jeremiah, was inspired to join the Air Force from the events of 9/11 and is now serving in the newly formed Space Force.
“My husband of 18 years, Bill, passed away in 2018. I was blessed once again and I married my new husband, Herman, this past weekend where I gained another 3 grandchildren.
“The events of 9/11 are always present in my mind. However, it has not robbed me of my joy. I feel it has made me appreciate each day that God gives me on this Earth.”