Witness to 9/11: Heflin man, then a New Yorker, saw attack from his building’s roof
by Laura Camper
Sep 10, 2013 | 5528 views |  0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shane Smith
Shane Smith
HEFLIN – When Sept. 11 rolls around each year, Shane Smith braces for the memories that come flooding back.

The events of that day in 2001 should be remembered, believes Smith, who today is Heflin’s city clerk. But for him, those events are hard to relive. Smith, now 39, grew up in Heflin but was living in midtown Manhattan about 2 miles from the World Trade Center in 2001.

His memories begin with the weather.

“I still remember that day,” he said recently, sharing those memories with a reporter. “The blue skies, clear, not any wind and then you just had the smoke,” Smith said.

He’d arrived in New York City about eight years before to study theater. While there, he worked as an actor in off-Broadway plays and toured nationally with some productions. But the touring wore on him, Smith said, and he eventually took a full-time job at a record store.

He had the day off Sept. 11, 2001. As he got ready for a day of leisure, he saw on television that a plane had slammed into one of the World Trade Center’s towers. Unsure what was going on, Smith and many of his neighbors in the apartment building went to the roof to get a look, he said. They saw the second plane hit.

“That’s when we all knew something was bad wrong,” Smith said.

The planes had been flown into the towers by hijackers. Others had crashed a plane into the Pentagon in Washington. Another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers confronted the hijackers.

The doorman at Smith’s building told him and his neighbors to leave the roof because it wasn’t safe. Smith worried about his roommate, the friend of a friend, who had been working in the towers — he learned later that his roommate had been sent to another building to work that day.

“I vividly remember seeing things falling from the building, thinking it was pieces of the building, but it wasn’t.”

He found out later it had been people falling.

Smith was in panic mode, he said. He didn’t want to be alone.

He called his mother in Heflin to hear a friendly voice and was grateful to find out people in his hometown were calling her to find out if he was OK, Smith said.

Back in New York, Smith went to church with a friend and then to his friend’s house, where they watched the towers collapse from the roof, he said.

For days after the attack, New York City was quiet, Smith said. People reached out to each other in concern. They were more pensive as they tried to process what had happened, and people became more cautious, Smith said.

“It was like you were in a dream and you were going to wake up from it,” Smith said.

And yet, at the same time New Yorkers didn’t let the attackers have the last word.

“New York kind of stood up for itself,” Smith said. “The next day businesses were going as usual.”

In the same way, Smith has absorbed the events and they have become part of him, he said. He remembers the concern shown by his friends and family here, he said. He moved back in 2009, after the company he was working for went out of business.

Smith also remembers those who never made it home after that day. He said that makes him more appreciative of the day-to-day experience of life.

“I think it just slowed us down a little bit to make us think a little bit more and not take things so seriously but to think about life as well,” Smith said.

And that’s what should be remembered, Smith said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
9/11 memorial events:

• Heflin: American Legion War Memorial, Almon Street, 8:46 a.m. Moment of silence and prayer, hosted by law enforcement agencies and fire departments.

• Anniston: Centennial Memorial Park, 9 a.m.

• Jacksonville: Jacksonville City Cemetery, 11 a.m.

• Jacksonville State University: 11th floor of Houston Cole Library, 10 a.m. Event honoring first responders, symposium, disaster volunteer training, open house, service workshop.

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