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It’s time for Stephen Venters to talk about what he did and saw on 9/11. The Evergreen resident, who was in New York City in September 2001, feels a need to talk about his experiences for two …
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It’s time for Stephen Venters to talk about what he did and saw on 9/11.
The Evergreen resident, who was in New York City in September 2001, feels a need to talk about his experiences for two reasons: to explain what transpired in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that took out the Twin Towers and because he has realized that talking about that time helps him deal with the emotional toll such a traumatic experience takes.
Venters spent 90 minutes of Sept. 9 at the Evergreen Library talking about what he witnessed. At the age of 26 and after six months of traveling around the world, he stopped in New York City, taking in the sights. He and a friend planned to go to a restaurant in one of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11 for dinner to see the city at night.
That was not to be.
“A lot of people’s stories start with the towers falling,” he said, “but mine happened much more modestly than that.”
He slept late the morning of 9/11 in a hostel on the north side of Manhattan, and after hearing what transpired earlier that morning, he took a cab as close to Ground Zerio as he could get to look for ways to help.
“Realizing what had happened in the city I was in, I knew I had to be involved,” he said of New York City, which he had fallen in love with.
He was trained in PAD — the Patient Assessment Detail — and waited for injured victims to arrive in a massive makeshift hospital, but there weren’t many. With little to do, he made his way closer to Ground Zero.
“I so badly wanted to save a life,” he said. “I had a burning need to grab a hand and save someone, but when I got to (Ground Zero), I was amazed and dumbstruck. My fairytale dream of saving someone … evaporated in an instant.”
He marveled at the destruction, calling it hell on Earth, and he was not dressed or prepared to try to move through the wreckage. He explained that the air was filled with a black smoke that hurt people’s throats and with dust from wreckage — and there was no way to get out of it.
By 2 a.m. Sept. 12, 2001, he was finally put to work, triaging firefighters and other first responders for smoke inhalation and dehydration, or who needed eye washes and other first-aid care.
He also spent time working in what became known as the Brooks Brothers Morgue, which was in a large Brooks Brothers clothing store near Ground Zero, looking for identifying information. His work in the morgue was the most haunting.
He left the disaster site for the hostel, feeling guilty that he didn’t do more, and returned the next day, helping organize supplies that were coming in by ferry, noting that he finally felt useful.
By Sept. 15, 2001, civilian helpers were no longer needed, but before Venters left, he joined one of the many bucket brigades sifting through the rubble looking for human remains. He participated for a short time before leaving the area for good.
He said he harbored a lot of guilt for the next 10 years because he left New York City. He returned in October 2001 to see the progress that was made, and he began writing several hundred pages in journals about his experiences.
“During those first years, I intensely read accounts of victims who were in the towers,” Venters said. “I tried to imagine what they felt, and I felt I needed to learn their stories. I think part of that was I had seen their remains. I owed them and needed to know their stories. It was some sort of survivor’s guilt.”
He has visited Ground Zero numerous times over the last two decades, noting that he always felt alone because he was simply a civilian volunteer, not part of a fire department or organization. In addition, those who weren’t in New York City at the time didn’t understand what he had been through.
Writing a book that he hopes will be published next year has helped.
“It’s helping me to talk about it,” he said. “It’s helping me to get the story out because it’s getting the story out of me.”
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