Brookhaven woman escapes from 14th floor of Trade Center

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Before Tuesday, LaToya Wilcher would dismiss friends’ questions and concerns about her working at the World Trade Center.

Yesterday, the 1997 Brookhaven High School graduate experienced first-hand what her friends had been concerned about when a hijacked plane slammed into the twin towers.

“It doesn’t seem like that’s supposed to happen,” Wilcher said this morning from a hotel in Jersey City, N.J.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Wilcher got to work around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday on the 52nd floor of the second World Trade Center tower. Ironically, after graduating in May, she worked as a catastrophe analyst for are-insurance company.

When a hijacked plane hit the first tower a short while later, Wilcher said she and her associates thought it was “just a normalNew York day.” She thought a tornado had hit the first tower.

An announcement about what had happened followed, advising that Tower Two was safe and urging workers to stay where they were.

By then, though, Wilcher said she and others had calmly started to exit the building. She thinks the announcement hindered some people in getting out before another plane hit the second WTC tower.

“It slowed people down,” Wilcher said.

Wilcher was around the 14th floor when her tower was hit. The scene turned chaotic.

“People were getting jammed in doorways, just panicking,” she said.

While some stood and watched the destruction happen after they had gotten out, Wilcher said she and her group continued to walk toward the Soho area of New York. While she was walking, she thought about being back in Brookhaven.

“That’s all I wanted to do,” Wilcher said.

Her group sought refuge at several stores until they closed or the group moved on.

“If the first plane (had) hit my building, I don’t think we would gotten out,” Wilcher said.

The group continued toward Greenwich Village.

“I was afraid to be in Manhattan, period,” Wilcher said.

In the village, away from the tragedy, Wilcher said the situation was normal aside from people watching coverage of the events.

“It was weird to see people doing their normal thing when I had almost just died,” Wilcher said.

Wilcher said she then caught a ferry to Hoboken, N.J., and had to be decontaminated because of asbestos concerns.

“It was quite a day…,” she said. “I’m very blessed and thankful it wasn’t my time (to die).”

Regarding her future, Wilcher said she likes her job but will look at transferring somewhere else.

“I don’t know about New York City anymore,” Wilcher said.

In Washington, former Congressman Mike Parker escaped a close call when a third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.

“This has been an unbelievable day,” said Parker Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Parker, at the facility for talks on a Corps of Engineers appointment, was leaving the parking lot and was about 250 yards away when the plane hit.

“I looked back and saw this plum of smoke,” said Parker, who was being driven to the Capitol for additional meetings.

After arriving at the Capitol, Parker and others were taken to secure areas. Parker said his car was still at the Pentagon, and he could not get it because the area had been closed off.

“This is the greatest act of terrorism ever in this country,”Parker said.

Like his former colleagues, Parker called for expressions of confidence and support in the country’s leadership.

“We have to support the President in a unified and bipartisan way,” Parker said.

Brookhaven native Charlie Richardson missed death by only a few feet when a plane crashed into the Pentagon.

“He actually had pieces of the airplane come through his office window,” his niece, Layla Edwards, said about the close call.

Richardson’s family members here were terrified when they heard news of the destruction and were unable to get in touch with him immediately.

“It took us about 30 minutes to finally get through on the phone, and it seemed like it took forever,”

Richardson was able to exit safely from the building and worked for several hours to help other victims.

In Brookhaven, Angela Johnston said she was nervous as she tried to call her 21-year-old daughter Miranda. Miranda is a flight attendant who lives in Washington and flies out of New York.

“I didn’t know if she was OK in either place until I got in touch with her,” Angela said.

Angela said Miranda was at home asleep when she finally reached her.

“She’s OK, and I’m glad to know that,” Angela said. “It was pretty stressful there for a while.”

Also, Betty Johnson Washington said her son Jessie, 50, had just moved into a new office at the Department of the Interior across from the Pentagon. He is a radio and communications specialist for the department.

“He said he was safe, but it was utter chaos,” Washington saidTuesday afternoon after talking with her son.

Another Brookhaven resident became extremely worried when she could not connect with her husband, who was traveling on the outskirts of New York City.

Dorothy LeBlanc had contacted her husband, Mark, who is a salesman for a heavy machinery company in Monticello, via cellphone just after the planes hit the World Trade Center.

She was relieved to know he had not quite made it into the city limits, but became frightened when silence was the next thing she heard on the other end.

“His cell phone went out, and I couldn’t reach him again for awhile and that was very scary,” she said.

When they finally reconnected he informed her that he was heading home, but would have to drive the entire way due to airplanes being grounded.

Stories of close calls milled around the area Tuesday as local residents tried to come to grips with what had happened.

Harold Gary of Brookhaven heard the story of how one World TradeCenter employee with local connections was thankful at the end of the day that his car did not allow him to go into work Tuesday. The unidentified man, who was friends with Brookhaven native Beth Keene, was unable to start his car that morning.

Gary was amazed at the many similar stories he heard throughout the day and into the night Tuesday in Brookhaven.

“It’s amazing how far reaching this tragedy is,” he said.