February 26, 1993

(Credit: Urbanite)

Fifteen years ago today, the World Trade Center was attacked for the first time. Six people died, including a pregnant woman, and 1,000 were injured.

As New Yorkers paused to remember the attack downtown, we look back on the day through a guest column from the president of the memorial organization and a story on security in the city. Here is our World Trade Center page, as well as a moving tour of the relics of the trade center that are stored at Kennedy Airport.

After the jump, a look at how New York Newsday's Jimmy Breslin covered the story. The last line is chilling.

-- Rolando PujolThey Choked And Stumbled Down To Safety

By Jimmy Breslin

Through the smoke of the terrorist bombs this time came Joseph Gibney yesterday, his small, small feet dangling, his arms wrapped aroud the necks of the two people from his office who were carrying him in the darkness in the stairway, choking, stumbling and frightened.

They were three of the 80,000 who were at the World Trade Center yesterday when the bombs went off in the bowels of the building and threatened the tens of thousands who worked high in the sky.

There were five killed at the World Trade Center yesterday. Nobody knows the name of the cause that the bombs represented as it tore through the basement walls and filled 110-floor buildings with thick smoke.

Always the people who leave the bombs are far from its danger when it goes off. And always, too, the people who are threatened are like Joseph Gibney. Or those who die are like Police Officer Brian Murray, who until yesterday was the last American to die of a bomb left by a foreign cause. That was on September 11, 1976, and Murray helped pick a bomb out of a locker at Grand Central Terminal. It had been left by two Croatians who lived on West 76th Street in Manhattan.

The year before, a bomb had gone off in the baggage claim area at LaGuardia Airport and killed 11 and maimed 51. And now Murray and three other members of the bomb squad tried to set this one off at Rodman's Neck in the Bronx. The bomb did not detonate.

Murray walked up to the demolition pit to inspect the bomb. Which blew in Murray's face, killing him.

Yesterday when the bombs this time went off in the basement garage, up on the 37th floor, Joseph Gibney sat in his electric wheelchair in the legal department of the United States Commodities Futures Trading Commission. He is a trial attorney.

There was a noise and the building shook and the lights went out. People got up and headed for the hall. Gibney, as he does in fire drills, rode in his motorized wheelchair to the freight elevator area, out in the hall. The rest of his office was near the fire exit doors. But they went no further because no instructions from the fire marshals came over the loudspeaker system. After a couple of minutes, people walked back to their desks, and soon everybody did, Gibney included.

The smoke came into the office, silently and swiftly, and now the place emptied. In the hall, the smoke was thickest around the freight elevator. So Joseph Gibney rode his 200-pound wheelchair to the stairway door and simply started to get out. He is 28 and weighs 125 pounds. He is a clear-spoken, precise, pleasant guy and he has to go through a lot just to make it through a day's work. And right now, if he had to crawl for his life then he would crawl on his stomach down 37 flights of stairs.

But two people in the office who are assigned to help him in emergencies appeared at his side. One was Jack Litevsky, a legal investigator. He had the flu and all day people had been telling him to go home. The other's name was Andy.

Gibney put an arm around each of their necks and the two carried him, his feet dangling, down the dark staircase. At each floor, more people pushed in and more smoke, much more smoke, billowed through the doorways. Unseen and choking smoke. At the 26th floor, Litevsky and Andy carried Gibney to another stairwell. They sat on the floor until they could fit in. Then they went down more stairs. First Andy and then another man who replaced him tired. A third took over.

Jack Litevsky never left. Gibney could feel him sweating and sometimes swaying. But he always could feel him. The smoke was so thick by now that for the first time some people called out in fear. Now for the first time, Litevsky spoke.

"Keep going."

And then Gibney, dazed, found himself in the lobby and a cop grabbed him.

Now that Litevsky was through, he tottered and then sat down on the floor and began breathing too heavily.

Both were put in a medical bus and examined. Litevsky was taken to the hospital. Gibney was placed in a small portable wheelchair and an office aide from the governor's office, John Williams of Brooklyn, pushed him across the highway towards his home in Battery Park City. People ran up and helped lift the chair over the fire hoses.

Gibney, his nostrils black and his face smudged, was dazed. Williams and another volunteer got Gibney to his apartment.

There he sat down and tried to figure out what had happened. He worried about Litevsky. "I don't know what hospital they took him to. I have his home phone back in the office."

"You think of how many people could have been killed in there," John Williams said.

Now Gibney could no longer concentrate anymore. "Thank God it's over," he said. He closed his eyes.

The trouble with this was, it might have been over only for yesterday.

Tags: world trade center , 1993 wtc attack , terrorism , manhattan , history

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