By Patty Mack as told to Ray Newton
For 19 years, Patty Mack has shared her horrifying memories of the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history. It was early morning, Sept. 11, 2001, when two planes, hijacked by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, struck the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
Mack was in her office at the New York State Officer Academy where she was Master Instructor for the police officer training program. The Academy was about four blocks from the World Trade Center. A career police officer since 1976, Mack and nine other officers were getting ready to teach when they heard what they thought was a sonic boom.
The boom they heard—the first plane crashing into the North Tower.
Mack and her husband Tim had lived in New York since birth. They left Manhattan in February 2010, when she finished 36 years with the New York State Court system. She retired as a captain. When the Macks retired, they moved to New Orleans for eight years. In April 2018, they moved to Prescott, where they now live permanently. They have two adult daughters and six grandchildren. Two of Patty’s three sisters live in Phoenix.
Mack, who grew up on Long Island, earned an associate degree in criminal justice. She began her law officer career as a dispatcher in 1976. When she passed the law enforcement test in 1990, she became a New York State Court Officer.
She agreed to tell her story to me because, as she says, “I don’t want people to forget the sacrifices that people made on 9/11. I can speak about it because I was there, and I want to honor and treasure those who died. We all should.”
I was a senior instructor — a sergeant — at the New York State Court Officer Academy. It’s only blocks away from the World Trade Center. Our team was there early that morning — about 7 a.m., working out in the gym, getting ready to teach. We all heard, felt and then experienced this sonic boom. Our building started to shake. We rushed to the west side and looked out the windows. We could see a plane sticking out of the North Tower — smoke, flames — horrible.
One of the Academy captains, Joe Baccellieri, and two other guys grabbed their equipment and took off running down Fulton Street to begin ascending to the 93rd and higher floors. They made it to the 51st floor when the Port Authority Police ordered everyone out of the building. It was chaotic.
I had grabbed a class of about 24 and was headed out the door. We watched in horror as another plane looped around, banked sideways and slammed into the 75-85th floors of the South Tower. We knew then it was a terrorist attack.
The second captain in charge, John Civelia, decided we need to go down to help the other guys. We grabbed our face shields and gloves in case we had to do CPR. We ran down John Street and ended up at the South Tower. One of the officers was Capt. Harry Thompson, who was new at the academy. A 51-year-old father and grandfather, he was one of the men I was tasked with making into an instructor. That morning, Harry had asked me about making sure a scene was safe before anyone administered first aid.
When we arrived at the WTC, Thompson told us to cross the street and help first responders trying to evacuate the South Tower. I looked back as I was crossing the street and saw Thompson looking up at the plane and the smoke and fire. With a purposeful nod of his head, he jogged across the street and disappeared into a lower level of the South Tower.
That was the last time I saw him. His body would be found months later.
As I crossed the street, I joined a gauntlet of first responders doing their best to evacuate the building. Normally, about 75,000 people were in both towers if they are full. That day, there were only about 25,000 because it was in the morning. I can’t remember how many officers — maybe 40 or 50 — were helping people coming down the stairs.
We were so outnumbered that we started assigning people to help each other. At least 20 or 30 ambulances were outside. We told people to start moving to them. We had an area set up for those that couldn’t walk. One of my saddest moments — those people were lying there waiting for help when the South Tower started to fall. I was next to Sgt. Teddy Leoutsakos. We were working to get people away from the site. They were exhausted, bleeding.
All of a sudden, we heard an explosion from above. The ground was shaking. We couldn’t see anything because of the smoke. I thought another plane had hit. Teddy and I grabbed arms and started running inside the lobby. I don’t know what happened next. My next conscious memory was being in pitch black. I thought we had died. Being Catholic, I figured we must be in purgatory. Not enough fire for it to be hell, and nothing pleasant to indicate heaven.
It started getting lighter. I looked down and saw this big white thing. I said, “Teddy, don’t leave me here.” Teddy answered, “Patty, you’re standing on me.” We were in a stairwell which was pretty open, with pieces of huge debris hanging down. We were 50 yards from where we had started, so the explosion when the tower came down must have thrown us that far. We got up and started walking until we came to a glass wall. We broke a hole in it with our nightsticks and crawled out. I was on my own. I saw a NYPD officer kneeling on the ground, throwing up and bleeding. I asked him if he needed help. He said yes. I reached down to grab him under his arm. All it was was a huge gash.
The rest of the day, I went from person to person, trying to help anyone I could. It was eerie. Some places had no people — just papers and tons of white dust. Eventually I made it to the courthouse where I met some of my coworkers. We walked to the Beekman Hospital with various injuries, eye abrasions, breathing issues. We finally made our way back to the WTC site. We continued looking for Capt. Thompson. It wasn’t until days later we knew he was dead.
We lost two other court officers, too, both good friends of mine.
By the time we made it back to the academy, it was late. The power was off — no electricity. We went into Capt. Thompson’s office. I opened the drawer on his desk. I saw a Bible. Thompson was always telling us to read Psalm 27. I read it aloud to everyone. It was beautiful, but at the time, it did not make any of us feel better.
I finally decided to go home. First, I had to shovel my car out from under about a foot of ash. I took two guys with me and drove them home to Long Island. I got home about 2 a.m. All the lights in my home were on. My neighbor’s lights were on, too. At that time, I lived alone. I went in, and my dog Ben was missing. But my neighbor had come over to get him — in case I didn’t come back. What a wonderful gesture, one I will never forget.
I’ll never forget 9/11. I am moved to tears when I think of our country and what we went through. In the days, weeks, months and now years that followed, I am struck by all that happened and how it changed people. I have lost people in my life, but this was hundreds — thousands — of people. Almost half of the nearly 3,000 people who died remain unidentified.
I shall, for as long as I live, tell people abut what happened and why we need to keep the memories alive of those we lost.