2019/05/28

World Trade Center: an interview with former NYPD detective Anthony Agnelli

by Hammer. An Italian translation is available here.

Anthony Agnelli is a former NYPD detective who on 9/11 was sent to the site and arrived at the World Trade Center after the collapse of the second tower. To discuss the events of that day Agnelli accepted our request for an interview which we are offering our readers today.

We would like to thank Anthony Agnelli for his kindness and willingness to help.


Undicisettembre: Can you give us a general account of what you saw and experienced on 9/11?

Anthony Agnelli: I was home, I lived a little outside the city at that time and I was going to get into work in the afternoon because it was a primary day, an election day. So they had everybody working at the election holding places. I got up in the morning and my wife called me on the phone, she was working in the city and she was driving down there, and she told me she heard on the radio that a plane run into the World Trade Center. I looked outside and it was a beautiful day and I was trying to figure out how a plane can fly into the World Trade Center on a perfectly clear day. Immediately I turned on the television and I saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center and everybody knew what was going on.

Right after that they announced on television that any off duty police officer or firefighter was requested to report to work immediately, so I got dressed and ready to go, got in my car and started racing down to the city. I got there pretty quick, there was a whole bunch of cars on the expressway that were all cops and firemen and EMS workers and we were all driving as fast as we could. When I got to the site I met up with a couple of people among whom my lieutenant. We got into a car, we were driving right by the World Trade Center and I wanted to get out of the car and get down there. The second tower had already come down. I jumped out of the car and separated from the guys I was working with and run down to the site, I was 50 or 60 feet from where the South Tower was, and there was a bunch of cops staring at the pile and we couldn’t believe what we were seeing, it was almost dark in the middle of the daytime.

After that we tried to get organized into teams and trying to figure out what we were going to do and how we were going to do it; basically we had no tools, we had nothing, no masks, no work clothes. We just started climbing on the pile and digging with a pair of my handcuffs in the debris trying to make a hole. We spent a lot of the day doing that. Around five o’clock in the afternoon somebody put up a temporary cell site because all the power and cell service was knocked out in lower Manhattan, so I immediately picked up my phone and called home. My wife answered the phone and my daughter was there too, she was 16, I explained them where I was and a minute into the conversation 7 World Trade Center started to fall. Everybody started running and the dust cloud came over us and I was on the phone and my wife and my daughter were watching the TV coverage, so they saw the building starting to come down and they heard me starting to run and they figured “Oh my God, he’s in danger!”. I could hear that screaming on the phone as I was running down the street.

The dust cloud covered us with a lot of debris. Eventually I got back on the phone and told them everything was okay.

We stayed there on that day till about 2AM, and then they told us to go home, get some rest and be back at five which was crazy. My parents lived in Queens which was only about five or ten miles from the World Trade Center; I went there and they weren’t even home, they were on vacation, but I went to their house, laid down for a couple of hours, got up, took a shower and went back right down there.


Undicisettembre: Can you confirm 7 World Trade Center was burning out of control?

Anthony Agnelli: Oh, the whole front of the building was torn out; even if sometimes you see pictures of the back of the building when it collapses and it looks okay. There was a big, big, giant hole in the front of the building where one of the towers fell and did a lot of damage. It was burning all day. It was burning from the morning and the fire department was not even fighting the fire, they had abandoned it because of all the things that were happening. They were not even pouring water on the fire, they just left it alone.


Undicisettembre: While 7 World Trade Center collapsed did you hear any mysterious explosion?

Anthony Agnelli: No. And the funny thing was that just before 7 World Trade Center collapsed we were working at some place and a captain came over and grabbed a bunch of us, maybe fifteen or twenty detectives that were in my unit, and we were in plain clothes; he told us “I have something for you guys to do, all of you come with me.” We were on the street that was right in front of 3 World Trade Center and he walked us within a half of block from 7 World Trade Center and he told us “Stay here, I got something for you guys to do, I’ll be right back.” He walked away and two minutes after that was when I got on the phone with my wife, I was maybe 400 feet from one of the corners of the building, that’s how close I was to 7 World Trade Center. I was on the phone and I was looking directly at 7 World Trade Center and I was even saying to myself “Wow, this building is about to collapse!” The bottom couple of floors were ripped in fire. We were commenting with each other “FD is not even doing anything with this building, they gave up on it.”

A minute or two later I was on the phone and staring directly on 7 World Trade Center, the windows started to vibrate and the building started to sway a little bit, seconds after that it collapsed. There were no explosions and I was literally 400 feet away from it.


Undicisettembre: What did you guys do on the next days?

Anthony Agnelli: Everyday it got a little more organized, because in the very first day there was very little organization, nobody had an assignment nor knew what to do; nobody ever encountered something like this, we didn’t have tools or anything like that.

What they do in the police department is that a sergeant has a roster, he’ll put his name on it because he’s the supervisor, and he would take say ten detectives or police officers from his team and he’ll write their names on it. He’ll then go to his superior, lieutenant or captain, and they’ll tell him “Take your team, go there and do this.” That second morning we got organized onto a roster with my sergeant, we went down right to the foot of the South Tower and everybody was doing their own thing. We got to the pile, started digging and looking for things, for people and we teamed up with the fire department. You could see pictures of what they call “the bucket brigade” where they were filling buckets with debris from the pile, which was very high like four or five stories in some places; you would crawl up on top and start digging, passing the buckets back and dumping them out on the street, bring it up again.

We were also trying to find people, we of course didn’t find anybody. The first day was much more chaotic because nobody knew what was going on, there were military planes flying over Manhattan which never happens and people would freak out.

A lot of buildings around the site were damaged and there was a lot of fear that those buildings could collapse like 7 World Trade Center did. There were rumors that some buildings were not sound and that they were evacuating them, people were running around. As the days passed people got a bit calmer, as calm as it could possibly be, and more organized. We started doing the bucket brigade and taking stuff out and looking for survivors. We were finding people partially buried that were dead, tried to uncover them and get them out. There was a lot of that going on in the first week, we did that for twelve to eighteen hours a day.


Undicisettembre: How long did it take before it got back to normalcy?

Anthony Agnelli: It never did, until the last month I spent down there when it was pretty much cleaned out. When that happened I was in a narcotics investigative unit in Manhattan, we were basically told “Forget about your cases, forget about doing enforcement. Just go down there every single day till it’s done.” So we worked there all the time. The first week we worked seven days straight, the second week we did six days for three or fours weeks, and then it tapered down to a twelve hours shift five days a week, but that was later on. Then I spent some time at the landfill in Staten Island too.


Undicisettembre: How does 9/11 affect the daily work of NYPD even today?

Anthony Agnelli: Before 9/11 we didn’t have a big anti terrorism investigative unit, our main goal was not terrorism. Now big part of what they do is anti terror stuff, whole units have been formed just to deal with terrorism. But NYPD is very, very unique in a lot of ways: it’s a giant department, we have 40.000 members, so if they changed things up as if they were a small department they would be destroyed, they would not be able to deal with it. Because we had to do patrol, do the things you would do on a normal day and we were able to do that and do the cleanup and switch into an anti terror mode. In Times Square you can see police everywhere with long guns, assault rifles, full body armor; before 9/11 there was none of that.


Undicisettembre: How does 9/11 affect your everyday life?

Anthony Agnelli: In the beginning there was never one day when I didn’t think about it, up till probably 2015. Every single day I thought about it. I looked up in the sky, saw a plane flying over my house and think about 9/11. If I was barbecuing, or someone next door was, I would smell the smoke and think about 9/11. If I heard loud noises or certain smells, I would trigger the memory of 9/11. Now I still do but I’m slowly putting it in the back of my head; it’s still there, I still think about it because of the many people that are sick from the 9/11 dust, but it’s less negative to me now. And when I talk about it it’s a kind of therapy to me, it helps me.


Undicisettembre: What do you think of conspiracy theories according to which 9/11 was an inside job?

Anthony Agnelli: I think it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense. I listened to them, I read things about them, I have seen videos in which people address these conspiracy theories, but I was there and they weren’t. Most of them are focused on World Trade Center 7, that’s the nexus of conspiracy theories. I know from doing investigations that people would take a little tiny thread and they’ll weave that into a giant sweater.

When you look at the building it looks okay from some of the angles, so they make these stories up but it doesn’t pane out and I know because I was there. I don’t know what the reason for this is, maybe because they want to have some kind of fame or because they are anti government. They live in the United States, but they hate the United States and they want to make it sound like the United States is always doing something bad. But I don’t get insulted by it, I just think it’s ridiculous.


Undicisettembre: What do you think of security today? Is the country safer than in 2001?

Anthony Agnelli: I think it’s safer. But I think they are not doing a good enough job in securing, I think it has become a political thing, that’s pretty sad but that’s what has become. It has become a republican and democrat polarization thing. People are coming into the country, and I think you guys have seen it too in Italy with people coming from Syria and nobody knows who they are and now that they are in your country who knows what can happen. I think Europe opened their ports a little bit more because of what is going on over there.

So I think it’s safer, they made air travel safer, they hardened other targets so that you can’t drive a truck or a car bomb onto them so we made things better but more things can be done at the border to be more vigilant on who we let in the country because that’s probably where the next attack is coming from. We had some attacks already, these little ISIS attacks where they jump in a cheap truck and drive it into a sidewalk and kill a bunch of people, they have done it in Europe too, but it’s a lot safer than it was.

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