DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. — Twenty years after hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center in New York, a woman who worked in one of the towers recalls the frantic moments when she helped her coworkers escape.
"It's something I will never forget," said Gail Menendez, who worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. "I know what it felt like. I don't think somebody else would know how we feel."
As the world remembers the 20th anniversary of 9/11, many of those who had family members or loved ones involved in the catastrophe remember waiting for news.
"She's probably dead. I kind of braced myself for it," said Michelle Menendez Olgers, Menendez's daughter.
Menendez Olgers would wait for more than four hours before she heard her mother's voice.
"I was shocked," she said. "Again, I had just made a scenario in my head. I was braced. Obviously, I was very grateful, and I think I was still shocked."
Hours after the attack, Menendez explained how she escaped the building on that fateful day.
"I work on the 67th floor. The elevator took us to the 44th floor, and from the 44th floor, we had to walk down all these flights of stairs," she said in a 2001 television interview.
Menendez said that while making her way down the stairs, she felt the moment that the second plane hit the South Tower.
"The lights dimmed. The whole building shook, and you sort of fell forward," Menendez said. "That's something I will always remember."
Over the days, weeks and months, Menendez Olgers would slowly learn exactly what her mother experienced.
Menendez had just stepped into her office on 9/11 when she heard a yell. Over a loudspeaker, a voice told employees to shelter in place.
As a floor warden, Menendez decided to take matters into her own hands.
"I used to go to the meetings and know what to do; God forbid anything ever happen," Menendez said.
"To her credit, she contradicted the instructions on the PA system and told everybody to go," Menendez Olgers said.
Before Menendez ran, she began to scream to those around her to do the same — run, and get out.
Menendez Olgers said that she couldn't help but feel immeasurably proud for how her mother took the time to make sure that her colleagues also made it to safety that day.
"I think in just talking to her, she really downplayed the role she was credited with by her colleagues for getting them all off the floor," she said.
And Menendez's colleagues were also quick to thank her for her quick thinking.
"Everybody came over to me, hugging me, and in my mind, I was saying, 'Are they crazy? Why are they hugging me?'" she said. "And then I'm thinking, maybe it's because I yelled, 'Get out, get out,' and they made it out okay."
However, it's not those who survived who Menendez remembers from that day. She said she tries not to read, watch or listen to anything dealing with 9/11, haunted by those who lost their lives that day.
"The average person doesn't know those people I worked with, you know," Menendez said. "To them, I guess it's just another person that died. But to me, knowing some of the people in the building died, I think it's a little harder for me."
By the time she made it outside the building, she, like thousands of other people, simply started walking.
"I was living in Brooklyn at the time. I walked over the bridge; nobody's running," Menendez said.
She made it home, where she would stay for about a week.
"I didn't want to be in the house by myself. I wanted to be with other people," Menendez said.
Menendez said that besides being sensitive about the events of 9/11, she doesn't think that the events of that day changed her.
Her daughter agrees that her mom is the same and said that it might be better to remember that day from a distance with respect while moving forward with life.
This story was originally published by Wayne Covil on Scripps station WTVR in Richmond, Virginia.