Every American remembers exactly where they were on September 11, 2001. Some were in school. Some were at work. Some were driving. And some were on full-time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Very few of those missionaries were serving in New York City and this missionary and his companion were serving in the area where the twin towers fell. The following is the never-been-published, firsthand account of the missionary in this historic and haunting photo: Elder Joseph Seymour. 15 years later, he gave us permission to publish this image and his personal account.
It’s hard to believe it has been 15 years since 9/11. The experience Elder Fillmore and I had taught me lessons that have blessed me ever since. Our day started like any other at the time, getting ready and leaving early to go so service at Ellis Island. On the subway trip to the south of Manhattan we were alerted to “police action” at the World Trade Center and that we would be skipping that stop. Which was answered by loud groans of those who were inconvenienced by the change in plans (little did they know).
We arrived at the south of Manhattan to find both World Trade Center towers engulfed in flames. Obviously the result of a terrorist attack. We soon found out the weapon of choice were airliners used to crash into the towers. The plans for our day changed as we learned that all subway trains and busses stopped running, leaving us stranded. We met a member of the church who offered to take us to his apartment that was close by until we figured out our next step. We naively followed him closer and closer to the towers, the smoke pouring from each building growing larger and larger.At the apartment building we were prevented from going past the lobby due to the danger, being only three blocks away. As we waited an enormous rumbling shook the ground like a lightning fast earthquake. The building began filling with dust, the first tower had fallen just a stone’s throw away from us. As we left the building to be enveloped in the dust cloud there was panic in the street, but Elder Fillmore and I were as calm as a lake on a clear day. We knew we were on the Lord’s errand and had his protection.
We flowed into the human mass migrating south, away from the source of the choking dust. Arriving soon at the unyielding ocean, blocking any further escape. As we waited and the dust slowly cleared we watched as the second tower fell and a second dust cloud flowed out to envelop the crowd again. We met a new member of the church who decided the safest place would be wherever the missionsaries were, so we added a third companion for the rest of the day.
We were evacuated across the river to New Jersey and spent the rest of the day trying to contact our mission president and then figure out a way to get back home. At each step of the way we were remarkably calm and knew that everything would work out, which it did. We helped our new member friend get to an essential doctor’s appointment the next morning that they probably would not have made if not for our intervention.
I learned the Lord looks after his servants, both in times of duress as well as in times of ease. I’ve been able to rely on this lesson again and again in life, knowing that if I follow the Lord everything else will work out, just as it did on that fateful day 15 years ago.