I remember the day vividly; probably always will. I was working as a detective in the Robbery Unit, scheduled day work, and had spent the first hour of my morning preparing for a court trial scheduled to begin sometime around 10:00 a.m.
Like any other morning, I settled into my desk with my piping hot bold brew from Starbucks. I was lost somewhere in the middle of reviewing my supplement reports when a fellow detective spilled out from the conference room and announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. Dismayed and perplexed, the squad funneled into the small room and silently watched the fire and smoke plumes pouring out from the tower.
There was no deceiving the room full of experienced detectives. We immediately knew that this was the act of terrorists and that the United States of America was under attack.
Our eyes were glued to the screen when the second plane entered the picture frame and plummeted into the second tower. For the first responders standing in that room that day, the events almost seemed surreal. You wanted to help, to do something, but you couldn’t. Anger burned through our veins, yet there were no means of releasing our wrath.
Soon the news of the Pentagon and Flight 93 would filter throughout police headquarters, and before we knew it the first tower of the two towers collapsed. It was then that I realized how time was escaping me and that my court obligations still needed to be met. So, I collected my case file and made my way over to the courthouse.
As I navigated my way over and through the courthouse corridors, I tried to quietly slip into the courtroom were court was already in session.
“And can you describe to the court what happened next?” the attorney asked, the witness tucked into the witness stand.
“Yes, that’s when…”
“Hold on!” the judge said, raising his hands and leaning forward in his leather back chair. “Detective, Detective Lang, please tell us, is there any news from the World Trade Center?”
During my ride over to the courthouse, I tried to imagine the horror those left in the building must have experienced. Now I had a judge who had done something I had never seen in my entire career – he interrupted a witness during a courtroom trial, called me out by name, and asked a question that had nothing to do with the legal argument at hand. I couldn’t help but to be moved. With tears welling up, I paused in the isle, and conveyed the new information to the courtroom.
“Yes your honor,” I answered trying to speak through the emotion in my voice, “tower number two just collapsed.”
“Oh dear God help us all!” the judge exclaimed as he fell backwards in his chair, overcome with emotion.
Given the fear that was welling up throughout the courthouse, many cases were either pled out or postponed. I don’t remember which of the two categories my case fell into, but I was back at headquarters in no time to catch up on the news missed since my departure. That’s when my Lieutenant approached me.
“Ken, you might need to pack your bags,” he conveyed with the utmost sincerity.
The curious look painted across my face gave him all indication that I had no clue what he was talking about. I may have to go home and pack my bags? For what?
“NYPD is asking for all the help they can get. They’re looking for forensic artists to help them identify the victims from the tower collapse. We’ve offered your services to them. I’ll let you know once they confirm they need you.”
There are no words that can describe the flood of emotions that overwhelmed me as I wrestled with the possibility of having to leave my family for, undoubtedly, an extended period of time and sift through the remains of victims recovered from the rubble.
By the end of the shift, the call for forensic artists never came from New York and I hurried home to my family where we gathered around the television, entranced by the national broadcast feeds that were telling of the courageous stories from Ground Zero. I watched in awe as stories emerged about my Brothers in Blue, whose ardent patriotism drove them to race into the doomed structures to save whoever could be saved.
It is such integrity, character, and valor that comprise much of our law enforcement, fire department, and EMS communities today; average citizens, who took an oath, to help our fellow man in the myriad of adversities that confront our society. I love working with these people. I love writing about them as well.
Today marks 10 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and the emotions run through me as if the events had unfolded yesterday. I still struggle to comprehend the losses we suffered as a nation as I acknowledge how 9/11 changed me, changed my family, and changed my nation.
We must never forget the sacrifice and valor portrayed on that fateful morning… I know I never will!
Ken Lang is a detective, forensic artist, and true crime author of Walking Among the Dead, Standing In Death's Shadow, and Death Comes Uninvited.
Ken Lang is a former homicide detective and an award-winning author of several true crime books, including Walking Among the Dead: True Stories from a Homicide Detective. In 2011 he was named on of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Author’s Show. He resides in North East, Maryland with his wife and three children. To learn more about his true crime books and upcoming crime novels visit his website at www.kenlangstudios.com.