|TORMENTED FIRE HERO'S
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
firefighter Owens comforts the survivors.
Today, he must find them to ease his own
July 15, 2002 -- EXCLUSIVE
Lt. Girard Owens was one of the last
firefighters to leave the World Trade
Center's north tower alive - and he
brought out with him a mystery he is
aching to solve.
Owens and another firefighter, John
Morabito, helped a small group of people
find their way through the north tower's
lobby and out onto West Street just
moments before the building collapsed.
He never saw the people again. He doesn't
know if they ran to safety or if they were
crushed in the rubble.
And now he wants to find them.
"I'd hate to see they didn't make it.
I just want to see that they
survived," said Owens, 49, a 23-year
"These are the only people who know
what we went through. We thought we were
going to die."
When the towers crumbled and fell, Owens
found that something had broken inside him
as well. He sleeps only two or three hours
a night. He hasn't returned to work at
Engine Co. 5, but instead is preparing to
retire from the job he's always loved.
He's recovered from the broken bones and
bruises of Sept. 11, but not from the
human losses of that day.
"I had a positive attitude," he
says of life before Sept. 11. And now?
"Nothing. I've got to get
Counseling has helped, and last fall, a
Fire Department psychiatrist suggested he
try to find the people he brought out of
the trade center.
Owens enlisted the help of FDNY paramedic
Marianne Pizzitola, who watched dozens of
hours of videotaped news programs before
spotting an image of Owens leaving the
building. He was leading a woman, who is
seen gasping for breath, and a man covered
The image is brief and gives no clue to
what happened after the collapse.
Now, Owens hopes someone comes forward to
help identify the mystery pair.
He fears they died. He hopes they lived.
He wants to feel his own survival meant
something against the overwhelming
nihilism of that awful day.
Owens was in the basement of the north
tower when the south tower collapsed. He
was thrown about in the darkness, breaking
several ribs, and then slowly groped his
way to the lobby, where he found five
civilians panicked and disoriented.
Then he saw a flashlight and encountered
Morabito, who worked at Ladder Co. 10 on
Liberty Street and knew the trade center
Owens credits Morabito with saving his
life by leading him and the civilians
through the black chaos of the lobby and
out to West Street.
"I think Gerry and I were the last
two guys out of the building,"
Morabito said. "After I got out,
nobody came out."
He hopes Owens' search helps him mend
"I think it's going to give him some
kind of closure, that he did something
that day that helped people out,"
Morabito said. "I've explained to
him, 'Gerry, your name wasn't on God's
page that day. You can't ask yourself why
you made it. It just wasn't your time.'
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