Melanie Sanders with former New Yorker Joseph Fitzpatrick.
RALEIGH, N.C. -
Every day, Joseph Fitzpatrick looked out from his office at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Towering 118 feet above even the Empire State Building, they were majestic symbols of capitalism and America's achievement.
But on Sept. 11, 2001, on his way to work, the former New Yorker witnessed the North Tower burning -- an image that continues to haunt him.
"What the hell has just happened?" Fitzpatrick asked himself moments after the first tower was struck in a coordinated terrorist attack.
Al-Qaeda hijackers flew a Boeing 767 jet into the side of the North Tower between the 93rd and 99th floors. At 9:03 a.m., 17 minutes later, a second plane crashed into the South Tower, striking it between the 77th and 85th floors.
The buildings still stood when Fitzpatrick arrived at work; but at 9:59 a.m., the South Tower collapsed, followed by the North Tower at 10:28 a.m.
"The photographer that was on the roof of my building told me on his way down -- and he was hysterically crying." Fitzpatrick recalled of the moment when he first heard the South Tower had collapsed.
"I went up to the roof and one of the towers was gone. I could not see it," Fitzpatrick said. "There was only one tower burning, and then all of a sudden you could see the big plume of smoke."
With the air filled with gray smoke, one thing was painfully clear: the devastating reality and weight of the situation.
"I was like, 'They just killed thousands and thousands of people,'" Fitzpatrick recalled.
More than 2,600 people died in New York City alone as a result of the attacks. Nearly 3,000 died in the four coordinated terrorist attacks.
"It was very unbelievable," Fitzpatrick said. "We were told there were other planes that were hijacked, they didn't know where these other planes were going.
"Then we heard about the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn., where the other plane went down."
Three of the victims were Fitzpatrick's friends -- high school friend Steve LaMantia, and fire fighters Ronnie Gies and Brian Sweeney.
Compelled to help, Fitzpatrick used his technical skills to compile videos for the police, fire fighters and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"A lot [of the videos] were used to get donations afterwards for the widows of the fire fighters and first responders," Fitzpatrick said.
Five years after the attacks, he moved from New York, and now lives and runs his video duplicating business in Raleigh. But New York is still his heart.
"Never forget is the motto. Yes, they need to be remembered," he said.