Monday, September 11, 2006
The last person pulled from the towers
Five years ago, as darkness fell and fires burned at the World Trade Center site, I reported live on CNN about the heroic people I was watching trying to rescue any survivors who might be buried under the rubble.

As it turned out, I was standing very close to where one woman, who is now my friend, was buried alive with her head stuck between two concrete pillars and her right leg crushed. Her name is Genelle Guzman McMillan, and 27 hours after the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on top of her, she was rescued.

Genelle, who was working for the Port Authority at the time, wound up being operated on four times over the course of a six week hospital stay. I was with her in the hospital during the days after 9/11, doing a story about how she survived. Twenty survivors were pulled out of the rubble of the stricken buildings; Genelle was the 20th.

Now, five years later, I just finished spending the day with Genelle, updating her inspirational story. Doctors thought they would have to amputate her leg; but they saved it. They thought she would not be able to walk without a cane; although she has a slight limp, she no longer has the cane. They weren't sure if she'd be able to work full time; she's now back at her old employer working out of an office at JFK airport.

Genelle was engaged to be married when the towers fell. Her fiance was sure she was dead. Today, they are married and have had two children since she was rescued.

I often think about Genelle being buried under the rubble while I was reporting from Ground Zero. But more often than that, I think of the other people who undoubtedly were still alive under that rubble and were never found. Five years later, that still haunts me.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 5:40 PM ET
  45 Comments
God Bless you Genelle. You are such a strong person. You will always be in our prayers. Thank you to everyone who helped rescue or save someone's life.
Posted By Anonymous Kelsey Reinrein West Palm, Fl : 5:57 PM ET
Gary-
What an inspirational story! I am so glad to hear that Genelle is doing so well and has a family now. Yes, today we are reminded of that dismal day five years ago when time stood still. We all remember what we were doing at the precise moment we heard the news. The images and thoughts of those thousands who lost their lives or became phantom heroes will forever haunt our memory. Thanks so much for sharing your touching story. May we never forget.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 6:00 PM ET
Hope is our greatest ally. Even in the darkest of times under the darkest of circumstances, if you dare to hope, anything is possible. I am glad Genelle has overcome her original diagnosis. May God bless her, and America.
Posted By Anonymous Cassandra Tiensivu - Chester Township, MI : 6:21 PM ET
Gary: Great story! Those that were alive but never found in the rubble may still haunt you but it just infuriates me that they had to die in such a terrible way! We can at least be thankful that Genelle got a second chance in life and in doing so also brought two children into this world. I can only hope that those children won't ever have to witness such a tragedy and that some day, this whole terrorist thing gets behind us for good!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 6:28 PM ET
A moment in Time, a Lifetime moment. Wonderful account
Posted By Anonymous Bruce - Yucca Valley, CA : 6:29 PM ET
What an inspiration during this day of remembrance and reflection. Life goes on, it must.
Posted By Anonymous Scott Jamieson, Arlington Heights, IL : 6:30 PM ET
There were 291 intact bodies pulled from the WTC site, and none of them died from starvation. Thus, I don't think that there were any people left buried alive to die slowly on that horrible day.
Posted By Anonymous Gary Watson, Calabasas, CA : 6:31 PM ET
It is very hard to add a comment to your story. I usually like to use the blog but this time I am speechless.
Posted By Anonymous Johanne, Ontario, Canada : 6:33 PM ET
Dear Gary,

Thank you for reminding us of the survivors of 9/11. Each year this anniversary is always marked by the reading of the names of the dead, as it should be. However, we must not forget the survivors, those who must live with the consequences of 9/11. It was wonderful to read your update on Genelle. I am so happy for her!

This is a story I would have expected from you. You bring such thoughtfulness and care to all of your reports. I remember the sensitivity you brought to your stories on the animal victims of Katrina. You seemed genuinely delighted when the dolphins were rescued and showed such concern towards the animals at the Pontchartrain Humane Society.

Like you, I often wonder about those that died beneath the rubble because they were never found and about the twenty-four people who remain unaccounted for. The tragedy of 9/11 is something that will remain with us forever; I hope we can all learn something valuable from it.

I look forward to your future reports, keep up the great work!

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 6:44 PM ET
What a fabulous and most touching story.
It is so gratifying to read wonderful
9/11 survival stories such as yours. We wish your subject a wonderful life ahead with much happiness.
Posted By Anonymous Dollie Naumann, Pinehurst, NC : 7:13 PM ET
Gary,
Thank you for putting one of the few bright spots into this day, there have been so few.

I consider myself to be pretty strong in situations that require control and competence, but truth is, I totally fall apart when I'm away from the action and cannot be seen. I still cannot get my mind to wrap around the inevitable finality for those still inside when the towers came down. The rise in catastrophic diseases doesn't surprise me at all. Of course it will be stated that these illnesses were already predisposed before 9/11. Yeah, right.

I can only remember those that survived, those that helped them to do so and pray that the inner wounds will heal in time.

Know one thing..The people who commit these terrible acts, no matter the religion, race or origin of birth...in time you will pay your dues. God may be known by many different names, honored in many different ways, but you can depend on it, you WILL get yours.

Maggie
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 7:18 PM ET
What an amazing story of hope and determination. May God bless Genelle, her family and yourself.
Posted By Anonymous mls, N.O. LA : 7:25 PM ET
God has a purpose for her and I know He has and if not yet will reveal it to her. God is sooo good! Amen.
Posted By Anonymous Erica Mathara USA : 7:27 PM ET
such a remarkable woman strong minded and brave.. congrats on your marriage and the birth of your children x
Posted By Anonymous liz sweeney,coventry england : 7:27 PM ET
It is beyond the human mind to imagine people being trapped, being alive, and being all too aware they will never escape. It is even more incomprehensable to discuss the holocaust those people were in who knew death was coming and could do nothing to stop it. We can only remember and honor those people who died innocently just a short 5 years ago. Let us not let America forget those people both the victims and heroes of that day.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy: Somerville, NJ : 7:47 PM ET
I am glad to hear that Genelle's life has turned out so well. I think the losses of that day still haunt many of us to some degree. I was teaching English and counseling students in a parochial secondary school at the time, and I remember my seventh graders who had never been to New York watching the media coverage and acting like they were viewing a show as people jumped from the towers. They had no concept of the reality of those moments. I'll never forget having to explain to them how these lives lost were someone's family or friends and that those killed would always be loved and missed. Then one of my other students came in a couple of days later saying her cousin never called after the attacks and the family presumed she died while working at the World Trade Center. I heard from that now former student this morning. She's my cousin. Her mom's family lost that day. So did countless others. So many are still surviving. What haunts me most is this. If we forget that people like Genelle are real, that thousands died and even more are left to carry on, will we become so complacent as a nation that we let our guard down again and allow terrorists to strike once more? Considering that I can't take lip gloss and liquid hand sanitizer on my flight this week, I'm betting my life that for now we're not.
Posted By Anonymous TA Cheramie, Berwick, LA : 7:50 PM ET
Gary, that is a very touching story. Thank you for sharing it with us. It is such an inspiration and gives us all a reason to be thankful and to help others.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Fairfield, CT : 8:13 PM ET
That was a day we will all never forget. I don't think I know anyone that was there, at least I don't think I do. I have watched the stories, donated things when asked and prayed for those involved. When I finally get back to New York, I thing Ground Zero will be the first place I stop. You two are lucky to have found each other and hopefully will be friends forever! Thanks for the story.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 8:16 PM ET
Your story doesn't make everything better, Genelle. But it helps.
Posted By Anonymous Barry Waters, Far Hills, NJ : 8:49 PM ET
Genelle was one very lucky person! Those buried in the rubble and not discovered until later on in the process may have suffered even though evidence may have shown that the cause of death was not starvation. That does not mean that if they had been uncovered earlier that they might have been able to survive..even if traumatic injury was evident. Gary Watson (in an earlier response) is deluding himself.
Posted By Anonymous Ellen , Harvey Cedars NJ : 9:10 PM ET
Gary Watson,

Your post is illogical. Just because no one died of starvation doesn't mean there isn't the possibility of a slow, painful death. Ever heard of internal bleeding? Think, please, before you post insensitive comments like that. The truth is we'll never know how many of those people died agonizing deaths and how many died instantaneously or without regaining consciousness.
Posted By Anonymous Tina, San Diego, CA : 9:21 PM ET
Amazing! A reminder that you can achieve anything. Makes me want to become a reporter.
Posted By Anonymous Danielle Frazier, Palm Bay Florida : 9:33 PM ET
Thank you for the update on the last woman who was a survivor in the Trade Center. I am sure you are right---that others were alive but ran out of time before they could be rescued because of the massive debris and fires.

Thank you for your personal touch to all the stories that seem to reach our hearts.
Posted By Anonymous Robin Ocala, FL : 9:51 PM ET
God Bless You Genelle. Remember this is why our men are dying over seas,If not for them this could happen again. Our Freedom and Security has come with extreme loss and sadness. NEVER FORGET 911, 2001.
Posted By Anonymous Leasa, Birmingham, Al. : 10:05 PM ET
What a fabulous story of life after tragedy. Sweet and to the point, thank you so much for such an uplifting commentary on such a difficult day for us all. God Bless Genelle and her family, and all those that were effected by this horrifying tragedy.
Posted By Anonymous Karen; San Diego, California : 10:08 PM ET
Gary:
That was a very heart warming story..... My prayers goes out to all the others. May God Bless you and all the families touched by 911 Genelle
Posted By Anonymous Larry Klemesrud, Osage, Iowa : 10:56 PM ET
Hi,
Thanks so much for reporting on Genelle, I read about her in Guideposts or some magazine like that and often wondered about her. I was concerned about her after reading the story and thought of and prayed for her often since then, its so awesome to know that she is doing well.
Posted By Anonymous Catrina, El Paso, TX : 11:10 PM ET
Thank the Lord for the people like Genelle who make us realize how precious life is and for second chances. She survived for a reason, even if it was just so you could post this story and touch the several lives who read this blog. Of course, we all know there IS more to it but I thank you for reminding us to count our blessings and always remember those who are surviving past 9/11. God Bless.
Posted By Anonymous Abby, Edmond, OK : 12:14 AM ET
Genelle's story is one of hope. Her determination to live makes her a true hero of 9/11, as well as those who worked endlessly to find survivors buried under the rubble. I wish Genelle and her family all the best. What an inspiring story to tell...thank you, Gary.
Posted By Anonymous Mary, Stamford, CT : 12:16 AM ET
Thank you for this story. It was very touching on a day that was so horrible and will scar us forever. Your story brought a small ray of sunshine in something so dark.
Posted By Anonymous Kim Redford MI : 7:43 AM ET
Gary, thank you for that touching story. It is a true inspiration to all of us.

We all must go on and live life to our best and give back. The victoms of September 11 would have it no other way.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Fairfield, CT : 8:27 AM ET
Dear Gary,
What a great inspirational story, with positive results. You have done a marvelous job of placing the reader right into Genelle's life after 9/11. What a beautiful screenplay and movie this would and should make. All the best to Genelle and her family.
Posted By Anonymous Dan Tymchyshyn, Oshawa, ON., Canada : 8:32 AM ET
Gary,

This story is a ray of light and hope from a very dismal situation. I sincerely hope that Genelle continues to carry on and move past what happened. I cannot imagine the fear she encountered while being trapped for 27 hours. I also cannot imagine the sheer joy her then fiance had when he found out she was alive.

Thank you for sharing some good news when good news is so hard to find these days.
Posted By Anonymous Christyl Johnson, Columbus, Indiana : 9:00 AM ET
Whenever I feel sorry for myself for some idiotic reason, I remember 9/11, and anything that I have endured pales fiercely in comparison. The people of New York continue to amaze and inspire me.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie Darby, Denham Springs, LA : 9:04 AM ET
I lost 16 friends at the Pentagon that day. Thank you for the tribute that you gave to them and the building. I, however, remember them and the anger keeps me warm at night. Those who feel we should find the terrorists and send them to "time out" or anger management classes should spend some time in Afghanistan like I have several times. Also in South West Asia.
Posted By Anonymous Sam, Austin Tx : 9:12 AM ET
Those that died awaiting rescue may have had more time to come to peace with themselves. I don't believe our God allowed them to suffer as we may think they did. Those that died instantly had only what was on their hearts without knowledge of their impending fate; we may consider those that waited the lucky ones. Perhaps the thoughts that remain in our minds of those that did suffer and die will allow us to invite peace in as well.
Posted By Anonymous Tricia R, Cleveland, OH : 9:30 AM ET
It is amazing that Genelle, after surviving such an ordeal, was able to bring together a family, a husband, and two children into this world, after such a terrible loss of life. Genelle, you are remarkable and an inspiration to us all during a time of great conflict
Posted By Anonymous Steve Roger, Denver, Colorado : 9:31 AM ET
Your last line gave me the chills... What a compelling and thought provoking story... Hurrah for the few who were rescued and heartbreaking for the one's who couldn't be... Thank you and God be with them all...
Posted By Anonymous Sherry Sarasota Fl : 9:31 AM ET
Gary, that was a moving story. Thanks.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, Minnesota : 9:46 AM ET
Hi Gary,
Genelle's story is one I will never forget - I remember her interview in the hospital.
The other night Discovery Channel had a story on about what happened inside the towers - the firemen and the people they rescued as well as the ordinary business men and women who helped each other to get out of those buildings. And during the whole documentary I was waiting for Genelle Guzman and her story, but I guess there are so many stories, that you can't tell everyone's story in a two-hour slot... I really wanted to know how she is doing. So thank you very much for sharing her story with us - I am really glad that she is recovering so well and that she has risen out of the ashes of ground zero. God bless her and her family.
Posted By Anonymous Judene Steyn, Newtown, PA : 11:04 AM ET
Gary,

Thank you for writing such an inspiring story. The tragedy of 9/11 still makes me as emotional today as the day it happened. It gives me joy to know that in the midst of such loss Americans have persevered. God Bless America.
Posted By Anonymous Annie, Brooklyn, NY : 1:10 PM ET
Hey Gary,

What a wonderful story of hope in adversity. Genelle's story represents all the beautiful moments that took place after the attack. Of course, there are tremendous stories of pain but we need to know that some stories were good.

It goes to show that friendship can be waiting in the most amazing place. Of course, I also think about those who were buried alive, who called with their cell phone but died. How horrifying to think about it.

Monday, I watched some of the stories on CNN. I remembered stories,images but there is one that I had never saw. After the towers had fell, people were wandering in the streets, and a man had written on a carton "Hugs for free" and people were stopping to get a hug from that stranger. It got to me so much, I cried
like a baby. It touched me such a simple gesture but how meaningful.

Thank you
Joanne Ranzell
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne Ranzell Laval Quebec : 1:51 PM ET
Gary,

Thank you so much for the update on Genelle. I remember the first account you did in her hospital room when she was unconscious and had not been identified. I have wondered many times over the years what became of her. I am so very happy to hear that she has recovered so well from her injuries and that she and her fiance are married with children.

It is so hard to look back on the immense tragedy that was wrought on September 11, 2001; but it also very gratifying to learn of the survivors.

Again, thank you for the update
Posted By Anonymous Angela, Shreveport, LA : 5:22 PM ET
What a moving story you just told, I don't know what else to say.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy Go, Kowloon City, Hongkong : 2:59 AM ET
I'm with you Genelle. Throw that cane away. I just escaped cancer recurrence for the second time this year and the story rings true with me. If I could be as lucky as Genelle then I would be quaking with joy.

The people who died? I don't know them, but Genelle's face I'd like to see. Hope to see her in your upcoming documentaries.
Posted By Anonymous Jimmy J, Mound MN : 2:22 AM ET
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