As yet another September rolls by, people worldwide are reminded of the terror that shook the world 19 years ago. As is often the case, many commemorate this terrible event by sharing memories of where they were on what they thought would be just another ordinary workday.
In my case, being from South Africa, I first heard the news while driving back from work on 11 September 2001 at around 4 pm. It was the first time I had heard of the towers and couldn’t make sense of the reports over the radio. Seeing the visuals on TV later, I remember not understanding why a pilot couldn’t see the massive towers right in front of him. Then, as reality dawned, I remember feeling as though the world had been changed in a way that could never be undone.
There have been many terrorist attacks after that infamous day, and just as on 9/11, many heroes have stepped up to save the lives of others, regardless of their own safety.
On this list are just some of their stories.
10 Mumbai Terrorist Attack
“It was my responsibility… I may have been the youngest person in the room, but I was still doing my job.”
On 26 November 2008, ten members of Lashkar-e-Taiba started a reign of terror in Mumbai that lasted four days. The gunmen travelled from Pakistan to Mumbai via boat, hijacking a fishing trawler on the way. They killed four crewmembers, slit the captain’s throat, and threw the bodies overboard. Once in Mumbai, they split into three groups, stormed several buildings, and started their killing spree with automatic weapons and grenades. By 29 November, more than 170 people were dead, over 300 wounded and 9 of the attackers were also dead. The lone surviving gunman was sentenced to death and executed on 21 November 2012.
One of the buildings attacked was the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Alongside all the guests, there was a hosted dinner for Unilever directors and executives managed by around 35 Taj Mumbai employees. While serving the main course, loud bangs sounded up and those inside the restaurant initially thought they were hearing fireworks. However, staff very quickly realized something wasn’t right and the banquet manager, 24-year-old Mallika Jagad, instructed guests to lie down under the tables. She separated husbands and wives and urged them to refrain from using cell phones. While the rest of the hotel was ravaged by the terrorists, the group in the restaurant remained quiet and were looked after by hotel staff. The next morning, after a fire had started, guests were rescued by a fire crew.
Jagad later said that even though she was the youngest person in the room, she felt that she had to continue doing her job and her guests’ safety was her number one priority.
Her quick actions saved the lives of more than 60 people.
9 Pulse Gay Nightclub Shooting
“He helped so many people. My son! A hero!”
While patrons of Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, were having a great time dancing on 12 June 2016 they could never have predicted that the night would end in tragedy. 29-year-old security guard, Omar Mateen, entered the club and started shooting. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Mateen was shot and killed after a three-hour stand-off with police and negotiators. During this time, he told one of the negotiators that he had perpetrated the attack in retaliation to the US killing of Abu Waheeb in Iraq. The FBI declared the incident a terrorist attack.
When the shooting began, there were many patrons and staff who stepped up and tried to save the lives of others with no concern for their own safety. One of these heroes was Imran Yousuf who was employed as a bouncer at Pulse. His Marine Corps training kicked in and he saved more than 60 people who had been trapped inside the building. Other heroes included Ray Rivera, Joshua McGill, and Christopher Hansen.
Hansen continued to help two people who had been injured and bleeding outside the club, while the shooting continued relentlessly inside. It was his first time at the club, and he never envisioned the night ending with him taking off his bandana and using it to stop the bleeding of a man who had been shot in the back. He also helped a woman who had a gunshot wound to the arm and promised to stay with her until paramedics could get to her.
Hansen’s father later wrote on Facebook: “I am so proud of my son. Both as a man, and as a gay man. He helped so many people. My son! A hero! Amongst all the tragedy, helping others.”
8 French Terrorist Attack
“He was concentrating on me; in that moment he could not kill people.”
Just over a month after the Orlando tragedy, terror struck again, this time in Nice, France. There were crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais on 14 July 2016, when a 19-tonne cargo truck drove straight into them. The truck was driven by Mohamed Lahouaej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian who had a residence in France. The attack cost the lives of 86 people with a further 458 injured. Lahouaej-Bouhlel was shot and killed by police and the Islamic State afterwards claimed responsibility for the attack.
Just before the tragedy, a local airport worker named Franck Terrier was on his motorcycle on the way to the promenade to meet up with his son. His wife was with him and they stopped to get some ice-cream. At this point the truck sped past him and Franck saw the vehicle driving into people. Thinking about his son who was at the end of the promenade, Franck jumped on his motorcycle and started chasing the truck. He leaped off the bike, clung to the side of the truck door and started hitting Lahouaej-Bouhlel over the head and in the face as hard as he could. The attacker tried to shoot at Franck, but the gun wouldn’t go off. He then hit him with the gun and Franck fell from the side of the truck, breaking a rib.
Franck said afterwards that he was pleased that he was able to distract the attacker from killing more people as he was only focused on getting him off the truck. Franck and another hero, Gwenaël Leriche, received medals from the City of Nice for trying to stop the terrorist.
7 Boston Marathon Bombing
“I know exactly when my life changed: when I looked into the face of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.”
When two pressure cooker bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on 15 April 2013, there was instant confusion and panic. Three people were killed, hundreds injured, and 17 people lost limbs. As people tried to escape, several heroes emerged who did their best to help them as well as assist those who had been injured.
Carlos Arredondo, Devin Wang, and Paul Mitchell rushed an injured Jeff Bauman from the scene and were later credited with helping to save his life after he suffered traumatic injuries. Bauman, who lost both of his legs, helped to identify one of the brothers responsible for the bombings.
Many of the runners who were near the explosion ran on to help victims, despite having just run 26 miles and being exhausted. Some ran to Mass General Hospital to donate blood. Dr. Allan Panter was at the finish line, waiting for his wife to finish the race when the blast happened. He immediately ran to an injured woman, keeping her airway open until paramedics got there. He helped several other victims and controlled the bleeding from their wounds.
6 Berlin Terrorist Attack
2016 was a year of heightened Islamist terrorist activity in Europe with attacks in Brussels, Nice, Germany, and Normandy. Six days before Christmas, the Christmas market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin was buzzing with visitors. This market is one of over 70 in Berlin where tourists can purchase various arts and crafts.
Suddenly there was a commotion and people looked up from their perusing to see a large truck headed straight towards them. The driver was Anis Amri, a failed asylum seeker, who had shot and killed the truck’s original driver Lukasz Urban. Urban’s body was in the passenger seat. Amri launched the truck into the crowd, killing 12 people and leaving 56 injured.
Luca Scata, a rookie Milan policeman who had joined the force just nine months earlier, faced off with Amri in Italy four days later. Scata and his partner asked to search Amri’s backpack when he told them he didn’t have any identity documents. Amri pulled out a gun and shot Scata’s partner in the shoulder. Scata immediately fired back at Amri, killing him.
At the time, Amri was considered Europe’s most wanted man, and Scata was hailed a hero.
5 Nairobi Terrorist Attack
“What he did was so heroic… he went back in 12 times and saved 100 people”
On 21 September 2013, the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya was buzzing with the usual shopper activity. The busy but peaceful atmosphere was shattered when a group of masked gunmen stormed the mall and started shooting and throwing grenades. The aftermath saw part of the mall collapse in a fire, 71 deaths and 200 injured people. The attack lasted several hours, and responsibility was claimed by al-Shabaab who said it was in retribution for the deployment of Kenyan soldiers in Somalia.
After the attack, an unnamed former Royal Marine was hailed as a hero when it emerged that he saved at least 100 people from the attack with only a handgun for protection. The ex-soldier was at the mall with friends when around 13 attackers began shooting at random. The man led several shoppers to safety, going back into the mall 12 times to ensure he could help as many people as possible.
He remains unnamed for security reasons.
4 Ariana Grande Concert Attack
“I ran into the bomb. I still don’t know to this day why I did it.”
Excitement was in the air in Manchester on the evening of 22 May 2017. Fans of Ariana Grande couldn’t wait for her long-anticipated Manchester Arena concert to begin. The concert was all they hoped it would be and around 14,000 fans were preparing, reluctantly, to leave the arena after the show ended.
At that point, a homemade bomb stuffed full of shrapnel, went off, killing 23 people and wounding more than 800. 22-year-old Salman Ramadan Abedi had detonated the bomb and was killed in the blast.
There were many children at the venue, along with their parents. Daren Buckley had been at the show with his son, Lewis, whom he ensured was safe after the blast. He then ran back to where the explosion had taken place and grabbed nearby t-shirts that had been on sale, to try and stem the blood loss of the wounded. Buckley continued to assist wherever he could until police arrived to secure the area. Afterwards he simply stated that he ran into the bomb but still doesn’t know why.
There is currently an ongoing public enquiry into the bombing with issues being explored such as security arrangements, planning and preparation by Abedi and his brother, emergency response and whether the attack could have been prevented.
3 Paris Siege
“He was calm and in charge.”
On 13 November 2015 Paris found itself under siege when a group of gunmen and suicide bombers hit six locations almost simultaneously, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. Explosions shook the Stade de France stadium and a fast-food outlet nearby. Attacks unfolded at popular nightlife spots around the same time. Around 12,000 emergency, health, military, and security workers responded to the ambush.
While an attack was being carried out at the Bataclan concert hall, 35-year-old Algerian security guard Didi rushed to the scene to help concert goers escape. When interviewed afterwards, Didi said that he knew he had to get as many people to safety as he could, because “these terrorists have come to kill as many people as they can.”
He followed the gunmen inside and started opening doors for people to escape through. He yelled for people to follow him to the exits. Those who followed Didi’s lead later told news reporters that the security guard was ‘calm and in charge’ and that ‘we felt secure and knew we’d be safe with him.’
Didi was awarded French citizenship in 2016.
2 Unsung Heroes
On 7 July 2005, London would forevermore be changed by a series of terrorist attacks perpetrated by four suicide bombers carrying rucksacks filled with explosives. They detonated 3 bombs on Underground trains and one on a double-decker bus during morning rush hour traffic. 52 people died and hundreds were injured. The bombers all died during the attacks.
Tremendous courage was shown by unsung heroes in the aftermath of the atrocities. One of them helped a gravely injured John Tulloch stay awake by chatting about their respective children. Cp Capt Craig Staniforth ensured that Tulloch didn’t drift off to sleep as his head injuries would probably have meant he wouldn’t wake up again.
Suhel Boodi, who’d never done CPR, tried desperately to save 29-year-old Laura Webb by following the instructions of a fellow commuter. Another hero, Steven Desborough, comforted Carrie Taylor in her last minutes, while encouraging others who had been trapped beneath debris. Teacher Tim Coulson also tried to save Michael Brewster, smashing his way out of a carriage to reach the man.
“Stop crying. I have to get these people out safely.”
After the towers came down on 11 September 2001, controversy bloomed. Dozens of conspiracy theories of ‘inside jobs’ and ‘explosions, not planes’ swirled the internet. Some conspiracy theorists are still looking for evidence that the Pentagon was hit by a missile and speculating about the “missing debris” of United Airlines flight 93.
However, this doesn’t overshadow the fact that nearly three thousand people lost their lives that day and that several heroes stepped up to help during one of the darkest events in US history.
24-year-old Welles Crowther (pictured) left his mother a voicemail saying that he was ok. After ending the call, he made his way to the injured. He carried a woman down 15 floors to safety and went back up to the 78th floor sky lobby to assist firefighters. His body was recovered later in a stairwell alongside some of the firefighters and a rescue tool.
Two former US Marines, Jason Thomas and Dave Karnes, got back into their uniforms to search the rubble for survivors. They found two people still alive.
On American Airlines Flight 11, two flight attendants stayed as calm as they could and relayed information that eventually helped the FBI determine that the terrorists were al- Qaeda.
Soldier and police officer, Rick Rescorla, sang songs to keep people calm during evacuations. He was head of security for Morgan Stanley which was based in the South Tower and has been credited for saving more than 2,700 lives. He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower after calling his wife and telling her that she needed to stop crying because he had to get the people inside the tower to safety. He also told his wife that she made his life and that he’d never been happier.
Rescorla’s body was never found.