SAN ANTONIO — Married with an infant son, Stephanie Ashe was headed to work in New York City. She talked her former husband into taking the J train to Wall Street. Ashe wanted to stop by a fruit kiosk on day two back at work from maternity leave.
“It was sunny outside. It was a beautiful day,” she said.
Ashe and her ex normally took the A train to the World Trade Center so she could grab a bagel. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 would turn out to be more than a shift in trains. Of course, only a group of terrorists were aware of that.
“My life was different. I had a baby,” Ashe said. “I was coming back to a job I love. Life was good.”
As Ashe sat at her desk, she said a coworker brought her attention to the World Trade Center. They thought a small aircraft, perhaps a helicopter, had crashed into it. She said their office window faced the WTC. They also had a view of the Statue of Liberty.
“And I’m watching this gaping hole. It didn’t look large enough to be representative of what happened,” she said.
According to Ashe, she tried calling her husband, who worked at the financial center connected to the burning building. She said she couldn’t get through. That’s when she heard jet engines.
“I turn and I’m watching United Airlines come around that Statue of Liberty,” Ashe said.
She said it looked like the plane vanished or flew in behind buildings. Then, she recalled an explosion a short time later. “And at that point I said, 'Oh, they’re shooting a movie. Has to be,'” she said. “Because this can’t be real.”
As she tried to process what was happening, the terror was just beginning. Ashe’s manager directed everyone out of the building. She still had not reached her former husband.
“So, we get down on the ground floor---and there are thousands of people on the ground,” she said.
In the cluster of chaos, her ex-husband ran to her. She said they stood as the buildings burned. Ashe remembered a car parked near the corner. The radio was loud enough where those on the street could hear the breaking news report.
"I don’t even remember hearing the radio before the statement of, 'ladies and gentlemen, the Pentagon has just been hit,'" she said. "'America is under attack."
That broadcast still leaves her visibly shaken. So does the memory of the towers crumbling. Ashe said it was silent. Then, she heard a crack. "And the towers had large antennas at the top. And when you see it on television, you see it imploding," she said.
According to Ashe, the broadcasts could not convey the cracking sound of the antenna as it fell. Nor could the reports convey the sense of fear as the towers crumbled to the ground. "And for some reason, when I look around, it was a moment of realizing that we were all the same, because everyone was grey," she said.
Ashe, her former husband and many others covered in soot, walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She said tears came to her eyes when members of the Jewish community stood near the bridge where they walked with water and towels.
She remembered getting on a city bus. It was filled but silent. “I remember asking myself, 'Why did I have to witness this?' Like why did I have to see this?” she asked.
Ashe said for her the tragedy yielded a new perspective on life, gratitude and growth.
She moved to San Antonio a year after the attacks. Her son is 18 and she has three other children. Ashe works is a part of the legal team for Spurs Sports and Entertainment.
"I know my story is nothing like what most people have gone through,” she added. “And I that’s why I don’t generally share it, because I don’t want to minimize those who lost, because I’m still here to say something about it."