Eyewitness Photographic Testimony of 9/11 Taken at Ground Zero

Esteban (Steve) Silva grew up in La Puente, California. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1999 and went to work in Morgan Stanley’s San Francisco Branch in 2000. He arrived for his first visit in New York City for what was to be a 3-week training course at the Company Headquarters on the 61st Floor, South Tower, of the World Trade Center. The second day of training was September 11, 2001.

He remembers seeing paper falling outside his office window, and then seconds later debris on fire. After seeing the debris in the sky, the people in his office thought that perhaps a bomb had gone off in their building, so a group began walking down the stairs. A man’s voice on the intercom told everyone to go back to their offices.

"Somehow I was the dividing point — the people in front of me kept going down and the people behind me went back up,” says Silva. “And me, I couldn’t figure out what to do, ‘Should I stay, should I go?'"

He did neither. He walked to the 44th floor, a transfer floor for the elevators, and stood in a large lobby, where TVs played the news. He learned that a plane had hit the North Tower, and he admits now that he felt relief. It wasn’t a bomb, he thought, no terrorism. It was just a plane crash, an accident.

Less than a minute later, an explosion ripped through the building, as the second plane struck the South Tower. Everything reeled. Around him was a scene of destruction. The walls began to crack — ominous, vertical fractures that warned of the impending disaster. Objects shot across the room.

"When the building didn’t immediately collapse, I thought, 'OK, I better get out of here now.'" So he raced down flights and flights of stairs, ending up underground and eventually emerging into the daylight on the ground floor.

These are the photos Esteban Silva managed to snap as he fled the South Tower and in the aftermath.

(Excerpted from the September 11, 2011 article, "Memories of an Alumnus Burn On," written by Soumya Karlamangla for the Daily Californian.)

“I am so glad I had a camera with extra rolls of film. Capturing these photos gives so much extra weight to the story.”

- Esteban (Steve) Silva

On the 20th anniversary of the horrific 9/11 attacks, we invite you to view the photo gallery and share commemorative reflections in the comments section below. 

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