Former NYPD officer living in Cary recalls the horror, emotions of 9/11

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Fifteen years after Sept. 11, 2001, a Cary man recalled the agony of loss, but also the hope in seeing people come together in the wake of the terror attacks.

“I remember the faces, the faces. When we were helping people with the ashes on their faces. They just had no hope,” said James Johnson, a former New York City Police Department officer.

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These days Johnson trains mentors for schools and after school programs, but back in 2001 he served as a NYPD officer helping people to get to safety that September day.

“I’m more grateful for every day because it feels like borrowed time. I was there at the building and it missed me, so I don’t want to miss the opportunity to become the best I can be and help other people be the best that they can be,” he said.

As Johnson watched the twin towers fall, he said they looked like they were melting.

He recalls the horror of seeing people fall with the debris.

Johnson also vividly remembers a sense of hope in the weeks that followed as he said he was among the teams searching, and finding, survivors the rubble.

“I remember digging and finding people. We did rescue a lot of people. I remember the gratitude. I also remember every time a police car, every time we drove our police car in the community, people would stand in the street with signs and they would yell, ‘Thank you. Thank you’ everywhere we went,” he said.

“What I did remember the most is how we came together as a people. It gave me hope because I thought we forgot that. I thought we forgot how to come together. It showed me that we can love without discrimination. We were all Americans that day,” he said.

“I would love for everyone to take this day and take this moment to take advantage of this moment to remember that there is hope, that we can love without discrimination. I find that the more you judge, the more you stop loving. The more you stop judging, the more you can love. So, just to know that we are all in this together and we all have value.”

Johnson said his work now as a mentor is a lot like being a first responder and that sometimes what’s important is not just that you respond, but how you respond.

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