Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
October 10, 2021
Sunrise Through the Darkness
On September 11, 2001, Port Authority Police Officer Will Jimeno arrived at the Twin Towers to help evacuate people from the buildings after the planes hit. But Will, his sergeant, John McLoughlin, and his colleague, Dom Pezzulo, wound up buried alive when the North Tower collapsed. Dom didn’t survive, and Will was ready to give up hope until a divine experience re-energized his spirit. Will is now sharing his story in the memoir “Sunrise Through the Darkness,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”
After being buried alive and in severe pain for hours, Will lost the will to live. He recalled, “I said, ‘God, thank You for 33 great years...Thank You for six years with my beautiful wife, Allison, four years with my little girl, Bianca.’ My wife was seven months pregnant, and I said, ‘God, I’m going to ask You for two favors…When [I] get to heaven, somehow allow me to see my daughter be born.’ And the second request was, ‘Can I have some water?’ I was caked in concrete for so many hours, I was so thirsty.”
As Will closed his eyes and drifted off, he had a vision of Jesus bringing him a bottle of water. That gave him a “resurgence of fighting and hope.” Will and Sgt. McLoughlin were soon rescued by two former Marines and the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit.
Will’s physical wounds healed over time – and he saw his daughter, Olivia, be born - but his mental and emotional scars remained because he didn’t realize he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It led him to explode in anger at his wife and children over small things, like the TV remote being misplaced. After one such incident, Will picked up a shoe to throw at his wife. He recalled, “I’ve never lifted my hand to a woman. As I was winding up to throw the shoe at her head, I caught myself. I said, ‘Will, this is not who you are.’”
Will found a therapist who was able to help him work through his PTSD by telling him, “This is something you’re not going to cure. This is something you have to learn to live with.” Will observed, “Most of us have mental struggles. It doesn’t have to be to the point of warfare. It could be just the stresses of life: working two jobs, having a child that’s sick, dealing with cancer, COVID, the list goes on...I started realizing when I [get] upset about something, I started learning how to breathe, to go walk, to do physical activity, to allow that negative energy out. It’s something I live with. I tell people, ‘The day I get rid of post-traumatic stress disorder, or am done dealing with 9/11, is the day they bury me.’”
Even with counseling, Will struggled with survivor’s guilt. He credits the widow of a New York City Firefighter who died on 9/11 with giving him a valuable piece of advice. She told him, “Do something for me, my husband, your family, and all those we lost. I heard you had a beautiful little girl named Olivia. Do what the middle of your daughter’s name says: Live.” Will followed that advice.
“Twenty years later,” concluded Will, “what I want people to remember is that what I saw the most [on 9/11] was love. I saw people, total strangers, helping each other. Didn’t matter what color their skin was, what their religion was, where they came from. People actually came together.”