By Anna Meurer
On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Georgetown College welcomed Sujo John to speak on his experiences as a World Trade Center survivor. John, who had only moved to the United States six months prior to the attacks, was working on the 81st floor of the North Tower when the first plane crashed. He recounted his experience in vivid details, describing the eardrum-shattering noise of the explosion, the smoke and fire in the building, the frenzied escape down the stairwells with thousands of others, and the shuddering feel as the buildings began to collapse. The event was made more traumatic by the fact that John’s wife, Mary, who was four months pregnant at the time, worked on the 71st floor of the other tower. Miraculously, both survived the event.
John also took time to recount the actions of the first responders and a few other stories of heroism: the two men who carried a wheelchair-bound woman down more than 60 flights of stairs after she had been abandoned by her co-workers, the firefighters who entered the towers to rescue people even as the buildings began to collapse, the man who rallied his group after the first plane hit and began the evacuation process. Several times he stopped to thank them, including the local community responders who were in attendance.
Looking back, John said, the event was God calling him to something special. Referring to an email that he sent his pastor less than an hour before the attack mentioning his desire to do more to serve God, he joked, “God reads emails.” In relation to both the 9/11 attacks and Christianity, he emphasized that background means nothing, not in the sense that one’s story is not important, but that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or status is equal. On the day of the attacks, they shared a common sense of fear; in Christianity, they share a common invitation to the Gospel.
John’s speech was well received by students. Freshman Georgia Skelton said, “I thought he was very humble and laid back about the whole experience. He kept me engaged by making light of his very serious situation and really made me aware of my own life and all that I have to be thankful for.” Sadly, students didn’t have much chance to speak with John following the speech; after a few quick photos and comments he was out the door, rushing to catch a flight for another chance to share his story and message.