There are very few places in New York City to find solitude.
It’s not hard at all to feel alone in the Big Apple, but if one wants to be alone, well, that’s another story entirely.
Twenty years ago, Indianola native Daniel Brasier found himself in New York, desperate for just a single moment of isolation from a world that had been flipped upside down just a few hours earlier when terrorists flew two hijacked airliners into World Trade Center Towers One and Two.
A fresh hire at Morgan Stanley’s Jackson, Mississippi office, Daniel had been in training at the company’s World Trade Center headquarters that morning. His day started on the sixty-first floor of the second tower.
By 9:03 a.m., Daniel was in the stairwell of the south tower, trying to make his way down to the ground.
That’s when the second of the two planes struck his building.
Daniel spent time in two stairwells on September 11, 2001.
In one, he fought for his life, trying to get to safety. In the other, he would find a measure of comfort and peace during a time when he needed it most.
A 1997 graduate of Indianola Academy, Daniel is the only child of Larry and Donna Brasier, both of Indianola.
He is the grandson of Faye and Alton (deceased) Brasier and Doris and Emmett Steed, both deceased.
He and about a hundred other recent hires with Morgan Stanley had arrived in New York City on September 9 for a month’s worth of training at the company’s HQ.
Morgan Stanley put the trainees in a hotel a stone’s throw away from the action at Madison Square Garden.
It was a dream come true for the then 23-year-old Mississippi Delta native, who had just graduated from Mississippi College a couple of months before.
“Growing up in Mississippi, while I love Mississippi, I’ve always had this wandering eye,” Daniel said. “I’ve always had this bug in me that wanted to travel, see the world, and I wanted to live in New York.”
It just so happened there was a huge concert going on at Madison Square Garden the Sunday night he arrived.
“I walked across the street, and I watched these celebrities come in, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in New York, this Indianola kid,’” Daniel said. “Here’s Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, and it was just incredible, and I was like, ‘This is going to be the best month of my life.’”
That next morning, September 10, was the first morning he would spend above the clouds on the sixty-first floor at WTC.
That morning, Daniel, along with the other trainees, boarded a bus, chartered by Morgan Stanley, and he took in the sights all the way from the hotel to literally the world’s commercial center.
Walking into the courtyard, and looking up, he saw the tops of the two towers consumed by the morning clouds.
He entered Tower Two, ID badge and all, and he joined trainees and executives alike on an elevator.
“I remember being in the elevator on the morning of the tenth, looking at the other people in the elevator and wondering what their lives were like, what did they do, what brought them there, how could I aspire to become an executive with that type of power and success,” Daniel said.
The conference room Morgan Stanley used for the training session gave the trainees a clear view of the Statue of Liberty.
It was the perfect baptism for a young aspiring executive.
When the workday was over, the trainees got back on the bus and made their way back to the hotel.
By this time, Daniel had made a couple of trainee friends, Brock and Tiffany, both from New Mexico.
The next morning seemed even more promising for the trio.
There wasn’t a cloud in the New York skyline.
Daniel left his room and made his way down to the lobby. He grabbed a Wall Street Journal, “Like every financial advisor is supposed to do,” he quipped.
He found the charter bus and started the journey back to the tower.
Brock and Tiffany wanted to take advantage of the clear sky, so they had decided that on their first break, they would all go to the top of the tower, to the lookout, and take pictures.
That is until Daniel realized that he left his camera in his hotel room.
“We’ll go tomorrow,” he told them, and they agreed.
I Want To Go Down, To The Ground
The first break in the training class came about a half hour in.
There would be no trip to the top of the tower for photos, so Daniel decided he would call the Morgan Stanley office in Jackson, just to check in.
He walked over to a bank of phones on the other side of the building. It was a part of the tower that seemed deserted at the time.
The window beside the phones gave him a clear view of the other tower.
“I remember being in the process of calling and hearing this tremendous boom and turning around and looking out the window, which looked at the first tower, and seeing this massive fireball,” Daniel said.
What he initially assumed was some sort of bomb exploding was American Airlines Flight 11 slamming into the neighboring tower.
“You could see holes in the tower, and I remember just kind of being in shock, and there weren’t that many people standing on the side of the tower where I was, in this phone area where I was, and I was just looking, and I was kind of in shock honestly,” Daniel said.
He knew what he had just witnessed was not normal, and he ran back to the conference room and told the Morgan Stanley brass that he thought a bomb had been detonated in the other building.
“People were kind of looking at me like I’m crazy, because they heard something, but they didn’t really see anything, because they’re looking out at the Empire State Building. But you can still see out the window, even on that side of the tower, you can see a lot of paper and debris in the sky, right outside the window that’s kind of flying around the tower,” Daniel said.
Most of the people in the room were not immediately moved to action by the seemingly hysterical story.
After all, he was the only one who saw the massive fireball.
“About that time, an alarm went off, and it was like a fire alarm,” Daniel said. “The instructors said, we needed to get into the stairwells. No one really seemed that upset or worried or alarmed. No one had really seen what I had seen in my class.”
They filed into the stairwell, and soon, hundreds of executives and professionals joined them.
One person said a helicopter had crashed into Tower One. Another said there had been a gas explosion.
“I was thinking, ‘That’s not what I saw,’ but I was also thinking, ‘Daniel, I’m overreacting. Maybe I should listen to these people who work here,’” he said. “I was on edge, but I was starting to relax a bit.”
Daniel and his colleagues made it down to the fiftieth floor, which was where the main headquarters for Morgan Stanley was.
The stairwell they were using ended on that floor. They walked out, and most people were still going about their business, even getting food at the nearby cafeteria.
Then the alarm stopped.
“An announcement comes on around this time and said, ‘Attention World Trade Center Tower Two, there’s been an accident in Tower One. Do not evacuate. Everything is under control…Please return to your floor,’” Daniel recalled.
Several people from his class began to make their way back up the near dozen flights, while some raced to catch the elevator back to the sixty-first floor.
“There I was by myself,” Daniel said. “I was just standing there. It seemed like time stood still, and I remembered what I saw, and just something inside of me said, ‘No. I want to go down to the ground. Something doesn’t feel right.’ I got back into the stairwell and started heading down, and I was probably on the forty-eighth or forty-ninth floor when the second plane hit. I had just gotten into the stairwell, and the plane hit my tower.”
Honestly, I Knew I Was Going To Die
At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the side of the South Tower of the World Trade Center where Daniel was just moments into his descent down the stairwell.
Daniel had no idea a jet had been crashed into the building, but he knew based on what he saw minutes before out the window of the sixty-first floor that it was no coincidence.
“At that moment, I knew we were under attack,” he said. “You could smell the fire. You could see this glow. It threw us all to the ground. The bricks and concrete were crumbling on our heads, and you could smell the jet fuel. People were screaming.”
The power was out in the stairwell, and Daniel said he could feel the skyscraper move back and forth in a very unnatural way.
“That was really frightening,” he said.
He was still fifty floors from the ground, and he had no way of knowing what exactly had occurred.
“Honestly, I knew that I was going to die, because I thought what had happened had happened from below me,” Daniel said. “I really didn’t know whether this explosion was above me or below me, because you’re being thrown around, and you’re tumbling down the stairs.”
By this time, everyone who was in the stairwell was panicking, and Daniel was just one person in a long line of souls trying to make it to the bottom.
“I knew this train of people going down the stairs was going to stop, because we were not going to be able to get out, and I knew we were going to be trapped,” he said.
Then the lights in the stairwell came back on.
“I remember counting down the floors, because I was probably on the forty-eighth or forty-ninth floor, and there’s this huge forty-nine by the door to the stairwell, and it’s like ‘forty-eight’ and then ‘forty-seven’ and so on.”
As he made his way down the stairwell, the pandemonium continued, as firemen began to run past him up the stairs.
“I remember seeing people in wheelchairs at the stairwell door,” Daniel said. “They can’t get into the stairwell in a wheelchair, but they’re scrambling to get out. I remember hearing people on the other side of the wall, in the elevator screaming, because they were trapped. I remember this woman in the stairwell, and honestly at first glance I thought she was wearing a red dress, but I quickly realized it was a white or a cream dress, and she was just drenched in blood.”
Daniel made it to the mezzanine level where he encountered more frantic firemen.
He ran through the mall area, where the stores had been abandoned after the second plane’s impact, and he ran through a set of revolving doors.
That is when he began to hear the sounds of what he thought were gunshots or possibly other bombs going off.
But it was neither.
“That was the worst part, because when I was running through the mall, I could hear these really loud bangs, and I thought it was like gunshots or other bombs, but I realized when I ran into the courtyard area it was people jumping, and that was the sound of them hitting the concrete,” Daniel said. “It was probably as much like I could imagine being on the frontlines of a battlefield or a war. There were just bodies everywhere, and that was just horrible.”
He found himself standing at the center of the same courtyard he had stood at just a couple of hours earlier when he was soaking in the atmosphere.
“I remember looking up at the towers and they’re both on fire…And I remember turning around, and I never looked back again, and I ran as fast as I could,” Daniel said.
They Thought I Was Dead, Again
When Daniel had heard an announcement telling World Trade Center Tower Two workers to return to their desks, his gut had told him to get out of the building instead.
When he managed to emerge from the heavily damaged skyscraper a few moments later, that same gut feeling told him to run.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” he said. “I remember running toward the Brooklyn Bridge.”
When he got to the bridge, there was more panic, with policemen shouting that there was a bomb on the bridge itself. He ran in another direction.
He made it about five blocks from the World Trade Center complex, and he ran into a deli to call his parents.
The man at the cash register graciously allowed him to use the phone, which quickly connected to his parents’ home in Mississippi.
“They answer, and I was screaming, ‘I’m alive, I’m alive,’ and at that point is when the (first) tower collapsed, and so the phones went dead,” he said. So, they heard me say, ‘I’m alive,’ then they watched the collapse, and then they thought I was dead again, because they didn’t know where I was.”
Daniel, nor the deli operator had any idea the tower had fallen. All they knew was they were knocked to the floor and that everything outside went dark.
He left the deli and kept running and made it all the way back to his hotel.
It was there he was able to turn on his television, and it was there that he came to know just what had happened to the two towers, American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
He watched the footage repeat of the two towers coming down.
“I was there that morning working, and now it’s all just gone,” he said. “My briefcase and all my stuff, it’s just gone.”
I Just Sat There And Wept
Daniel was finally able to reach his parents for the second time to let them know that he was alive.
With Larry and Donna Brasier at least at ease with knowing he was safe, it was time for Daniel to wonder and ponder over the fate of his friends, Brock and Tiffany.
“I remember turning on the TV and I’m terrified of everything,” he said. “Is everyone I know, are they dead?”
After a while, there was a knock at the door. It was Brock.
“I just hugged him,” Daniel said. “I was so excited to see him.”
Tiffany was not with him.
“We just wondered where Tiffany was,” he said. “We just wondered all day.”
Even in the safety of his own hotel room, Daniel was still terrified from the events that had unfolded, and not knowing Tiffany’s fate left him even more emotional.
He left his room, but he did not go down to the lobby. Instead, he found the hotel’s stairwell.
“I think when I was wondering if Tiffany had died, I went to the top of the stairwell in this hotel, and I knew no one else would be up there, and I just sat there and wept,” he said.
It wasn’t until after dark that he heard a second knock on his hotel room door.
It was Tiffany.
“That night, she got back to the hotel room,” Daniel said. “She had been in the hospital. She had really been injured. She was slower to get out of the building, and she was at the base when it collapsed, and it had thrown her into the street.”
The next day, Daniel, Brock and Tiffany made it their mission to get out of New York City.
“We bribed a guy at the counter of a rental car company to rent us a car, because he was out of cars or wasn’t allowed to, I don’t know,” Daniel said. “They opened the bridge for a one-hour period, so we high-tailed it out of there, Brock and Tiffany and I.”
The three drove the rental car from New York to Memphis, where they dropped Daniel off with his parents. Brock and Tiffany finished the drive to New Mexico.
That Secret Place
When Daniel made it back to Mississippi, he needed some time to decompress.
His grandparents had a cabin at the time on the lake in Benoit in Bolivar County, and that is where he spent the next two weeks, with no television and only his thoughts for company.
“I just wanted to isolate for a few weeks,” he said.
He would eventually go back to work at Morgan Stanley’s Jackson office.
In spite of all the horrific memories from New York City on 9/11, his dream to one day live and work in that city was still alive inside of him.
Three years after the 9/11 attacks, Daniel faced some of his greatest fears and moved to New York City to work for a stock exchange.
“It was a long time before I would ride in an elevator again, and certainly a long time before I wanted to get on a plane again, but eventually, I moved to New York, and I lived there 10 years,” Daniel said.
There were plenty of daily reminders of September 11, 2001.
The subway train that he took home from work each day ran right into the belly of the World Trade Center site.
“Very quickly, I was faced with being in the pit every day, going home,” he said.
Only 36 months or so removed from the attack, Daniel would still see and even smell certain things that would bring back the vivid memories from that day.
He never did visit the 9/11 museum, but there was one spot he would visit several times while he lived in New York.
It’s not a spot most people would find solace in, but that’s what makes it special to Daniel.
“When I moved back to New York, I went back to that same hotel, and I went back to that stairwell, and I went back to that spot,” Daniel said. “It was almost like a memorial spot, and I’ve been back to that secret spot many times, just as my own little place of remembrance.”
Forgetting the details of that day was never an option. There are constant reminders.
Daniel, along with thousands of others who lived through the World Trade Center attack, are monitored regularly under the World Trade Center Health Program, which was put into place due to the dust and toxic materials breathed in by those who were on the ground that day.
He formed an everlasting bond with the two friends he had made that week.
Tragically, Tiffany, the friend who made it back to the hotel after suffering severe injuries in the first tower collapse, died in 2020, Daniel said, likely from the long-term effects of breathing the air that morning.
Daniel has since moved on from the dream job in New York City, and he is now director of e-commerce for the San Francisco-based company Salesforce.
Like every other 9/11 since 2001, Daniel will shut himself off from the media on the twentieth anniversary.
“I always take 9/11 off,” he said. “I don’t want to watch any footage. I really don’t like seeing it. I always avoid any type of coverage.”
Daniel said he doesn’t need too many things to remind him of that tragic day, like museums or monuments.
His deepest connection is not with the World Trade Center site, where he spent some of the worst moments of his life.
His memorial site is at the top of that hotel stairwell.
It was the place he found seclusion in a city of eight million people.
It was the place he wept for his friend when he thought she might have died.
It’s the spot he has returned to many times over the years for comfort and peace.