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N.Y. teen & classmates outrun ‘huge cloud of dust & debris’

NEW YORK CITY (BP)–It was a typical school day for Freeman Field. The 17-year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School left his family’s second floor apartment on East Seventh Street and walked to a nearby subway station. The 35-minute walk to school was usually noneventful for the athletic teenager, a member of Stuyvesant’s varsity football and track teams.

The day was Sept. 11 and by 10:30 a.m., Field would find himself running in a race for his life.

Field had just walked into his first-hour class on the seventh floor of the 10-story high school, located about a block and a half from the World Trade Center. He noticed that other students were standing in front of windows pointing toward the massive towers.

“We could see people walking down the street and pointing,” Field said. “We were there for quite a while before someone announced on the loudspeaker that a plane had crashed.”

Students went back to the windows and saw smoke pouring from the upper floors of the north tower. With their teacher nowhere in sight, students turned on a television inside the classroom and witnessed another jetliner slamming into the front of south tower, causing a massive fireball and explosion.

“The second explosion caused the lights to flicker,” Field said. “We have these big windows in our medical ethics class and it was right there. We had a clear view.

“We all ran to the window and it was so terrible,” Field said. “We could see people with white shirts waving from the windows, trying to get the attention of rescuers.”

Field paused.

“Then the smoke came and we couldn’t see them anymore.

“It was hard to believe,” Field said. “I just couldn’t think what it would be like if I had been up there or if it was someone I knew. It was hard to fathom that it was happening in America.”

But the horror was far from over. Soon, Field and his classmates saw people doing the unthinkable — jumping from the burning towers.

“Everyone gasped,” he said. “It was definitely happening. There were people falling from the buildings. For me, I don’t think it’s sunk in that it was a human life. A person….”

Inside the classroom, Field described the mood as somber and tense. “Everyone was getting emotional,” he said. “Some people were crying. Actually, there was a lot of crying, even guys. We were all in a state of disbelief.”

A few moments later, Field’s teacher frantically rushed into the room. “She told us to turn off the television,” he said, observing that his teacher was in a state of shock.

“When people would talk to her, she acted like she didn’t hear,” he said. “She would keep talking about how she couldn’t believe this was happening.

Soon, the principal came on the intercom and told the students to go to their next class and treat it as a normal day.

Field said he found the principal’s announcement unbelievable. So did the teacher of his next class.

“The teacher said it was ridiculous,” Field recalled. “By that time the television stations had gone out, so we were just sitting there.” The blast knocked all but one of New York’s television stations off the air. Most of the stations had antennas posted atop the World Trade Center.

Then came another ominous sign inside the high school. The lights started to flicker and a rumbling noise filled the air. “One of the towers had just collapsed,” Field said. “We could see this huge cloud of dust and debris rolling toward the school.”

The school’s administration ordered students to return to their homeroom class. Meanwhile, one of Field’s friends was growing concerned about his two brothers who live across from the WTC.

Instead of returning to homeroom class, the boys headed downstairs into the lobby to make a telephone call. When they arrived at the lobby, Field and his friend were stunned to see the area filled with medical workers and police officers.

“They told us to clear out of the area because they were setting it up as a triage,” Field said.

Within moments, orders came to evacuate the school, sending students outside through the north exit, opposite the WTC.

Field said his group was one of the first out of the school. The time was 10:29 a.m. The second tower was about to fall.

“We actually saw the tower fall,” Field said. “There was this huge cloud of dust and it was coming right toward us.”

Field said everyone started running — students, teachers, police officers, victims.

“We ran away and tried to get away from it,” Field said. “We just wanted to survive.”

Field said he doesn’t remember much about those terror-filled moments when they were trying to outrun the debris cloud.

“It was so fast,” he said. “There wasn’t much time to think. All you could do was pray.”

As captain of the high school’s football team, Field has earned the respect of his peers through quiet, determined leadership. That leadership proved helpful as his friends escaped the debris cloud.

“After awhile, we stopped running and figured out we were in a safe place,” Field said. “So we decided to wait for our friends to make sure no one was hurt.”

Fortunately, his football buddies, 14 in all, made it out of the high school unscathed. However, with Manhattan sealed off, his friends couldn’t return home. That’s when Field decided to bring them to his apartment.

“We found most of the guys we were worried about, but a number of them live out in Queens or in the Bronx,” he said. “They had no place to go.”

Meanwhile, across town, Field’s father was trying to locate his oldest son.

Field is the son of Taylor and Susan Field. Field is pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church and director of the Graffiti Center. Field’s ministry at East Seventh is the focus of a newly released book from Broadman & Holman, “A Church Called Graffiti.”

Upon hearing news about the explosion, Field made a mad dash to the school riding his son’s bike.

Amid all the confusion, father and son were reunited in a telephone conversation during which the younger Field informed his father he was safe and needed a place for his 14 football buddies to crash.

The family’s brownstone apartment became a sort of refugee center for the displaced teenagers.

Field’s father said he was proud of how his son conducted himself through the aftermath.

“Freeman did everything right that day,” the elder Field said. “He’s responsible and he took care of his friends.”

As a pastor and a parent, Field said his emotions about what happened at the World Trade Center are mixed.

“I’m relieved that my son is okay, but I am deeply grieved,” he said. “I am concerned that the cycle of violence will continue to accelerate.”

Field said he hopes people will learn that life is not a game. “Each day we have is precious,” he said. “Everyone is talking about God and I believe people will be drawn to the Lord through this.”

The younger Field said he’s not sure when school will resume. The high school has been closed since Sept. 11. “One option they are talking about is relocating the whole school to another location,” he said. “I know that our football games have been canceled.”

Once school resumes, Field said he hopes that Christianity will have a presence on campus.

“Right now, spiritually it’s a zero,” he said. “There is one Christian group but most of the students are not Christians. I may be the only Southern Baptist in the whole school.”

Just as he leads by example, Field said he prefers to let his life be a reflection of Christ on campus.

“When I go to school I’m not going around saying I’m a Christian, but if someone asks me, I’ll tell them about my relationship with Christ.”

He helped a team of volunteers build a home for unwed mothers in Kentucky, and his summers have been filled with mission trips to Texas and North Carolina. And you’ll more than likely hear tunes from Christian bands like Jars of Clay and Smalltown Poets reverberating from his CD player.

Looking ahead, Field is thinking through what to do after graduation and where to go to college. He said he is thinking about a major in business and economics.

No matter where he goes, though, Field said he will never forget the horrible things he saw from the windows of his high school on Sept. 11. Never.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FREEMAN FIELD, CLEANING UP DEBRIS, ALL THAT REMAINS, WRECKAGE LITTERS STREETS.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes