BURLINGTON — Even after 20 years, Michael and Rosie Robins can vividly recall what it was like on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City.
“It was a normal morning,” Michael Robins said. “A beautiful fall morning.”
On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the couple, who now live in Burlington, clearly remember the sights, smells and emotions they felt the day on which nearly 3,000 people died, including 343 firefighters and 60 police officers.
“At the beginning, I don’t think anyone knew what was going on,” Michael Robins said.
At the time, the couple were living and working in Brooklyn Heights, across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan’s financial district, where the World Trade Center was located.
The morning seemed normal, Michael Robins said, until one of his co-workers told him about the smoke beginning to billow out of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
Michael Robins was working and living in the 30-story 90 Sands building, the now-former headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so he headed up to the top of the building to see what he could see.
“Then the second plane hit,” he said.
Not knowing what was going on and whether the building he was in would be next, Robins went to the ground floor and announced that all of the building’s residents and workers were to evacuate the building’s upper levels.
About a mile away, his wife Rosie was in a car when she saw smoke starting to billow out of the first tower. Worried for her husband, she ran to their home, making the usually 45-minute walk in about 15 minutes, she said.
“I wanted to be with him,” she said.
Rosie Robins arrived home in time to watch the second plane crash into the World Trade Center’s South Tower, she said.
“It just turned and went straight through the other building,” she said. “It was such a scary feeling not knowing what was going on.”
As she got into the building and realized her husband was safe, Rosie Robins headed to their 17th-floor residence to call family and tell them they were safe.
Looking out her window, which faced the direction of the towers, Robins saw the first building fall, with ash and debris filling the air and even making their way into their building.
“I felt like I was in a movie,” Rosie Robins said. “I thought ‘It can’t be.’”
As they and their neighbors waited in the lobby, those trying to escape the devastation of what would become known as Ground Zero began to flee — by foot, because the subways were closed — across the Brooklyn Bridge and into their lobby. They were covered in dust and ash, missing shoes and clothing, and in shock.
“They came into our lobby as a refuge,” Rosie Robins said. “It was shocking to see. They were just covered head to toe in ashes.”
In order to help, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization fired up its kitchens, providing those seeking refuge, whether they were Jehovah’s Witnesses or not, with coffee, water and food.
With the cell towers at the top of the World Trade Center out of commission, people struggled to get in touch with their loved ones. And if they didn’t have their cellphones, many didn’t have access to the numbers they wanted to call.
“One of the big problems was people didn’t know how to get in touch with their families,” Michael Robins said.
Armed with landlines and phone books, the Robinses and their fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses rushed to help, he said.
“We saw the need and went into action,” Rosie Robins said. “There was no thinking twice.”
With chaos around them, and information about what was happening just beginning to get out, the Robinses said they relied on their faith to help them help others.
“It was a comfort for us to engage in our ministry,” Michael Robins said. “When you give hope to others, you become more hopeful yourself.”
Whether it was providing clothing, a place to stay or comfort in Scripture, the Robinses said they did what they could to help others in need.
“We were helping them to calm down,” Rosie Robins said. “There was such a chaotic situation. They felt secure for us to help them. That was our desire, was to help people. We just needed to help.”
Today, the couple said they find similarities between that day and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It shows how resilient people can be,” Michael Robins said.