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Aris Economopoulos, Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger

Sept 11

Remembering an unforgettable day.


Aris Economopoulos ’94 planned to sleep in on Sept. 11. His work day as a photographer for the Newark, N.J. Star-Ledger was scheduled to start at 3 p.m.

Terrorist attacks on the United States changed that. A phone call from the paper got him up, dressed and on a ferry headed from his home in Jersey City, N.J., to lower Manhattan shortly after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. The 1994 photojournalism grad was on the scene before the first tower collapsed, and came close to death when the second tower came down just yards from where he was shooting.

"I heard a metallic groaning sound," Economopoulos recalls. "I looked up and I saw the top of the north tower teetering while pieces of it started falling towards me. I turned and ran the fastest I have ever run in my life."

A piece of debris struck him as he ran and he dove behind a parked tour bus with another photographer.

"Complete darkness fell over us," he says. For the second time that morning, he waited for a thick cloud of toxic dust and ash to settle. Then he started shooting again.

Amidst the shock and horror, instinct and training kicked in. "I just started doing my job."

Sometime after noon, he made his way back to the ferry to get to the newspaper office with his photos. He was wearing contact lenses, and by then the dust and grit had begun to take a toll on his eyes. A policeman persuaded Economopoulos to stop at a first aid center, and he was sent by ambulance to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital in Jersey City. His right eye was seriously inflamed, the cornea of his left eye was damaged, and shards of glass were imbedded in his eyelids - injuries that kept him from working for several weeks after Sept. 11. Still, he knows he was lucky. Upon checking in with the Star-Ledger, he learned that his colleagues thought he was under the rubble of the north tower.

"The next day a taxi took me to the doctor to get my eyes checked," he says. "The driver mentioned the cars that were left in the ferry parking lot. He was wondering if the drivers would ever be back. That's when it finally hit me what had happened on Sept. 11."

Aris Economopoulos is just one of the RIT alumni who were personally and profoundly impacted by Sept. 11. Here, briefly, are other stories from the RIT family:

Three National Technical Institute for the Deaf alumni, Susan Zupnik '84 (SVP '77), Carl Andreasen '87 (SVP '82) and Robert Jacaruso '84 (SVP '77), worked at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey offices in the World Trade Center. All escaped uninjured, Zupnik and Andreasen making a 45-minute descent along the stairs from the 43rd floor. They learned later that their friend Jacaruso also had escaped.

Jim Byrne '87 (SVP '83) is one of several NTID alumni who work at the Pentagon. "I am sure it will take time for everyone to heal from what happened no matter who we are or where we are," he wrote after the attack.

David Cohen '84 shared his story on a visit to campus sponsored by RIT's Hospitality Alumni Society in January. The resident manager of the New York Marriott Marquis was at the hotel's regional corporate office in Midtown Manhattan when word of the attack arrived. Cohen took a lead role in coordinating the security of Marriott properties in the New York City area. He says security preparations for the Millennium celebration two years earlier helped in this crisis.

John Dowdell '69 photographed the construction of the Twin Towers in the 1970s. His father worked on the 61st floor of WTC 1 for more than 20 years, and Dowdell still lives nearby in lower Manhattan. "The obliteration of the World Trade Center from my skyline is a profound personal loss for me," he wrote on Sept. 12.

Dan Becker '01, a national photo editor for the Associated Press at their midtown Manhattan headquarters, was sent to ground zero just after the first plane struck. His job was to photograph everything he could. That night, he and other editors were placed on 10- to 15-hour rotating shifts, a schedule that lasted a month.

"Perhaps the toughest situation to deal with was victims' family calling and asking me to help them with a detailed examination of a photo they had seen published," Becker says. "They would tell me that they believe they see their husband, wife or child in a photo, and could I help them identify when and where the photo was taken. It was very tough talking with them, listening to their stories."

Max Schulte '97, a photographer for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, traveled to Ground Zero on Sept. 12 with a convoy of ambulances. "When I stepped off the ambulance, you just couldn't imagine what it was like. You can't describe it in words, or sum it up in pictures. It was kind of like a dreamscape. You're trying to do your job, but there's the pain in your gut from the magnitude, and every breath is like breathing broken glass, and the smell is just horrible."

In the midst of all the devastation, he crossed paths with David Carson '94, who shoots for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Carson had been on vacation in New England.

Three months later, Schulte said the experience is always in the back of his mind. But there's been a positive side. He made some friends, and connected with old acquaintances, and has returned "just to enjoy the city.

"It isn't the same old New York," he says.

"People really came together to comfort each other. That was something special."

The RIT community responds

Immediately after and for weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, the RIT community came together to find ways to help.

Nearly 160 RIT students, faculty and staff donated more than 120 pints of blood to the American Red Cross at a special drive on Sept. 13.

Through events ranging from a sale of paper hearts to a poetry reading at Java Wally's coffee house on campus, student groups raised more than $6,000 for the American Red Cross, and $1,000 for the New York City Firefighters and 911 Emergency Relief Fund.

Microelectronic engineering students used computer-chip technology to place a patriotic image on silicon wafers.

The Printing Applications Lab in the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies printed several thousand U.S. flags and distributed them free throughout the campus.

Classes continued without interruption. As President Albert Simone explained in a letter to the community, "I see no reason for RIT to succumb to the terrorists' goals and give them total victory at the initial stage. We will not be intimidated by 'evil' (President Bush's term) acts and evil people. The thousands of innocent, non-military men, women, and children who have been killed or injured by this unforgivable act deserve better from us.

"RIT will conduct its educational activities - the foundation of a free society that is what the terrorists are attempting to destroy - on schedule," said Simone.

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