News

Surviving 9/11, still

Fifteen years after terrorist attacks, Lori Schertzer Brody of Mountain View remembers the chaos and her brother, who died

It's been 15 years since the 9/11 terrorists drove planes deep into the sides of New York City's Twin Towers, but for survivor Lori Schertzer Brody, the flashbacks are fresh: the sounds of the planes striking the buildings, the smoke and debris, the fear and pandemonium -- and running, always running.

Brody and her brother, Scott Schertzer, had prepared for work as usual on that sunny autumn day. Neither sensed it would be their last time together. But looking back, Brody said there were, perhaps, signs.

Scott Schertzer seemed to have premonitions in the form of nightmares in the month prior to the attacks, and they frightened him.

"He knew it was coming," she recalled.

But she thought at the time that his upset had to do with his job: Brody worked in human resources at Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm, and was going to have to lay off 50 people. It was a heavy burden for a 28-year-old, she said.

"He kept saying, 'They're after me. The bad guys are coming. The dreams are happening.' He couldn't figure out what was going on. All he kept telling people was that he wanted to be with family and how much he loved them," she said.

But even the night after the layoffs on Sept. 10, he dreamed that the people he laid off were following him. The next morning, Sept. 11, he didn't want to go to work, she said.

But Brody made him go. She had helped her brother, who was younger, get his job at Cantor Fitzgerald, and she had worked there herself the year before, she said.

That morning, the ride on the subway was uneventful. The train wasn't even five minutes late the way it usually was. Schertzer took the elevator to his office on the 101st floor of the North Tower; Brody went to her 14th-floor office at the nearby Deutsche Bank, where she worked as an assistant vice president and financial analyst.

As she got to her desk, she heard the first bangs and noises as the first plane struck the North Tower. Alarms went off everywhere. People rushed to the windows to see what was happening. A small plane had struck the tower, they were told, but no one had been killed.

Brody tried to call her brother but could not reach him. The first plane had hit just two floors below where he worked. Everyone above it was trapped, they would later learn.

Then the second plane hit the South Tower, which was attached to the Deutsche Bank building. Everyone was told to flee, and to run fast, Brody recalled.

"We had to run to the other side of the building because our windows were breaking. ... It was about running and more running, and more running. And the buildings collapsed around you," she said.

Pieces of debris rained down everywhere.

"You just ran and hid in alleys; you hid in alleys and doorways," she said. "I always said there was no such thing as chivalry, but the men were covering up women so that they would get whatever was flying in the air. (It) would hit them; it didn't hit us."

Brody kept running until she reached an office building down by the water. It was hours before she reached her frantic parents. No one had heard from her brother.

"I almost knew that he didn't make it," she said.

F-15s roared overhead below the rooftops of buildings and police ran through the streets, she recalled.

"No one knew what was going on. You just knew life wasn't going to be the same ever again. My life for sure wasn't the same ever again," she said. "Part of mine stood still, and still stands still in that moment."

At Cantor Fitzgerald, 658 employees died on five floors.

"They found a part of my brother. They told you where he was found and who he was found with," she said. Schertzer was found with his colleagues. Brody's DNA was used to identify her brother's remains.

It would be years before she could begin emerging from her grief. She had survivor guilt; she could not sleep or work; she tried, twice, to kill herself.

"It took seven years of individual therapy, hypnosis and sibling support groups," she said.

Hypnosis helped her to forget some of the most traumatic details.

"I was told that I walked around with a pillow with a picture of my brother on it and I wouldn't let anybody touch it," she said.

"I lost one of my best friends. None of my memories are without him. I remember him every day. I see him in my dreams."

Brody said she doesn't have much trust anymore. She profiles people now when she looks around. She relies on only a close circle of family and friends. In bad times, one finds out who is reliable, and which friends will disappear.

"I lost faith," she said.

"I'm not sure there is a god up there anymore. ... I can't imagine someone allowing this to happen. It's really hard to reconcile that," she said.

But Brody has found ways to keep her brother's memory alive. She had a street named after him in their childhood hometown of North Edison, New Jersey; she got a bench dedicated to his memory in Central Park. A butterfly garden in his name was created at their childhood grammar school, funded by neighbors.

At her wedding, she set a place for him at her table.

He was the brother and son who would help anyone; the East Coast boy who was inexplicably a Dallas Cowboys fan; and an ardent music lover who followed the band Phish.

Brody, her husband and two young childen have lived in the Bay Area for five years, now residing in Mountain View. She takes part in activities at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

But the Bay Area seems too far removed from the events of 9/11. Brody feels an uncomfortable divide between the East Coast, where the experiences are memorialized annually, and the West Coast, which doesn't seem to take much notice of the day.

"Back east the major networks will run a memorial with the names at the bottom. Here, you are lucky if you see a five-minute glimpse as they are discussing the traffic on the highway.

"It's just an ordinary day. If you are back east it's not an ordinary day. It's families -- it's people who died. It's not just a building that came down and the lawsuits over the buildings and the rents that were afterward," she said.

"There's 3,000 people that passed away with four planes going down. ... Those 3,000 people didn't get to live their lives. They all have family members. They have brothers, sisters, moms, dads, kids -- some of those kids never even knew their parents.

"That's what people need to remember," she said.

Brody went -- once -- to the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, which occupies eight of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center. Waterfalls flow into two memorial pools ringed with bronze panels inscribed with the names of 9/11 victims and those who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

But it is also business as usual. A new commercial center has sprung up around the memorial, including the 1,776-foot-tall One World Trade Center and the as-yet-incomplete 1,270-foot-tall 2 World Trade Center, which is expected to open in 2020.

It doesn't feel right to have buildings there, she said.

Upon entering the museum, Brody came across a room where the exhibits went into details.

"I lost it," she recalled. In the nearby recovery room for overwhelmed family members, Brody regained her composure. But she didn't go back in.

Brody has kept her experiences and her loss close to her heart. She doesn't talk about Scott, and most friends assume she is an only child. But she hopes that coming forward will help people to remember 9/11 and what it means. There is still a threat out there, she said, and Americans should always remember those who died, even if they did so 3,000 miles across the country. Ultimately, those events and all that followed has affected everyone.

Brody has come to many personal realizations over the past 15 years.

"I fought long and hard to get to a point where I'm a survivor. There's not much that can be done to me anymore that I can't survive.

"You learn your family is the most important thing in the world," she said. "In my house we always say we love each other every day. And we give each other hugs because you don't know when the last one is going to be."

VIDEO: Lori Schertzer Brody tells her full story of 9/11 and the lasting impact it's had on her, plus recollections of her brother, Scott.

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Events commemorating 9/11

Palo Alto will be the hub for numerous events marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

National Day of Service and Remembrance

What: Volunteer projects, with opening remarks by Lori Schertzer Brody

Where: Jessica Lynn Saal Town Square, Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto

When: Sunday, Sept. 11, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: The event is open to all people who wish to work on hands-on projects that will benefit emergency responders and homeless veterans. Prior registration is required. Visit paloaltojcc.org/9-11

Multifaith Peace Walk

What: A 2.5-mile walk for peace and unity

Where: Congregation Etz Chayim synagogue and Spark Church, 4161 Alma St., Palo Alto

When: Sunday, Sept. 11. Gathering begins at 1:30 p.m.; program and walk starts at 2 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: People from all walks of life are welcome. Sponsored by Multifaith Voices for Peace & Justice, the walk begins at Congregation Etz Chayim and includes stops at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church on Cowper Street, University AME Zion Church on Middlefield Road and Mitchell Park. Registration is encouraged but not required. Visit multifaithpeace.org/

Multifaith Peace Picnic

What: Dinner, multifaith service and children's performances

Where: Mitchell Park, 600 East Meadow Drive, Palo Alto

When: Sunday, Sept. 11, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Sponsored by American Muslim Voice Foundation, people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds are welcome. Registration required. Visit eventbrite.com/e/peace-picnic-tickets-27179552774

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Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Katie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 2, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Thank you for sharing your very touching and difficult story. We on the West Coast should be more mindful about our country's history on 9/11, and your story helped me realize that. Again, thank you for sharing your own story and your brother's story.


7 people like this
Posted by Lans
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:03 pm

No amount of security can prevent a manmade attack from people with bad intentions. It scares me that extremely cruel people live on the same planet, but society has become more and more understanding to fellow Jihadists. Maybe we have to allow them to have that opportunity to go to heaven and receive 40 bananas. Liberal point of view here, I'm sure GOP wouldn't like this very much.


6 people like this
Posted by We shall never forget
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 11:28 am

We shall never forget is a registered user.

I was in Manhatten the day before the attack and had several customers affected by the murderous act.

Just visited the Freedom tower and 9/11 memorial a few weeks ago. The building and subway station are beautiful, inspiring and tastefully done while the two waterfall fountains where the previous buildings used to be are sobering.

I think everybody should visit it if they get a chance so we can always remember what we have and what others want to take away from us.


7 people like this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2016 at 12:08 pm

It is common for the unaffected to not have the intense feelings of the affected. My brother died in Vietnam, and very few expressed any heart-felt feeling to our family. Life just moves on. Brody should not expect more.


13 people like this
Posted by Lives Destroyed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 12:56 pm

We have an employee who managed to escape ground zero and the immediate area before the second plane hit.

He inhaled so much toxic smoke, that his doctor said it took at least ten years off his life. He was diagnosed a year afterward with COPD, which has now turned into early stage emphysema.

But the worst damage, which has been the most ruinous, is the PTSD and survivor's guilt he has suffered all these years later. Despite weekly psychiatry visits, the mental trauma remains, unabated.

Once a model employee, he is now unable to leave his house for a week at a time. He has had to stop reading newspapers and the TV or Internet news. He has been unable to hold a job for more than a year, going through seven jobs in 15 years, with periods of complete unemployment in between.

At this time, he is on paid leave, as he searches for another new psychiatrist, again-- in the hope of finding one who can truly do him some good. So far, medications have helped him sleep, but otherwise seem ineffective.


6 people like this
Posted by Local family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. 15 years is nothing when faced with such hurt. Thank you fo your willingness to survive, to not let them win in your life, to be strong, and keep alive the memories for our nation and the next generation.

As a survivor of a major albeit obviously very different lesser disaster, I have a message for others (who know disaster survivors) in the years to come. Do ask how survivors are doing if you want to know. Be prepared to really listen to the answer. You do not have to come up with anything great to say to survivors, some hurts take a really long time to heal - just listening is ok and being willing to take in what they are sharing without turning away. It is ok to lead a normal life, to laugh and cry and talk about life with the survivor, they need that, too. But please, do not tell them the tale of where you were when their life was falling apart. Save that for the times when remembering the event with those not directly affected.

Thank you to your family and to the Weekly for helping the rest of us to remember.



4 people like this
Posted by SEA_SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 5, 2016 at 2:42 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

There is not a week I forget that evil day on 9/11/2001 around 6:00 am I had my TV on and began to see the horror.

Many victims were from Indian origin. I know one indian young man just married and his wife was at USC in LA attending graduate school. After his death, she could not deal with it and committed suicide. I attended her memorial.

The evil act impacted many people, our nation and our friends in the world.

It is pure Evil.

respectfully


1 person likes this
Posted by Kathy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Thank you for telling your story of what happened to you and your brother Scott in New York on September 11. Your loss is beyond any words of sympathy I might write to you. But I will never forget you and your brother, in my heart forever.

That day a beautiful clear sunny Califirnia day like in New York I had followed my Yoga Teacher's advice about putting bad in your soul watching TV and not to turn TV on that morning. Have always wondered how she knew. So with a 3 hour time difference I went off to work across the Dumbarton Bridge to Fremont without knowing. Work was intense so on arrival I went into my office shut the door and several hours later I called a business colleague at Aon. Incredulously he asked you don't know? That day I lost close colleagues at AON and MarshMac who worked in the World Trade Center. It was some time before I was able to face watching what happened on TV. So painful.

Every year as this date comes up my tears come easily and my emotions over take me. Menlo Park sent a fire engine and a rescue crew of our fire fighters to ground zero. They suffered later from the air they drew into their lungs. Every year on the anniversary of 9/11 they put out Anerican flags that fill the lawns in front of our fire stations. Wanting to acknowledge it all I take flowers to these stoic ruff and tuff guys but you can see their feelings In their faces. No words are spoken because tears are running down my face.

I write all this so you will know though we here were a long way across the country from you in New York that day it is a day we do not forget. My story is only one of so many here. I hope it helps just a little.


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