On that day in 2001, Thaler recalls walking through New York City with smoke clouding the streets and debris falling all around as thousands of residents searched for a way out of the city.
Thaler lived in Fairfield County, Conn., at the time and had traveled into the city that morning for what was supposed to a simple business meeting a few blocks away from Grand Central Station. But when two hijacked planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center and sent the buildings crumbling to the ground, everything changed.
“It was chaos, absolute chaos,” said Thaler, who has lived in Canton for eight years. “There were police at every corner directing traffic. It felt like when you see all these war-torn places with people cramming into cars and trying to escape, fleeing for their lives.”
The scene in Manhattan that day was like a “horror movie,” that couldn’t be turned off, she said.
“It was like your senses were on overdrive,” she said. “You couldn’t take it in. You just shut down.”
Today marks the 12th anniversary of the attacks and Thaler now lives more than 800 miles away from New York City, in the BridgeMill area of Canton. But she said distance and time could never be great enough to allow her to fully recover from what she saw and felt that day.
The last train in
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Thaler woke up at her home in Fairfield County, Conn. and boarded a train for New York City for a meeting of colleagues she worked with at a multi-national media agency.
Thaler said it was about five minutes before her train pulled into Grand Central Station when she first heard of the scene playing out across town at the World Trade Center.
“People started getting on their phones,” she said. “There was this buzz of activity. People were looking out the window.”
It was just before 9 a.m., and the first tower had been hit. But no one knew by whom or why.
“We somehow knew that there was a plane that hit the building,” Thaler said. “But they were still letting us in as Grand Central was closing down.”
When she heard that her train would be the last in and that Grand Central Station was closing down, Thaler said she knew it was bad.
It was “huge” for that station to shut down, she said.
Thaler got off the train and started walking down 42nd Street, looking for clues as to what was happening.
“You definitely could tell that something was a little off,” she said.
But so far, only the first tower had been hit, and it still wasn’t clear why, so she walked to her meeting.
Thaler said the meeting was later canceled when she and her colleagues learned that both of the towers had been hit and had fallen.
A surreal scene
After the meeting was called off, Thaler and several co-workers did what thousands of others in New York City were trying to do that morning: get out of the city.
They walked back out on to the street and found the city eerily quiet.
“The whole thing was surreal,” she said. “Nobody was talking.”
Thaler said New York City is a normally a “cacophony of sound,” but in the moments following the attacks on that September morning, there was no sound on the street except for ambulances and police cars.
Thaler and her co-workers walked to one of their cars, which happened to be parked in a garage far enough away from Ground Zero that they could to drive away from the quiet “horror” on the street.
“It was almost like you could understand how people felt fleeing places like Bosnia or any of these war-torn places,” she said. “You’re fleeing, but you’re fleeing to an unknown.”
Thaler said even as they removed themselves from the scene, still no one could wrap their head around what was happening in the city.
“We knew it was catastrophic, but you couldn’t process it,” she said. “I don’t think we knew how people were flying out of the windows at that point. A lot of that looked like debris.”
It was still too soon to know the impact of the attacks.
“You have no information to go on,” she said. “Everybody’s speculating, but you know two of the largest towers in the world have come down.”
Thaler said the towers collapsing was so much to process that it hadn’t even occurred to her that there were people inside.
“I don’t think I did equate that with human capital at that point,” she said. “Nobody was talking about death.”
‘The walking wounded’
Thaler arrived home in Connecticut later in the day and went to a nearby park to try to clear her head of the horrific events of the morning and the fear of what horror might still come.
It was there at the park, when she saw the first parents and husbands and wives worried for their family members who might have died, that the reality of the massive death toll of Sept. 11 began to take hold.
The searching by families would continue for days as slowly more and more information came to light, she said.
When the dust finally settled, Thaler said she found that she too knew more than a few casualties of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
“Every day there would be someone else who we saw wasn’t coming home,” she said.
And Thaler had still more friends who survived but were so damaged by the tragedy that she lost them too.
“People were just never the same,” she said. “(Some) people could rebuild their lives, but they had to rebuild them in a different direction.”
Thaler was no different.
“We were all different people,” she said. “It affected everybody in different ways, but I think emotionally, any of us who were in New York City that day, even if we just saw the billowing smoke, we were all the walking wounded.”