Detective Charlie Corr was in his 18th year with the New York City Police Department, working in its intelligence division. Born and raised in New York, the city lives in Corr’s thick accent.
He had been to the World Trade Center hundreds of times over the years. But the ride to the WTC was different the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Corr and his lieutenant had sped down there after seeing a report on television that a small plane had hit the North Tower.
The two arrived as a second plane hit the South Tower. “From the angle of it, I didn’t see that it was a plane,” Corr says. “I just saw the huge fireball.”
Corr called his wife, Sheila, who was at home 60 miles outside of the city with their 2-month-old son, Nolan, and told her to turn on the television. He asked her what she saw. She told him it was a plane. It was at that moment he knew that what happened was no accident. He chokes up remembering what happened next. “I told her goodbye,” he says. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
After he hung up, Corr and his lieutenant ran to the towers. They got as far as the North Tower’s lobby. They saw people land who had jumped or fallen out of the building. Hundreds of firefighters descended on the place, and one of them had a body land on him from the sky. A fire chief met the two police officers. “It’s best you don’t come in here,” he said. “We got it.”
Having regrouped on a promenade about 200 yards away from the South Tower, Corr heard an explosion a little before 10 a.m. Not knowing it was the South Tower’s collapse, he took off running. He looked back over his shoulder for his lieutenant, who was a little older and a little slower. “He got swallowed up in it,” Corr says, adding that his lieutenant survived. But not being able to help him took a toll on Corr. “It was one of those things that actually kind of haunted me for a while. There was nothing I could do for him. I couldn’t pick him up and carry him.”
Corr kept running. He escaped, something he credits to the training he had been doing for the New York City Marathon. He and his lieutenant met up two or three blocks from the North Tower. Corr and others had to run again as that tower then collapsed.
Finding safety five or six blocks away, Corr experienced what he calls “one of the more scarier moments” of his 9/11 experience. He heard fighter planes ripping by overhead. “It was one of those things where I was looking where to run if they start dropping bombs or if there was a crash,” says Corr, who finally realized they were U.S. planes.
The NYPD’s antennas were attached to the WTC, so the police had little communication among themselves. So they did what they could. They interviewed people to see if they had seen anything. They went to hospitals, but what they saw was odd. Hundreds of people were lined up ready to donate blood. Doctors and nurses waited outside with gurneys.
“Nobody was coming in,” Corr says. “I mean, there were people who were injured. But it was more either you got out or you didn’t. It wasn’t a lot of in-between.”
Corr and his lieutenant went looking for their patrol car that night. There was six inches of dust everywhere around Ground Zero. Corr finally talked to his wife about 9 p.m. and got in a bed at his brother-in-law’s place in Manhattan at 4 a.m.
In the days and weeks that followed, Corr worked long days with a joint task force formed by the NYPD and FBI. He followed leads that inundated tip lines. He worked as security for dignitaries who visited the WTC site. He didn’t have a day off for several months. Finally, he just wanted to get out of New York.
Corr retired two years after 9/11. He worked as a resource officer in Palm Beach County (Florida) schools for three years. He has worked at the NC State University Police Department for the last five years.
But Sept. 11, 2001, stays with him like it happened 10 minutes ago.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he says. “There are times when something will pop in my head. I still have a lot of sleepless nights. I realize I was fortunate. I could have easily been in there.”
On Sunday, we will honor the first-responder community at our 9/11 memorial service held at the Alumni Memorial Belltower. Master Police Officer Charlie Corr is one part of the many first responders who went into action without pause the morning of Sept. 11. Those include firefighters and emergency and police personnel. That same community has seen significant losses since 9/11 due to illnesses from the time they carried out their duties at Ground Zero.