Reality Labs

How one woman survived 9/11 — and shared her story through VR

By Genelle Guzman-McMillan
September 7, 2021

This story is part of TechConnect, a series about how Facebook’s tech innovations and investments help people build deeper connections and community.

Today, TARGO released Surviving 9/11: 27 Hours Under the Rubble, a virtual reality documentary that centers on Genelle Guzman-McMillan — the last survivor to be pulled from the rubble at Ground Zero. We’re honored to be able to help share her inspirational story with the world.

I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago, but I wanted to live out the American Dream. I always wanted to be that girl, to come to America and make it big. Trinidad is a small island, and I couldn’t pursue my dreams there. I really liked the glitz and the glamor of New York, so I moved to Brooklyn in the early ’90s when I was in my late 20s, to make a better life for me and my daughter.

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In 2001, I landed a job at the World Trade Center, working as an office assistant for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey through a temp agency. It was really exciting to be a part of that whole system.

And then 9/11 happened.

It’s difficult to talk about because all the memories come rushing back. I remember being there on the 64th floor. The building shook, and my coworkers and I didn’t know what was going on. By the time we figured it out, it was too late, but we decided to try the staircase.

I remember getting down to the 13th floor. I was holding onto my friend Rosa’s hand, and I stopped to take off my shoes. I bent over, and before I could get back up into a standing position, that’s when the walls just caved in.

The dust and the sound and everything came crashing down. I braced myself, fell to the ground, and laid there until it came to a complete stop. Then there was this deathly silence.

I was trapped there for 27 hours. It felt like I was there forever. I couldn’t move and it was excruciating. I just kind of prepared myself to fall asleep and not wake up because of the pain, but every time I drifted off, I’d realize that I was still breathing and still alive.

My recovery was a rebirth for me. I had a full recovery, even from the depression and anxiety that followed. I spent almost three months in the hospital with a crushed leg, but my journey started when I was under that rubble begging for a second chance.

My whole energy and outlook on life changed. I wanted to live a better life and set an example for my daughter. Being under the rubble just put everything in perspective for me because I knew I was being given a second chance. When I was pulled out, I knew I wanted to start living a better life, and I made a promise to God to do right.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share my story as part of a virtual reality documentary, Surviving 9/11. It’s been such an uplifting experience. I want my story to be an inspiration and encouragement for other people, to know that you just have to have faith and believe and trust in some higher power than yourself.

I’ve shared my story before in interviews and a book, but virtual reality has a sense of immediacy that more traditional forms of media don’t have. It helps make the past come alive in a poignant way. Getting the chance to share my story in a new way has been really therapeutic for me.