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Waco attorney reflects on surviving 9-11 attacks, hopes younger generations never forget

“In the blink of an eye. It’s 20 years later and it was something that just changed the world,” attorney says
Published: Sep. 5, 2021 at 3:47 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Central Texas attorney J.D. Ressetar was working in the South Tower at the World Trade Center in New York City when a plane barreled into the building 20 years ago and he is marking the anniversary with a heart full of gratitude for first responders who helped save his life.

It’s a moment in time that changed the life forever of the 48-year-old Ressetar, a partner at The Zimmerman Law Firm in Waco and now father to three. He hopes the generations born after the attacks learn about it and never forget that fateful moment in U.S. history.

On September 11, 2001, J.D. was working as an investment analyst in New York City on the 58th floor of the South Tower when a group of terrorists attacked America.

J.D. says many days it feels like yesterday.

“It’s kind of gone by fast. In the blink of an eye,” Ressetar said. “It’s 20 years later and it was something that just changed the world.”

While the world watched in horror from afar as the Twin Towers collapsed, J.D. actually lived the nightmare.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York,...
The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York, Sept. 11, 2001. In a horrific sequence of destruction, terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center causing the twin 110-story towers to collapse. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)(Marty Lederhandler | AP)

“It was a beautiful day,” said Ressetar as he remembered his early-morning commute that day. He said he was always early to work, and he was early on September 11, 2001, joining only a handful of other coworkers in the office when tragedy hit.

“I’d get up to 58th (floor), kind of start my day, get coffee, start my computer, figure out what is going to happen that day,” Ressetar said, “And, at that point, the first plane went into the building in the North Tower. You just hear a massive explosion.”

J.D. ran to a nearby window where he had a clear view that something was very wrong.

“We faced north so if we went to the windows, you could clearly see the other building,” he said. “All we saw was a big hole and a bunch of fire coming out and smoke coming out of it. At that point, we had no idea.”

J.D. first tried to evacuate down a crowded stairwell, but only made it to the 44th floor before getting word that everything in his building was safe.

“They said our building was secure, ‘stay where you are.’ So, I went back up to 58.”

J.D. and Chelsa grew closer because of 9-11 and married in 2004.   In 2007, they moved to...
J.D. and Chelsa grew closer because of 9-11 and married in 2004. In 2007, they moved to Chelsa's hometown of Waco where J.D. made a career change and entered Baylor Law School.(Courtesy Photo)

Ressetar, 28 years old at the time, called his girlfriend of four months, Chelsa Brindley, who is now his wife. He also called his mother and father back home in Colorado.

“I had hung up the phone and that’s when the plane hit our building,” Ressetar said.

“And, at that point, you had ceiling tile that was falling around you and people were diving under desks to try and to prevent falling debris from hitting them. So, we just headed for the stairs.”

“I mean, you could feel the building sway. It was like ‘we’re in trouble.’”

J.D. began the long journey of evacuating 58 floors down with thousands of panicked people.

People run from the collapse of one of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center in this...
People run from the collapse of one of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center in this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo. (AP Photo/FILE/Suzanne Plunkett) (SUZANNE PLUNKETT | AP)

He remembers the heat, the crowd and the fear.

To this day, he still can’t talk about some of the horrifying things he saw that day. There are a few things, he said, that he cannot and will not allow himself to forget.

“We’re going down and we’re walking down and there’s firefighters with stacks of all their equipment going up in between everybody,” Ressetar said. “You just realize these guys didn’t know what they were going into. It just sticks out, you know, once the building collapse, those people didn’t survive.”

The south tower of the World Trade Center, left, begins to collapse after a terrorist attack on...
The south tower of the World Trade Center, left, begins to collapse after a terrorist attack on the landmark buildings in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Gulnara Samoilova)(GULNARA SAMOILOVA | AP)

JD knows he was one of the lucky ones.

By the time he made it back to Grand Central Station, the towers had collapsed. Nearly 3,000 people died, including more than 400 emergency workers.

“They (first responders) saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives. They were telling everybody where to go and how to get there and to run,” Ressetar said.

J.D. and Chelsa grew closer because of 9-11 and married in 2004. In 2007, they moved to Chelsa’s hometown of Waco, where J.D. made a career change and entered Baylor Law School.

“I think it changed me dramatically,” he said. “I think there are a lot of changes in my life if September 11th wouldn’t have happened.”

The Ressetars are now raising three girls, including 13-year-old twins and a 9-year-old. J.D. talks to his children about the terrorist attacks that day 20 years ago.

The Ressetars are now raising three girls, including 13-year-old twins and a 9-year-old.
The Ressetars are now raising three girls, including 13-year-old twins and a 9-year-old.(Courtesy Photos)

“I’ve shown them pictures of my office and I’ve told them what happened, and I’ve spoken at their school because these kids they have no idea,” Ressetar said.

“They don’t understand what the world was before and after this event and how it changed the world.”

The Waco attorney says he’s thankful, and while time hasn’t completely allowed him to heal from the terrifying experience, it has given him the luxury of reflection.

“It’s gotten easier to talk about,” Ressetar said.

“Distance has helped, but every year it’s just a deep appreciation for the people who were involved. I’m fortunate for what I went through and survived, and I have a deep appreciation for the police and firefighters who risked their lives to save so many.”

The Ressetars are now raising three girls, including 13-year-old twins and a 9-year-old.
The Ressetars are now raising three girls, including 13-year-old twins and a 9-year-old.(Courtesy Photo)

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