The First Attack

by Robert Cubby
Captain (retired), Jersey City Police

I cannot help but feel I’m on my way to seeing a repeat of my experience during the first World Trade Center attack. You see, I was unfortunate enough to be at the front row seat of history in both attacks. And watching events unfold as they are now, I recognize that much of my reaction may be simply a triggering of my PTSD from the first attack. But I still cannot ignore the facts as they are presenting themselves that an attack may be imminent once again, this time by ISIS.


But a recounting of the events as they happened that day may be in order. Maybe you can, then, be the judge. Am I imagining due to my triggers? Or should I be concerned? Should I warn people? Or will they just view me as “losing it” and imagining something that just isn’t there? It’s hard to try to ignore, to “un-know” what I know and what I’ve seen.

It was February 1993. I just worked a midnight tour and the weather forecast was predicting snow. I woke about mid afternoon and turned on the TV to get the forecast or see what the news headlines were. No signal on any station. That’s strange I thought. I turned on my radio to listen to CBS 880 AM. That’s when the news of the truck bomb at the World Trade Center surfaced. You see the transmitter on top of the World Trade Center was disrupted by the blast knocking out communications and TV signals. The only signal was coming from the Empire State Building, which CBS still used. Does this sound familiar? It should. It repeated itself on 9/11/2001.

I called my police department to see what was going on, as Jersey City is right across the Hudson River from New York. No real mobilization. They sent personnel from the Fire Department and Police Emergency One to assist. No real concern. For me, this was more than an explosion. The next three days changed that.

When I reported on duty, they informed me I was to report to Emergency Services to assist in supervising the officers. It was a re-activation for me as this was my old assignment before being promoted. The scene upon arrival was anything but calm. Equipment being loaded, bomb technicians briefing me on the situation as it stood.

The attack, as they were now calling it, was an act of terrorism from a terrorist cell from Jersey City. FBI and ATF agents from all over the country were being brought in. The network of terrorists was widespread. Bomb making factories throughout Hudson County and New York City. The bomb techs had been going 24 hours straight with 20 minutes sleep. This situation was dire and extremely serious. Bomb after bomb being found and rendered safe.

Then the mother load; the storage locker on Mallory Avenue. The amount of explosives there was equal to three times the size of the bomb used in the attack on the World Trade Center. The situation was so dangerous that ATF, FBI and New Jersey State Police were hesitant to send their bomb techs in to remove the explosives. This storage facility was right in the middle of a residential area. Evacuations were being weighed.

They opted to transport the explosives and then detonate them in a remote area after examining them as much as possible. Each bomb gives experts clues as to the maker of the device. They opted to detonate them in three stages. Any other method would have shattered windows as far away as New York City. The Turnpike was closed off, the countdown started. Each explosion violently shook the building we were in, and we were several miles away.

It was terrifying enough to see the callous disregard these people had for people living in that area. But when the suspects were named and apprehended, the real terror became apparent. I knew some of these people from being on patrol. They were all familiar to everyone in the police department. They lived and worked where we lived and worked, and didn’t seem at all what we would picture a terrorist to be.

But what does a terrorist look like? Maybe the images we see with their faces covered, heavily bearded waving an AK-47 over their heads feeds the news media, but that is far from what these people looked like. They remain dormant with very loose ties to each other. No active communications with anyone that would authorize an attack. But somehow they get those orders,come together as a group and carry out their attack.

We couldn’t tell then and we can’t tell now. Yet, every single authority who should know, states that a terrorist attack is imminent. As 9/11 approaches, that appears to be the probable date. With that date being the anniversary for my 9/11 experience, I am afraid of the consequences of what could transpire. I trigger easily this time of year, the flashbacks kick into high gear. But I normally shake these off as unreal, and not being able to touch me in any way.  But that is not true now. They are real. It is extremely difficult to sort through what is real, and what could be my PTSD  telling me what is real.

To sound the alarm then could be my over-reaction to my anxiety, or it might just save lives.  So I’ll opt to sound the alarm and plead with everyone to use caution, report any suspicious activity to the police, don’t touch or move a suspicious package, know where your emergency exits are in your building and the emergency exit procedure.

As much as I hate my PTSD, I would rather that it was just my PTSD yearly torment and not, in fact, a real possibility. But sorting through all this while triggering is very rough.

Other articles by Robert Cubby:
A Piece of Cloth
Project Blue Light: Remember How They Lived, Not How They Died
Friday, the Thirteenth
Willies Story
911: My Story
My Grief This Day

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