'Everybody knew they had to do something': Former NYC education commissioner recounts 9/11

"Rudy (Giuliani) went out one door, I went out another door and tried to get as far away from the building, and, as we did, that’s when the second plane hit."


There are images and heart-wrenching moments that Jerry Cammarata, a part-time Lake Worth, Florida, resident said he will never forget.

"It was a movie. It could not have possibly been real life," Cammarata said, recalling the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The former commissioner and member of New York City’s Central Board of Education was in his office, blocks away from the World Trade Center, when he and other co-workers looked out of the window and saw smoke.

"I got in my car against traffic and rode all the way to the World Trade Center," Cammarata said.

It was there he saw people jumping from above, a detail he said is difficult to talk about and hard to forget.

"And then to hear the thump — that part will never escape," he said.

Distraught by what he had just witnessed, he made his way to a bunker used by city leaders in emergencies.

Alongside then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and other commissioners, they were all almost immediately told to evacuate.

"We all ran down the stairs," Cammarata said. "Rudy went out one door, I went out another door and tried to get as far away from the building, and, as we did, that's when the second plane hit.

"Everybody knew they had to do something because lives were in jeopardy," said Cammarata.

"At that point, there wasn’t the right thing. The only thing was to do what you instinctively were trained to do," he said.

"For me, it was, 'Get to those schools,'" he said.

Thousands of kids in nearby buildings were taken to safety, some even on boats.

While Cammarata calls this part of it all a miracle, the lives that were lost continue to carry a heavy weight on his heart.

"Many of our friends just didn’t make it, it wasn’t nice," he said, tearfully.

Twenty years later, he said there’s still a lesson to be learned.

"I think what 9/11 really taught us was that all people can hold hands, all people can get along and all people can work towards a common cause," Cammarata said.