Former Director of Operations, Kemper Insurance Company, only one of two African-American directors in the northeast region
Founder, Safe Hugs, a ministry to help victims of domestic violence, homeless women and children
Leslie Haskin: Escaping Tower One
The 700 Club
Leslie was in her office on the 36th floor of Tower One. At 8:43 a.m. she was working out a solution with her assistant when the building shook violently. The building swayed back and forth slowly for a few seconds and then stopped. Leslie says, “From that precise second, time was both accelerated and suspended.”
Loud bangs resonated from the north side of the office. The floor was in full tilt. The windows were shaking and glass exploded from everywhere. There was a non-stop shriek of what sounded like bending metal. Everything in the office flew right out the windows. Panic was instanteous and a mad dash toward the exit stairs began. Looking out the window, Leslie saw debris falling from above, banging against the sides of the building. The sky filled with paper, stone, furniture and people. “It was the ugliest and most dreadful thing I had ever witnessed,” says Leslie.
Her legs went weak and her legs struggled to keep standing. Then her body went numb. She tried to call her cousin, Ronnie. “I’m not sure why,” she says. The building swayed, office workers scrambled in all directions and screamed at Leslie to leave. She calmly hung up her phone and left. She had no idea that a plane just crashed into the building.
Leslie proceeded to the one exit available to her. With space enough for two people per step, people crammed down the long, dark stairway. The heat was insufferable and the smoke was rancid. “It was no ordinary smoke,” says Leslie. It was pungent and fuel-saturated. “It burned our throats and eyes,” she says. Everyone in the stairwell descended slowly. Leslie closed her eyes and prayed, God help us. “Those three words changed the course and consequences of my entire life,” she says. “Because they changed me.”
At last Leslie reached the lobby. What wasn’t burning was glowing intensely. After what seemed an eternity of wandering in circles trying to figure her way out, a firefighter pushed her forward. He said, “Keep moving. Run.” And so she did. Leslie made it out of the building closest to where the Financial Center ferry docked. She and a commuter friend pushed their way on and boarded. Suddenly there was a terrible sound and Tower Two collapsed. Leslie got off the ferry and boarded a train at Hoboken train terminal. As the train left New York City, she saw that both towers were gone. “I believe every eye on the train filled with tears,” says Leslie. “The heart of all of New York City went off course forever.”
MILES TO GO BEFORE SHE SLEEPS
In the months after the terrorist attacks, Leslie experienced severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A year after the attacks, Leslie was talking to her pastor, John Torres. She gave him a minute-by-minute account and he listened to her for an hour, then interrupted. John said, “It’s okay to still be disturbed by what happened. It’s even okay not to be okay. God’s grace is never-ending.” Soon after that, Leslie was in her garden pruning her roses. Then a plane flew overhead. She ran down her driveway in a panic.
Today she is past that. “I stopped running from death and found life in Jesus Christ,” says Leslie. Part of her therapy included keeping a journal of everything she could remember about that day. “To me, I didn’t know every day wasn’t 9-11 ,” she says.
Over the years, the writings helped her get past the crippling mental distress. “It wasn’t supposed to be a book,” Leslie says. “The reason it is so graphic is because the book is comprised of my journal entries.”
The Lord pressed on her heart to share her experience with others. “Every day something reminds me of September 11, 2001. But it’s only by God’s grace. I am living proof that His grace is sufficient for our needs.” (Though raised in a Christian home, Leslie did not embrace Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior until months after her 9/11 experience. When the Lord finally restored her mind, she cried out to Him, “I don’t know you and I don’t love you. But I want to get to know you if you’ll still have me.”)
Today Leslie works from home full-time in a corporate position. Her passion though is spreading hope in the inner city to the homeless and lost. Leslie will begin work full-time in her ministry, Safe Hugs, on September 1.
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