Back to 9-11 Slide Show

The Birthplace of the Infamous Term "Ground Zero"

Photo taken by Patricia Mitchell 9-11-01
(one hour after both Towers fell)
Ok, here it is- About one hour after the second plane hit, I came across a small group of reporters. I was coming from the devastation, full of soot and with a dirty white mask over my nose and mouth. As I approached this small group, which included reporters from USA Today, The London Sun, Fox News, NBC and other media outlets, I took a photo (shown to the right). There was one girl with red hair and reddish glasses who eagerly asked me questions; I was not familiar with this woman, but after that day Americans would recognize her as Ashleigh Banfield, who shortly afterwards was employed by MSNBC. She asked me where I was coming from and what I had seen. With wide eyes and out of breath, I replied "Ground Zero!" Right at that instant, I had said it as a matter of fact. When Ashleigh asked me "What do you mean?" I said "there, there", "Ground Zero." I said it as if she had to know what I meant. Ashleigh pressed me again, wearing a twisted expression as if she did not understand what I revealed. In short, for lack of a better word, I uttered these words "Ground Zero" several times to the reporters who were surrounding me.

At that moment, I recognized that I had used the same word I had used several times a day for the past year or so, whenever I was without words to describe a profound personal sorrow. I once again used the wrong word at the wrong time and experienced that familiar pain of embarrassment. I again said "Ground Zero," my eyes locked with Ashleigh Banfield's, and I felt 'time' stopped momentarily. I was then thrown into the thick of "It." Thor Valdmanis from USA Today took charge over this intriguing girl (me), with cameras hanging from each side of me. I was filled with soot and information. I mindlessly continued to describe the destruction I had seen with my self-defined term, "Ground-Zero." In truth, this term had been on the tip of my tongue for several years as I had been using it absolutely daily to describe the agony of a profound personal loss. I used this word to describe my shattered heart, my broken spirit, and to describe a staggering atrocity which involved a personal injustice.

Next, Thor Valdmanis offered me a cold drink and a cold cloth with which to wipe myself off, and he escorted me into a small bar which had become a makeshift media center. Shortly afterwards, the chief editor of USA Today was calling my cell phone from Washington, DC asking me questions. How did she get my number? It wasn't even noon yet, and I was thrown into the center of this media whirlwind.

Moments later David Hagan, from the popular British newspaper 'The Sun,' offered me his British passport as collateral in exchange for my undeveloped film and the negatives, which were still inside my camera. That night I had dinner with Hagan and his colleagues, who bought my photographs (negatives), which were then sold to the Associated Press. By the next day, my photographs graced the front pages of newspapers from around the world.

My personally defined term 'Ground Zero' was being picked up by everyone who was on the "ground level" with me...however, not knowingly. After all, I had been pumped with adrenaline speeding through my blood from the moment the planes hit for the entirety of the following week. Perhaps I was using this term loudly even dramatically in every other sentence during those first few days after the planes hit the World Trade Center. Certainly no one could have ever predicted that this desperate term, which I used, for lack of a better word, would stick with people as I left them. But because I found myself on the frontlines of this media frenzy, it was simply picked up. Late the following day, I met up with a group of concerned citizens whose pets had been trapped in their apartments, and who resided in the evacuated area. The ASPCA had been trying to resolve this problem; unfortunately they had accidentally released several animals onto the streets. Desperate individuals ran to me for answers, I appeared grounded as I was with a notepad and cameras dangling on both sides of me; they gathered around me as I listened to their horror stories. When I had a question, I again referred to the center of the devastation as Ground Zero. When one of the women inquired, "What does that mean?" the same shame resurfaced and I could only reply, "Let's find your dog." For the next three days, I was a center point for both the media and civilians. From early in the morning until late at night, I was surrounded by new friends, these talking heads and powerful individuals that lead the media.

| 212.501.2152 | 917.279.9546