By Mark Ellis —
She was one of only two African-American women working in the executive ranks of Kemper Insurance at their offices in the World Trade Center. The fiery ordeal of 9/11 unhinged her mind to such an extent that doctors said she would never work again – but God had other plans.
“My job was very stressful and I was very important to my group as director of operations,” says Leslie Haskin. “I helped determine the strategic direction of the company.”
She admits she was not a nice person in those days. The nickname used behind her back was “ice princess,” partly due to her frosty attitude and because she insisted underlings get to the point within three minutes on any issue they brought to her.
She was the youngest of 15 children raised in Chicago by her father, a Baptist minister, and mother, a choir director. When she left Chicago for New York, she turned her back on her upbringing.
“I wanted no part of God or church or my family because of their strong religious faith,” she recalls. “There is a difference between being a believer and a follower of Jesus Christ,” she notes. “I had no love for Him.”
At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, she talked with her assistant next to a large window on the 37th floor of the North Tower – the first building hit. “I felt an incredible explosion that engaged all my senses,” Haskin says. ‘I felt it, smelled it, and heard it. It was a huge event.”
Even though she was many floors away from the crucible of fire and destruction in the impact zone, she and her coworkers grasped the dangers immediately. “Ceilings were collapsing and you could see fire through the seams. The building swayed back and forth and never righted itself. There were explosions everywhere,” she recounts.
As Haskin and her coworker looked out the window, they saw papers, furniture and bodies plunging to the ground, banging against the building as they fell.
An underwriting director ran through the office yelling, “The building is coming down; the building is coming down!”
While the nation’s tallest building may have appeared steady to outside observers, insiders formed a different conclusion. “It was utter destruction and terror on the inside. There was no doubt we had to get out.”
Since elevators were unusable, Haskin made her way to the stairs. “The problem was only a few people could fit in the stairwell, so it was slow-going.”
As she inched her way down the crowded stairwell, the South Tower was hit by United Airlines flight 175. When the jet hit the second building, everyone around her felt the impact because the two buildings joined at the concourse level, so the concussive vibration reverberated next door.
“We didn’t know what was going on. Everybody was in shock; it was sheer visceral terror.”
Somehow, the force of the second explosion caused the exit door at the bottom of her stairwell to slam shut and it couldn’t be opened. As she stood trapped near the ninth floor, Haskin and those around her began to panic.
“I was sure we were going to die,” she recalls. Is this the way I’m going to die, she wondered. At that moment, she remembered God for the first time that day – for the first time in many days.
Haskin closed her eyes and said a short prayer. “God help us.” Then she began to mouth the words to her mother’s favorite hymn, one she sang to Haskin to awaken her on Sunday mornings: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior, Hear my humble cry; while on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.”
Even as Haskin found momentary comfort, others around her were panicked. “I heard people crying out loud, swearing out loud. Whatever was in their souls came out at that point.”
After a 10-minute wait that felt like eternity, the door opened and a loud cheer went up.
As she made her way on to the concourse level, she found a surreal war-time scene. She saw a decapitated man, a woman with her skin hanging off, and the bodies of those who leaped to their deaths to escape the flames.
“I walked through blood, fuel oil, and water.” The body of one man “exploded” on the concourse and his blood splattered her. In response to these horrors, Haskin suffered a nervous breakdown. “I lost all sense of time and location. I didn’t have the frame of mind to navigate, but God navigated for me.”
She wandered in a daze on the concourse, then she heard the firefighters and police yelling at her to run, so she ran.
Haskin hurried to the ferry terminal, about 600 feet away. “I turned around and watched people falling and jumping, but it was too hard to see, the horror of it all.”
Just as she reached the boat – already jammed with people – the second building hit by the terrorists began to collapse. “I heard the crumble and rumbling of Tower Two falling,” she recalls. The ferry started to pull out quickly. Haskin had one foot on board and a woman reached out, grabbed her, and pulled her aboard.
“People were jumping in the water and trying to jump on the ferry as it pulled out. I barely got on.”
Everyone on the ferry was shell-shocked. “Most of us were weeping. All of us had just escaped with our lives.”
Later, Haskin learned she lost 22 friends that morning. She also lost the man she loved, Michael Cortez, who worked for the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 people on Sept 11th.
Hours later she made made it to her house in upstate New York. A Christian neighbor waited in the driveway for her. “She took me in and helped me change, get a shower, and brush my hair. God sent his angels to help me,” Haskin says.
The effects of her nervous breakdown and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were already apparent. “I couldn’t say my name or form a complete sentence. I had a severe stutter.” The mere closing of a door caused a “startle reaction” she likened to an explosion.
She tearfully reunited with her 12-year-old son, Eliot, who was at a private Christian school when the attack happened.
In the days that followed, her fear and paranoia intensified. “I thought the Taliban was in my backyard in my shed,” she recalls. “I boarded the doors and windows to my home and I couldn’t leave because I thought they were going to kill me.” She kept a loaded gun by her bed.
She was committed to a psychiatric hospital for several weeks, then under a doctor’s care for eight months, and saw a therapist for three years. “The situation was bleak. The doctor’s prognosis was that I would never return to a productive state of mind.” She was heavily medicated.
Six months after the attack, Eliot came into her room, jumped up on the bed, and put his hand on her knee. “Mom, are you ready?” he asked.
“Ready for what?” she asked.
“Are you ready to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? The Bible says if you are lukewarm in your faith God will spit you right out of his mouth.”
His directness stirred something deep within her soul. His faith reminded her of her parents. “Yes,” she told him. She prayed to receive Christ as her personal Savior and Lord with her son.
The next day Haskin noticed that things seemed different. Over many months, her healing progressed. “It took a while for me to trust that I could stop taking the meds,” she recounts. “It took a while to trust I could take the boards off the windows.”
For two years, Haskin and her son lived off her savings and credit cards. Then the day of financial reckoning came, she lost her home, and they went to live with relatives. “I didn’t struggle with losing my home because God changed my perspective,” she notes.
“I lost everything, including my mind. He did not restore to me the same mind. He gave me a brand new mind. My life has a different purpose now.”
“The more I got to know God and ready my Bible, the more I loved Him. The more I loved Him, the more he freed me from the condition that doctors said would keep me bound for the rest of my life.”
As the healing hands of Jesus continued to do their work, she was able to fly on airplanes again, which amazed her doctors. “I get on planes now and travel all over the world to tell people that Jesus Christ is a God of freedom.”
“Your 9/11 might be cancer or drug abuse or the foreclosure of your home,” she says. “But God is bigger than that and He is able to restore our lives to a better place.”
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
Leslie Haskin’s life story is subject of a documentary film and movie. She has appeared on national media such as CNN, The 700 Club, Dr. Drew, Moody Radio and others. Her books, When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, HELD, God Has Not Forgotten about YOU and the best seller, Between Heaven & Ground Zero continue to inspire readers across the globe.