Welles Crowther was 24-years-old on September 11, 2001, working as an equities trader at Sandler, O’Neill and Partners on the 104th floor of the South Tower. A volunteer firefighter, Welles gave a call to his mom after the first plane hit to let her know he was ok at 9:12 a.m. He would never speak to her again.
The Blaze Welles’ mother Allison said she knew that her son was lost the moment she watched the South Tower collapsed, and with no signs of him at the end of September 2001, the family held a memorial service in Welles’ honor at Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack, N.Y. where over 1,000 people came to pay respects.
Welles’ remains were recovered on March 19, 2002 along with NYFD firefighters and emergency services personnel who had been operating a NYFD Command Center in the lobby of the South Tower. Welles wore the number 19 at Boston College.
“We were just ready to accept we would never hear anything” about what happened to Welles during his last hour, said Alison to Fox News at the family home in Upper Nyack for a September 2002 story. Fox News reports that in the months following 9/11, Allison meticulously combed over every news video or article on the attack, hoping to see a glimpse of her son for any further information of what happened to him.
Then, on May 26, The New York Times published witness accounts of the last 102 minutes before the Twin Towers fell, featuring Judy Wein and Ling Young’s story of the man in the red bandanna.
“A mysterious man appeared at one point, his mouth and nose covered with a red handkerchief. He was looking for a fire extinguisher. As Judy Wein recalls, he pointed to the stairs and made an announcement that saved lives: Anyone who can walk, get up and walk now. Anyone who can perhaps help others, find someone who needs help and then head down.
In groups of two and three, the survivors struggled to the stairs. A few flights down, they propped up debris blocking their way, leaving a small passageway to slip through.
A few minutes behind this group was Ling Young, who also survived the impact in the sky lobby. She, too, said she had been steered by the man in the red bandanna, hearing him call out: ‘This way to the stairs.’ He trailed her down the stairs. Ms. Young said she soon noticed that he was carrying a woman on his back. Once they reached clearer air, he put her down and went back up.”
Knowing that her son always carried a red bandanna in his back right pocket, Welles’ mother believed that the description in the New York Times of the mysterious man with the red handkerchief was her son. After receiving a letter from Allison with a photo of Welles, Judy and Ling confirmed that Allison had finally found out what her son did in the last hour of his life. Wearing the red bandanna, a childhood habit, Welles’ saved at least 18 lives acting as a firefighter, not an equities trader in the final hour of his life.
“If he hadn’t come back, I wouldn’t have made it,” said Wein to CNN. “People can live 100 years and not have the compassion, the wherewithal to do what he did.”