Rowan grad's routine day became nightmare

Rowan grad's routine day became nightmare

By CHUCK DARROW, Courier-Post Staff

Rasheed Daniel left his New York City apartment the morning of Sept. 11 intending to spend his day filming puppies for an Animal Planet program.

Instead, the 22-year-old Rowan University graduate wound up spending more than 12 hours walking miles through the war zone that was lower Manhattan as part of the team that produced Voices From Ground Zero, a one-hour documentary about the attack on the World Trade Center. It airs at 9 tonight on TLC.

"The executive producer came in early that day and saw what was happening on TV and decided to mobilize everyone," said Daniel. Since June 2000, the former Clayton resident has been a field producer for BNNtv, an independent documentary production company based in New York.

"My boss said, 'Do you know what's going on? Grab a camera and I'll get you an associate producer. You're going to cover the Empire State Building. They think it might be next (to be attacked).'"

Despite not knowing what had happened, or what might happen next, Daniel and his associate producer - actually the company's accountant who was pressed into field service - made their way to the Empire State Building. Although he could plainly see the shock on the faces of everyone he passed, "I was working and I couldn't really understand what was going on."

Arriving at the landmark skyscraper, Daniel found what he could only describe as chaos. Among those he encountered was a woman screaming about Nostradamus, the 16th-century seer who some believe accurately predicted such events as the rise of Hitler and the collapse of communism.Inside the Empire State Building, Daniel spoke with maintenance workers alarmed by what they were hearing. One worker told Daniel he'd heard eight planes had been hijacked, and that at least one was headed for their building. In fact, four planes had been hijacked: two hit the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and one crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania.

Leaving there, Daniel headed for St. Vincent's Hospital, the trauma center nearest the World Trade Center. There he saw hundreds of civilian volunteers and what he believed to be the hospital's entire medical staff, in full surgical garb, assembled on the sidewalk awaiting victims. "It looked like a M*A*S*H unit," he said. He also saw New York Mayor Giuliani, whom he briefly interviewed, and New York Gov. George Pataki, but no patients.

Wherever he went, Daniel was hampered by a lack of official press credentials, something employees of documentary houses like BNNtv are not issued because they traditionally don't cover breaking news.

"And police officers didn't want to hear, 'We're attempting to make a documentary.'" So, he admitted, "I basically spent the day sneaking over barricades."

As night fell, Daniel was ordered to go to ground zero, where a BNNtv intern was working as a Red Cross volunteer. Driving along the deserted, normally bustling streets of lower Manhattan was striking enough. But he was ill- prepared for the site itself.

"You can't describe the scene, because it was so surreal," he said. Particularly hard to take, he said, was the sorrow etched on the faces of firefighters, who, hours earlier, had lost hundreds of colleagues in the towers' collapse.

Adding to the bizarre tableau was the absence of casualties. "I expected to see this terrific carnage, but didn't see it," he said. "But under your feet was glass crunching everywhere, and the ash covered your entire body."

While her son was about 120 miles north capturing images in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, Patricia Daniel sat at her desk in New Castle, Del., where she works for Citibank. At the time, she wasn't aware of Rasheed's assignment, and her initial concern for his safety was assuaged by an e-mail she received that morning advising that he was fine. Three weeks later, her primary emotion is pride.

"Just knowing he was doing something for the country is a pleasure," she said. "He is a wonderful son."

Having immersed himself in the tragedy the past three weeks, Daniel is hoping to put the horrific tragedy behind him.

He noted that since the attack, the BNNtv offices had been filled with seemingly nonstop clips of "people screaming and clouds of dust coming toward the camera." As such, he said, "Right now, most of us who worked on the project want to escape it."

'Voices From Ground Zero' airs at 9 tonight on TLC (Comcast cable channel 52).

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Date Published: Thursday, October 4, 2001 - 10:18
Source URL: Courier-Post