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    Wednesday, August 10, 2022

    Groton woman's life altered irrevocably by 9/11

    Miosotys Santiago, a Groton resident, holds a page from Newseek Magazine that ran a photo of her and a New York City police officer running from the rubble of the World Trade Center attacks as she poses for a portrait at Ft. Trumbull Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. Santos, who was walking into work at the World Trade Center when she looked up and saw the plane crash, lost her fiance in the attack. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)

    Miosotys Santiago, now a Groton resident, saw both of the towers come down. As she tells it, she lost her fiancée, her job and some friends on Sept. 11, 2001. Life is better now, but Santiago still clearly remembers the chaos of that day.

    During a lengthy interview in August, Santiago shared her experience on 9/11 with The Day as well as discussing how it's affected her life years later. Her fiancé at the time, Andrew Bailey, was killed in the terrorist attack. Bailey was born in England and moved to Jamaica when he was 12. His family later sent him to Brooklyn, where he'd be for the rest of his life.

    The two met at work — Santiago worked security at the World Trade Center, and Bailey was a site security supervisor for Marsh McLennan insurance brokerage in tower 1. She said he'd had her eye on her a while, and one day, he asked her to lunch.

    "That lunch break turned to us falling in love at the lunch table at the Miami Subs across the street from 5 World Trade Center, and it turned into a lunch date every day," Santiago said.

    Their lives rapidly fell in line behind their love. In Bailey, Santiago saw a sweet man, a well-liked man, a man who made people feel comfortable. When they got together, he was a father of one daughter, and Santiago was a single mother of three.

    "We became an instant family, and our four daughters were instantly connected, and from the first day they loved each other," she said. "It was a beautiful thing. He was very patient, very kind, respectful, he treated me like a queen, never disrespected me, always was trying to just enjoy the moment. He was very humble. He didn't need anything. Nothing bothered him. It was always me complaining."

    Santiago starts her telling of Sept. 11 the day before, Sept. 10, when Bailey's coworker came to the house and asked him to switch shifts. Bailey was scheduled for 9-5, as was Santiago, and though he didn't want to take an earlier shift, since he and his fiancee would take the E train together to work. But he eventually assented.

    As Bailey was getting ready to leave on the morning of Sept. 11, Santiago got out of bed to go to the bathroom. He pulled her by the arm and told her, '"You know you're the best thing that ever happened to me,'" according to Santiago. "And I said you're the best thing that ever happened to me, too. He gave me a kiss on my forehead and said call me when you get to work."

    Santiago noticed later that morning on her way out the door that Bailey had left her money for breakfast.

    As Santiago was headed to work, her oldest daughter called and told her she had to get off the bus. Her youngest daughter had missed the bus. Her oldest was adamant about Santiago getting off the bus, even as she told her daughter she was going to be late for work. Santiago ended up bringing all of her daughters to school.

    At last, Santiago had made it to work about 40 minutes later than usual. She stepped onto the World Trade Center Plaza and was walking toward the building. She took out her phone to call Bailey and let him know she was running late because she wasn't in her office, and they would eat breakfast every morning in the plaza, "and that's when I heard the loud roar of a plane. I looked up, and the plane hit tower 1."

    "Me working security, I automatically went running into the towers. There was just a rumbling and chaos right away. You could see in people's faces, they really didn't know what happened from downstairs," Santiago said.

    She remembers running toward the building, "That's when a port authority police officer grabbed me and she said, 'Where are you going?' I said, 'My fiancé is up there, I need to find him.' She said, 'Hun, we gotta go,' so she grabbed me, and she and I ran through the plaza with all the fallen debris. Then we stepped on Broadway when she handed me off to someone."

    'No phones are working'

    Santiago stayed on Broadway, watching everything, until the second plane came and hit the second tower. She said she saw people falling and jumping from the building, and that everybody with her on the street was in total shock.

    "I'm screaming, I'm trying to call his phone, no phones are working. I found a pay phone where I was able to get in contact with my little sister, and I was looking up at tower 1, and I felt the earth beneath me shaking as if an earthquake was coming, and as I was looking up I noticed that something was happening with 2 World Trade Center, and I see the tip of the building start coming down, and I was so confused. I didn't know what was going on, I was just stuck."

    A man came and grabbed Santiago's arm and said, "We have to run" as tower 2 was collapsing. They went running down the street amid a dust cloud that covered everything; Santiago was hit with something on her back that caused her to fall to the ground. She went under a car and waited until everything stopped. She said everything went silent, and after a while, when the silence was too much to bear, she got out from under the car and started walking. She took a deep breath and immediately started choking on the ash in the air, so she took off her shirt and used it to cover her mouth. She used touch, trying to find the surface of cars or the walls of buildings, to find her way around.

    "I made it far enough to where I turned a corner, and that's where I saw this huge beam of the sun's rays hitting the street, so I just started running toward that beam of light," she said. "As I turned around 1 World Trade Center was still standing, but I saw the tip of the antenna of one World Trade slightly tilt, and that's when I saw 1 World Trade collapse as well."

    Santiago ran from the World Trade Center area to where her sister worked on 38th and Madison on what she says was "pure adrenaline."

    "My sister's coworkers pulled me in, they saw me outside with all this ash, and they asked if I was OK, and I asked for my sister," Santiago said. "They said, 'She's out looking for you.' My sister was running toward the World Trade Center."

    The sisters walked to another sister's house on 101st and Park, "and all three of us, with my sister's kids, decided to evacuate Manhattan. We ended up crossing the bridge, taking the 10-hour walk back to Queens, so I didn't make it home until maybe 6 that night." Santiago said her uncle was an NYPD officer who went to get her children out of school.

    Santiago concludes her description of Sept. 11 by saying, "And that's when my journey began."

    'I'm opening up now'

    She spent time at the site trying to find Bailey, holding his photo and toothbrush and pleading with officials, for months after Sept. 11. Santiago decided to have Bailey's memorial in October after not hearing anything from the medical examiner. After she moved to Connecticut in March 2002 — too many memories in New York — she eventually received a call from the medical examiner that Bailey's right arm and left leg had been found.

    Santiago lives in Groton after spending time in Griswold and Westerly. She's worked with the developmentally disabled for 17 years at Sunrise Northeast, and she's been with the Northeast Medical Group for the past four years. She also just celebrated her three-year anniversary as an inspirational speaker, and said she has worked specifically at events for women and young girls in New London.

    In 2020, Santiago published her memoir, "God's Diamond."

    "Having experienced everything I've experienced, I've always kept it on the low as if it was normal, like that's what happens to people. But for some reason this situation, I feel I was propelled to be little bit more on the forefront, to be a voice," she said. "I'm opening up now and making myself more aware ..."

    s.spinella@theday.com

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