NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee native, Tracey Harris-Branch, now Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI Memphis Field Office, was a young agent back in 2001. She was just a few years into her first assignment at the Newark, New Jersey office when two planes slammed into the Twin Towers.
She spent six months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 examining debris and trying to bring closure to thousands of families. She’s sharing her story for the first time in 20 years.
The events of that day remain fresh in her mind, “It’s amazing to me that even 20 years later, I still can tell you to the millisecond where I was, what I was wearing, how I was feeling. Every single emotion possible,” Harris-Branch recalls. “At this point, we had no inclination, no idea that the towers were going to pancake. We were told to go and pack clothes for a week because we just didn’t know what was going to happen.”
At 29-years-old, she prepared to embark on the biggest mission of her career as part of the evidence response team. She arrived at the destruction on September 12th and went to work.
“I saw a lot of things that you can’t unsee. You also heard non-stop cell phones. People trying to call their loved ones. And of course, you know, they had perished in this, but their phones were just ringing and ringing and text messages and text messages,” remembers Harris-Branch. “You’re finding body parts. You’re finding all kinds of things that are just God awful. What got me through that was so many people were desperate for answers.”
Harris-Branch worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, for six months sifting through melted steel and crumbled concrete. She remembers being joined by first responders.
“They worked their 12-hour shifts in the city, and then they came at night and worked 12 hours with us to look for their brothers and sisters. So, we would dare not complain about having to work 12 hours when these firefighters in fact would work 24 hours.”
She was also assigned to take victim impact statements from family members of those who perished on Flight 93, which took off from Newark International Airport.
“In doing that, we had to listen to the voice recorder from Flight 93, which you know, I can’t even put into words the carnage, the violence because you’re listening to people die. You’re listening to people know that they’re going to die,” says Harris-Branch. “That’s one of the things that I can still hear. I can hear, like, the Todd Beamers. You never forget, like the authority in his voice. When he’s saying, let’s roll. They’re literally fighting to the end. And, they did. They did.”
Two decades passed and Harris-Branch stayed quiet about her experience.
“I’ve never publicly spoken about this,” she admits. “I still struggle with just the enormity of that day. I still struggle with working on that. I also still struggle because you know, I do have health effects as a result of my extended exposure to those toxins there.”
“It represented some of the worst of times. However, it also represented some of the best times. And, I wish that we could get back to that place. We don’t all look like each other. We don’t all have the same backgrounds. We don’t all have the same upbringings affiliations or any of that. But at that time, for that purpose, we all came together for a common good.”
She tells her story as a reminder to the world that when Americans come together anything is possible.