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Former SA Photographer Witnessed 9/11 Through His Lens

Mark Roddenberry

Fourteen years ago 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists made a coordinated attack with airliners on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Another aircraft was pointed toward Washington, D.C. when it crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  A San Antonio photographer was in the thick of the destruction in New York City

Mark Roddenberry, who lived in San Antonio for 13 years, had a combined photo studio and residence eight blocks north of the World Trade Center on that fateful Tuesday morning. "I had just woken up and a friend of mine was running down the hallway screaming and said the World Trade Center had just been hit by a plane and he said 'get your camera,’” Roddenberry recalled.

Roddenberry walked outside his studio and saw a parade of crying people, very distraught, heading away from the Trade Center. As he neared the World Trade Center, the second plane hit the south tower. "And everybody screams and throws their hands up in front of their faces,” Roddenberry said.

Credit Mark Roddenberry

He said the people escaping the towers were not happy to see a photographer.

"They all wanted to kill me basically because they're agitated.  They just saw terrible things.  They are just running for their lives.  You're not a welcome member of society at times because when this stuff is happening everyone is in shock.  You have thousands of people running for their lives.  They're seeing horrible things.  And here, running in the opposite direction, is this opportunist.  That’s what you felt like,” Roddenberry said.

The south tower had already collapsed as Roddenberry stood documenting the scene just a few hundred feet from the north tower.  "A woman saved my life,” Roddenberry said.  “She was behind me and she came out of the door of the post office and she screamed that they said the other building is going to go."

Credit Mark Roddenberry
Mark Roddenberry on 9/11

Roddenberry had his back to the woman as he made his escape.  He said as the woman ran off if she turned right she lived, if she went straight she died as the north tower came down, peeling from the top, forming a fast-moving wall of debris and heading Roddenberry's direction. "Suddenly there's this 20-story tall black wall,” Roddenberry said.  “It's an unbelievable sight. And just in front of me was a FedEx truck and I realized I had enough time to get down by the tire as the wall was about to hit me.  Then the whole place just explodes.  Everything is pitch black,” Roddenberry said.

Then he saw the sunlight break through. "And then all of a sudden you go from a silent black room that is completely silent to seeing a jagged line above you,”  Roddenberry said.  “The building behind me was probably 20 stories tall and you could see the silhouette and I realized I was going to live."

FEMA later told Roddenberry that hiding behind the tire of the FedEx truck is the reason he's alive today. 

Roddenberry relocated to San Antonio following 9/11 but later left.  He is now an Uber driver in Los Angeles.  He never misses an opportunity to show passengers his portfolio of pictures from 9/11 but he doesn't shoot photos as often he used to.  "I shoot, I shoot, but at this point, it sounds corny, but I only care about 9/11.  In the photography world, that was it, ya know?"

Credit Mark Roddenberry
Mark Roddenberry today near his home in the Los Angeles area

Roddenberry's exhibit, "Avenue of the Strongest: An Eyewitness Account of that Day in September," is on display at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen through October 25. Roddenberry will give a gallery talk on Thursday, September 17 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.