The Birthplace of the infamous term ‘Ground Zero’ A personal Story

The Birthplace of the infamous term ‘Ground Zero’ A personal Story

PHOTO BY PATRICIA MITCHELL The moment where the infamous term ‘Ground Zero’ was born. Taken around 11:00am on 9-11-01 just over 30 minutes after the 2nd World Trade Center building collapsed. That is Ashley Banfield bending over looking through the camera at me taking the photograph.


Ok here it is- About one hour after the second plane hit, and both Towers fell, I came across a small group of reporters. I was coming from the devastation, full of soot and with a dirty white mask over my nose and mouth. As I approached this small group – which included reporters from USA Today, The London Sun, Fox News, NBC, and other media outlets, I took a photo (shown to the right). There was one girl with red hair and reddish glasses who eagerly asked me questions; I was not familiar with this woman, but after that day, Americans would recognize her as Ashleigh Banfield, was employed by MSNBC shortly afterwards.

“Where are you coming from? What have you seen?” she asked.

Out of breath and wide-eyed, I replied, “Ground Zero!”

“What do you mean?”

“There, there,” I said, pointing behind me at the destruction. “Ground Zero.” I said it as if she had to know what I meant.

Ashleigh pressed me again, wearing a twisted expression as if she did not understand what I revealed.

In short, for lack of a better word, I uttered these words – “Ground Zero” – several times to the reporters who were surrounding me. They were from all over the USA and even the UK.

At that moment, I recognized that this was the same term I’d used several times daily for the past year or so – one I used whenever I was unable to find the words to describe a profound personal sorrow. But, in this case, it seemed I had used the wrong word at the wrong time; I experienced that familiar pain of embarrassment. I again said, “Ground Zero,” my eyes locked with Ashleigh Banfield’s, and I felt time stop momentarily. I was then thrown into the thick of it.

Thor Valdmanis from USA Today took charge, as I muscled cameras into place on both sides of me. I was covered in soot and filled with information. I mindlessly continued to describe the destruction of the Twin Towers I had seen with my self-defined term, “Ground-Zero.” Valdmanis offered me a cold drink and a cold cloth to wipe myself off, and he escorted me into a small bar, which had become a makeshift media center. Shortly afterwards, the chief editor of USA Today was calling my cell phone from Washington, DC to ask me questions.

“How did she get my number?” I remember thinking. I said my telephone number out loud to the reporters, but that was only 10 minutes ago. It wasn’t even noon yet, and I was thrown into the center of this media whirlwind.

Moments later, David Hagan, from the popular British newspaper ‘The Sun,’ offered me his British passport as collateral in exchange for my undeveloped film and the negatives, which were still inside my camera. That night I had dinner with Hagan and his colleagues, who bought my photographs, which were then sold to the Associated Press. By the next day, my photographs graced the front pages of newspapers from around the world. My personally defined term – ‘Ground Zero’ – was being picked up by everyone who was on the “ground level” with me… however, not knowingly. After all, I had been pumped with adrenaline from the moment the planes hit for the entirety of the following week. Perhaps I was using this term loudly, even dramatically, during those first few days after the planes hit the World Trade Center. Certainly, no one could have ever predicted that this desperate term, which I had chosen to use for lack of a better word, would stick with people as I left them. But, because I found myself on the frontlines of this media frenzy, it was simply picked up.

Late the following day, I met up with a group of concerned citizens whose pets had been trapped in their apartments, and who resided in the evacuated area. The ASPCA had been trying to resolve this problem; unfortunately, they had accidentally released several animals onto the streets. Desperate individuals ran to me for answers. I suppose I appeared reliable, considering I was carrying a notepad and cameras. Whatever the reason, the distraught pet owners gathered around me and told me their horror stories. When I had a question, I again referred to the center of the devastation as ‘Ground Zero.’ When one of the women inquired, “What does that mean?” I paused for a moment and could only reply, “Let’s find your dog.” For the next three days, I was a center point for both the media and civilians. I was at the dead center of this firestorm, and “Ground Zero” gained a life of its own. From early in the morning until late at night, I was surrounded by talking heads that led the media.

In truth, “Ground Zero” had been a phrase on the tip of my tongue for more than a year. I had been using it daily to describe the agony of a profound personal loss – one that had shattered my heart, broken my spirit, and turned into a staggering atrocity.

The perpetrators in my ‘pre’ 9-11 atrocity were my estranged “family.” I was from a different mold than my distant family. I reached out to them monthly but never received a response. After doing very well in high school – Vice President, Cheerleader, State Champion in Story

Telling, Homecoming Court, etc. – I sought higher education at Colorado College and Kings College in the UK (receiving a BA, & English Minor). For ten years, I flourished in New York City as an actress, fashion model, and photographer. My work extended to several countries in Europe where I resided on and off for years; I was also part of the New York social society scene, and attended Black Ties and events weekly.

My way of life was the polar opposite to my parents small town, (where I never lived) uneducated, uninspired family members. But it was my ‘mother’ who vehemently despised my success and hated my loving and cheerful spirit. Her disregard, trickled down to my younger, underachiever sister, who adopted a similar hatred towards me.

So, it may not be surprising that, when I made a regretful visit at nine months pregnant with my dog and her two new puppies to their town, chaos and violence broke out within hours.

Unfortunately, this visit coincided with my sister’s new job as a Family First agent – a branch of “CPS” (Children Protective Services) – giving her State-granted authority to remove children from their parents and place them wherever my sister saw fit.

After both parents used an iron rod as a weapon against me, my mother targeted my pregnant belly and the puppies. I scooped up the puppies and my dog and ran to their neighbor’s house, refusing to return. My sister finally arrived at the neighbor’s house where I was and began to blackmail me, threatening to take my unborn baby if I pressed charges against our parents.

I told her I was going to leave town, my sister said; “We will find you wherever you go. The police are at CPS’s service.” She smiled. “If you leave this area without my consent, I will tell them you are not a fit parent. I could get a warrant out for your arrest Patti… you would be ‘Wanted.” Over the course of then next few months, my malicious sister had my child removed from my custody three times without merit. And, the 3rd time she did so without so much as a Hearing, giving full custody of my baby to the father. Unfortunately the father followed me up north to where my parents lived. I met the father of my child at a Festival out west – he was charming and well liked, and he made djembe drums from scratch. When I became pregnant, I was delighted, although I had no intentions of having a long-term relationship with him. This turned out to be a good decision because shortly thereafter, I discovered that he was a con artist, pathological liar, violently abusive, and a fraud. His houses in Oregon and Belize, graduating in the top ten as an engineer… all lies. He was a tenth-grade dropout, a chronic alcoholic, and had an extensive criminal record in three states. But that’s why my sister and parents liked him he was a lot like them.

My sister ordered my baby girl – only a few months old, – to live with the father,.. At the time of this order the father lived in an old, broken down school bus. No heat, no water, and with sharp tools scattered about. The father had so many DUI’s that his driver’s license had been revoked. His bus resided on the property of a twice-convicted Sex Offender, who lived in a trailer, only yards from the bus. The sex offender was on probation that stated “no contact with children” at the time my sister ordered my baby girl into that life-threatening environment. My sister insisted my baby live in this despicable circumstance. Both my sister and mother received great pleasure in being sadistically cruel to me. And with the birth of my baby they were more satisfy with their evil doings by torturing my baby and watching me scrum and plea for my child’s life. Although both men were convicts, chronic alcoholics and smoked marijuana daily, the CPS courts defended their decision by calling the father, “A functional alcoholic,” and by saying that, “ the convicted sex offender “was a sex offender, not a child molester. There is a difference.”

Soon after, an assistant prosecutor won my child back for me, and I once again received full custody. But my sister was so angry that she hired an attorney to intervene to place my child into State Custody permanently. My new custody order was placed on hold and this small town ignored all my court-ordered visitations. Five months later, I was finally allowed to see my child during a supervised visit. I was supervised by a 21-year-old boy– who never attended College, who seemed to enjoy – having authority over my baby and me. When I finally saw her, I wanted to cry; my once healthy, smart baby had lost 4 lbs and had indentions on the side of her head, looking like a desecrated child from Africa. From head to toe, my baby had untreated and blistering bug bites and her eyes screamed terror. My first reaction was to treat the hundreds of inflamed red bumps that covered her body, but the boy/agent would not allow me to place any relieving ointment on her hundreds of sweltering wounds. And I went to take a photograph of my child in this condition, but this boy/agent confiscated my camera. I got back to my car and began to vomit – my whole body began to shake uncontrollably, it shook by its own accord, I was going into shock. I was terrorized silent, left without words, frozen by this exhausting, cruel tyrannizing.

So, I left that frightening backwards county and went to get help in NYC. But, even though I was in contact with my court-appointed attorney three to four times a day, he never informed me that my sister and the CPS courts began planning a trial against me for ‘Abandonment.’ I only found out when he called me in NYC on the second day of the trial and asked, “Where are you? We started a trial against you to terminate both parents’ rights.”

Subscribe to The Morning Email.
Wake up to the day’s most important news.

I flew out on the next flight back to Michigan. But, it almost didn’t matter – the trial was ludicrous. One witness against me said, “I never met her in person, but I think I saw her once coming out of a bar, mad!” When three doctors – including a psychiatrist and one therapist – all spoke in favor of me receiving full custody of my child, the CPS agent angrily got back on the ‘stand’ to remind the courts that the Pro-opinion’s only function was to help the CPS/Family court agents make better decisions for child placements.

The most preposterous witness against me was the infamously corrupt court psychiatrist, (whom I am not allowed to name) his initials are W.S.. We had met once for ten minutes a few months previous, and he’d given me a State psychiatrist test that had questions like:

Do you know any famous people?” “Have you ever seen yourself in magazines?” “Have you ever seen yourself on TV?”

I answered truthfully, which I shouldn’t have done. (Note: after I took that psych test, I showed the psychiatrist photos of myself in magazines from all over the usa and Europe, videos of me on TV, my college degree and GPA [3.7], etc.) This state psychiatrist knew the facts, but this did not stop him –under oath giving false testimony:

“She believes she went to college and believes she lived in New York City. She believes she’s met famous people and was a fashion model traveling the world.

Horrified, I looked at my family members. Were they really going to just sit there, hasn’t this gone far enough? My ‘mother’ and ‘sister’s aiming obsessively to ‘win’ over me, by destroying my beloved child and I’s love and life forever. In the courtroom, my sister said nothing. My mother smiled wildly, smirking almost laughing out loud. I tried to say something, but was ordered to be quiet. .” It should be noted here; that the psychiatrist receives his pay checks from the State and was dancing to their tune. When I could no longer listen to Dr. xxxxx absurdities, I stood up in court and said, “This is a joke. You know for a fact I have done those things!” Again I was ordered to be quiet. But I stood up and threw my pencil across the court room and left saying, “You have already decided to take my child and now you are fishing for reasons… but can’t find any. This is outrageous! Preposterous!”

I never saw my child again. “Oh God,” I thought, for the first time and with a deep anguish in my heart. I questioned, “Is there a GOD?”

I went back to New York City, but was unable to sleep or function. Feeling my child’s pain, I was in agony every second of the day. I could feel her abandonment, knowing that she would be forced to grow up under the control of these deranged people. I knew what they were capable of doing. And that awareness became debilitating.

For the next couple years, I was at a place that I called Ground Zero. Using this word daily as a way of describing my devastated and indescribable state. My belief system – faith and spiritual connection – was shredded into pieces. Then came 9-11-01, the obliteration of the Twin Towers. A terrorizing betrayal, but now on a massive scale. A cruel reality, where ‘evil’ won over ‘good and hatred won over ‘love. I stood front and center in the destruction, but felt no fear. I felt inner strength, I was among the first to arrive, and I was one of the few and last to leave the destruction.

After the first building fell, I continued towards the remaining burning building, walking fearlessly with power within and then I heard a loud crackle, followed by complete silence, then a collective gasp. I watched, with my head looking straight up towards the falling building. It appeared to be collapsing in ‘real’ slow motion. It was eerie; I felt an inner spiritual calm engulfing me, which empowered me in the midst of chaos, and I continued taking photographs. A cloud of dark mincing dust several stories high, became visible from around the corner of a building, and my survival instincts must have kicked in because, seconds later, I found myself running along side paramedics, officers and firemen, and a woman with a baby girl tucked inside a stroller. I looked at the woman, her eyes wide with fear; I suppressed the urge to snatch the baby out from the stroller to protect her from harm. Instead I ran past them, an emotional streak of pain engulfed my veins and tears welled up in my eyes, feeling the same as if that was my baby. I was running, but I did know where I was running too. People were running away in every direction. In front of me was a huge building with many steps, I ran up them skipping steps into this spacious government building, there were a handful of paramedics and Officers, near the door. I entered, I ran pass them shouting “watch out the windows are going to blow” I kept running…up another huge staircase, I didn’t want to look back, feeling the whirlwind creeping up behind me, I ran down a hallway into a dark office space ducking under a desk, covering my head.. The sunny day that was streaming through the windows, turned pitch black with debris. Using only emergency exit signs lights to see, I peeked around the desk with one eye on the shaking windows and shaking structure of the building, embracing myself for the worst. I remember thinking “omg, look where you are and what is happening.”? I sat there for a few minutes; trying to take a deep breath, I was having an asthma attack. I’ve experienced only two severe asthma attacks in my life, this being the third, unable to connect with oxygen, coughing. Adrenaline kicked in and ran into the hallway, found a bathroom, and turned on the facets full blast catching fully cupped hands of water and splashing it in to my face giving enormous relief. I sat there on the bathroom floor and repeated the splashing water to my face, as my air channels began to calm, after ten minutes my breathing became regular. Now I was ready to leave, not knowing what I was going to find at the lobby level where I had left about 14 people (paramedics, firemen and police officers) behind.

The officials downstairs gave me a mask to cover my mouth and nose and told me to “go north.” After surviving both of the collapsing buildings; and with a new sense of empowerment, I had no plans to “go north,” I wanted photographs, God placed me down here with a camera, and I must document this for humanity.

The air was so thick, and it felt as though I was walking in a dirty cloud. I held my hand over my white mask to breath. I began to walk down a ghostly deserted street. I remember thinking, “where did all the hundreds of people go” hundreds of people were everywhere only moments before. Now, absolutely no one in sight.

As I continued to walk slowly, taking in everything around me noticing small fires in corners behind debris. I then passed a solo woman with large FBI tags around her neck and I was surprised she said nothing to me as she walked quickly by me. I then walked towards the total Destruction. Eerily quiet, without the normal sounds that this great City possesses. Then a solo fireman was drifting purposelessly towards me, he was partly covered with soot, holding a bottle of water, dragging his feet as he walked, looking down and away, but not at me. He had a gloss over look in his eyes, dazed. I noticed he saw nothing around him, I took a photograph, and I was again surprised he said nothing to me.

I became a mother bear who had no fear. I stood my ground with earnest feelings to protect others, mother-like protective energy as people were now drawn to me, circling me, as if I had answers and a protective force about me. I did feel an inner powerful strength, like, “Bring it on! I am ready!” I had my notepad out, and as citizens from all walks of life straggled about and circled me, I was there for them. Somehow, they felt my fearlessness. I looked up to the sky and through the dim smoky ashes, I saw the Morning Star shining brightly… sparkling, just like I remembered my baby’s fearless confident smile.

Then once again I was submerged with calming spiritual presences filling me with courage and a deep feeling of love and compassion. I saw another solo fireman sitting down all alone, with his head hanging low, he looked up briefly with a vacant stare, and then looked down again, his body covered in an inch of soot. I took photographs, but then my camera jammed and would not take any photos, perhaps from the snoot. I made the decision to get my camera unjammed, and walked toward the red taped police line, out of this forbidden zone where I had been wondering.

It was around 11:00 clock, when I stumbled upon this small group of about twenty people from several different the media outlets. From Fox News, local NYC, USA Today, The Sun from the UK. With my cameras dangling, I straggled towards them and took a photograph-and there was the birthplace of this now infamous term Ground Zero. Who knows how many times I said the term “Ground Zero” – it seemed like every time I turned around, someone would question me about, “What I meant by ‘Ground Zero.’” And, every time they questioned me, that old familiar pang of embarrassment would travel through my veins. Still, I never provided an explanation other than, “There, there. Ground Zero.” It seemed to be enough to carry the conversation.

If one were to review the old news reports following the September 11th attacks, they would find a note of hesitation in the newscasters’ voices as they pronounce the words “Ground Zero.” They visibly appear to be bewildered by this term. Somehow, these individuals had picked up the term I was using. My soul was being bared across New York City – I felt exposed, naked, and a bit humiliated.

A few days after 9-11-01, I heard Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan say on national television, “The media has come to call this devastation as Ground Zero. However, I have called it, ‘Ground Hero.’” After hearing this, I was mortified; I knew he thought my moniker to be an inappropriate appellation. I I had the feeling that the whole nation was looking into my soul. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was imposing a word into our society because of my own ignorance. As I breathe today, the term “Ground Zero” still reflects when sunlight turned to darkness and prosperity turned to dust.

Perhaps only a handful of people could have made the connection between myself and the term “Ground Zero.” However, Ashley Banfield can verily my relentless use of this term ‘Ground Zero’ in front of several media outlets less then 40 minutes after the second tower fell.

An atrocity of Injustice, a state of emptiness, sheer terror and utter confusion, this is the state of Ground Zero. Perhaps by naming that darkness that surrounded my little baby and I as Ground Zero, I made the intangible experience more tangible. Mother and child were intentionally thrown in the pit of hell by envious evildoers, equal to what happened on 9-11-01, but just on a massive larger scale. I heard just today that a “wild” natural Rose (as in Rise) grew from the Heart of Ground Zero… But now comes the unveiling of Sacred Hallow Ground. And for every generation in the future we will no longer think of that dark hellish pit, as ‘Ground Zero.’ This “pit” – the pit inside the fruit (Earth) – is not a pit at all, but a seed. And like all seeds, it must grow. And eons from now as the original meaning fades, this revered space will now be held as Sacred Hallow Ground… forever.

To my beloved beautiful daughter, Jasiah Rose; and to all the people affected and unaffected by 9-11-01.

My love for you is forever! Remember who you are!