Worried bosses quickly try to find N.Y. staff

Investment partners search hospitals, take to the telephone

One employee still missing

Terrorism Strikes America

New York City

September 13, 2001|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

For a moment, relief washed over Kevin Davis yesterday, and he smiled.

Davis, who runs the Baltimore investment banking firm May Davis Group Inc. with a partner, had reason to be happy.

Fifty-one employees who worked on the 87th floor in the firm's World Trade Center offices were safe after two jets slammed into the towers, crumbling them to the ground in a cloud of smoke and debris.

But one employee, trader Harry Ramos, was still missing. Davis, who had spent Tuesday searching hospitals in midtown Manhattan for missing employees, worked yesterday from his small office on North Charles Street to find Ramos.

"Did you hear anything about Harry?" he asked a person on the phone.

Davis slammed his hand to the desk when he got the answer. "All right. I was just hoping."

Minutes later, Ramos' wife called Davis in tears, wondering what he knew about her husband.

Davis awoke Tuesday prepared to close a deal with a small company that was raising capital. While driving to work, he heard on the radio that a jet had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, which is where May Davis employees worked.

"I was horrified," Davis said.

Minutes later, Davis got a call from his partner, Owen May, who runs the New York office.

May was a block away from the World Trade Center when he saw smoke gushing from the structure.

"Kevin, it looks really bad. It's up where we are," May shouted into the phone. Then the line went dead.

May called the New York office and talked to an employee on the 87th floor. She was panicked because smoke was drifting into the office.

"I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared," she told May.

May told her to stay put because someone would be there to help. Then the phone went dead.

"I'm standing in the middle of the street screaming, `My people are going to die, they are gong to die,'" May recalled yesterday. "At 9:08 a.m. I thought everybody was dead. I prayed to God."

The batteries on May's cell phone ran out, but he borrowed one and called Davis again. While they spoke, May watched the second plane heading for the south tower.

"Oh my God, it's close, it's close," he told Davis.

The phone went dead again.

Davis knew flights were canceled, and he immediately rushed to the train station in Baltimore. As he was about to board, Amtrak suspended service to New York.

Davis jumped into his car and drove the 180 miles to New York. Outside the city, all he saw was a dense, gray cloud hovering over the financial district.

"I thought it was a rain cloud," he said.

Davis drove to Jersey City and made phone calls to employees. "I reached a couple of people," he said. "They were disoriented. I tried to find out where my partner was."

He didn't know whether May was alive or dead. He didn't know how many of his employees were dead or alive.

"It was a nightmare, a very frustrating feeling," Davis said.

About 3 p.m., Davis phoned May. This time he answered.

"I was happy to hear his voice, more than I let on," Davis said.

By evening the city had shut down, and Davis parked his car on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. He crossed the bridge on foot and walked into Manhattan, though he couldn't get close to the World Trade Center.

"It was wild; everybody was on foot," he said.

Davis walked to two hospitals looking for employees. People sat in chairs with blood covering their bodies, and their eyes had vacant looks, he said.

"People who looked like they went through hell were walking through the front door," he said. "It was bad, it was bad, it was utter chaos."

He found no employees at the hospitals.

"I saw no one smile that day," Davis said.

At 11 p.m., Davis began driving back to Baltimore with the knowledge that only nine employees had made it out alive. But yesterday morning, when he arrived at work, the phones began to ring with more employees calling to say they had made it out of the inferno.

Friends, wives and relatives, desperately wanting to know whether their loved ones were safe, also called.

"Yes, John Paul is safe, we spoke with him," Davis told one caller.

He fielded other calls and at one point had a phone in each hand and a cell phone on his desk.

"I am 90 percent sure Kevin is OK," Davis said to another.

But he was worried about Ramos. Davis said Ramos was last seen on the 36th floor helping a person who was struggling to make it down the stairs. Ramos told two other employees who were also helping to go ahead. That was the last time Ramos was seen, and his name has been taken off the survivors list, Davis said. "We are praying that he gets out," Davis said.

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