9/11 Survivors Give Spiritual Guidance Through Tales of Survival

Stanley Praimnath and Brian Clark

Stanley Praimnath and Brian Clark

Brian Clark and the man he saved while barreling through smoke and darkness and all manner of chaos during his harrowing descent from the 84th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower are among only a few people from above the points of impact to survive the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the nine years since, both have spent their time telling their stories to churches, school and charity groups, among others, they told in separate interviews on Friday.

Split-second decisions--a left or a right, a step this way, not that, up or down--led by the grace of God and one another, spared their lives and inspired them to share their stories with others.
And in April, Stanley Praimnath, whom Clark dug out from beneath sheets of rubble, became certified as a pastor.

Clark, who retired from running his company's relief fund in 2006, said he accepts every invitation he gets--and there have been hundreds--to speak.

“I do feel a bit of an obligation as survivor of a really close call to tell my story,” Clark said. “If people are still interested in hearing the story, then really the least I can do is tell it.”

Praimnath who now works at Royal Bank of Scotland in Stanford, Conn., does his speaking and traveling on weekends.

“I’ve been doing this for 9 years I feel this in my heart, this is what the lord wants me to do,” he said.

Mark Ashton, pastor of Christ Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska said his 3,500 member congregation was on the edge of its seat when Clark spoke on the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I would say it was inspirational, it was tear-jerking, it had us on the edge of our seats, sent chills down our spines,” he said. “He was on the brink of death.”

The men who were strangers before 9/11 now share a lifelong bond, they said. Each credits the other with saving his life.

On September 11, 2001, Clark, then an executive vice president at Euro Brothers was in his office on the 84th Floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower typing away at his computer keyboard when he heard a loud thump. Then, the airspace behind his office filled with fire. News quickly spread that the North Tower had been hit by a plane. Clark called his wife to tell her that he was fine. Shortly after that call, the South Tower was hit.

While walking down the stairs he ran into a group of people, Clark said, who were arguing. Then a cry for help. He left the group, winding his way past fallen walls and mounds of debris, following the voice of a man crying out for help.

"He broke through a wall to save me," Praimnath said. "And do you know what he said to me when he was getting me out?

"He said, "All my life I lived as an only child. I always wanted a brother and now I have one, today," and then he rubbed our blood together--we were bleeding you know--and said "You’re my brother, my blood brother."

"I owe everything to him," Praimnath said.

But Clark insists that it's Praimnath's cries that saved his life. That group that Clark left debating in the 81st Floor decided to head back upstairs. Clark never saw them again.

"If I hadn't heard Stanley, what would've happened to me," he said.

On the 68th Floor, Clark said he and Praimnath ran into Jose Marrero, a security guard who worked with Clark at Euro Brothers. He was heading back upstairs to help more injured colleagues.

Shortly after Clark and Praimnath made it outside the Towers collapsed. Clark lost 61 co-workers.

Despite his grief, Clark described a moment he classified as being "on the religious/spiritual side of things:"

"A week later, Monday night, I had a dream and in my dream I'm lying on my back with my head on pillow and to foot of my bed came Jose--once it was Stanley and I going down the only person we saw was Jose Marrero--and there he was at foot of my bed in white, blousey shirt and he had this glorious smile...what a lovely smile and he just nodded down at me...I almost accused him, “Jose you’re alive! How did you do that?” He didn’t say anything but just kind of nodded. The message I absorbed was “You’ll figure it out.”"

He stood for another second, and then, Clark says, he woke up.

"There I was in exactly the same position staring at the foot of my bed, staring--where did he go? How did he do that?--then a second later, the alarm went off. I knew at that instant that Jose was fine, that my coworkers were fine. Any doubts about my faith evaporated.

"Such a powerful visitation that sort of changed my life."

"I’ve been able to tell the whole story without any emotion, no nightmares, no survivors' guilt."

Pastor Will Marotti of New Life Church in Meriden, Conn., where both men spoke at different dates, said his congregation was inspired and captivated by their stories.

“I think people took away the fact that life is very fragile and certainly can be very brief and you never know when your last day will be," he said. "And to just appreciate today, enjoy today, hug your kids more, kiss your spouse, today isn’t a random happening, it’s a very special thing today.”

Marotti added that when Clark spoke to his congregation on the 2008 anniversary of the attacks, the church showed a video by the church's cameramen, who had found an especially captivating face in a sea of thousands on a mural in Lower Manhattan of 9/11 victims. It ended with a close-up of that one face, which boasted a vibrant, glowing smile. Clark ran up to Marotti in disbelief.

"It was Jose Marrero," Clark said. "My co-worker who I passed on the 68th floor and of whom I had that dream about."

Ashton, the Nebraska pastor, said of Clark's talk, “Hearing the real miraculous interventions in order to make that happen, choosing the right staircase, people right next to him didn’t survive. There was some divine presence that was with him that helped him down to safety.”

As for the anniversary, Praimnath will be out of town speaking at an organization for severely abused children. He'll talk about overcoming adversity. And then he'll return home to his wife and two daughters.

"It’s a happy time for us. Life, it's about getting up and moving forward," he said.

Clark says he wants to continue imparting the lessons for that day.

"You can do something special with your life at any point young or old, you still have time...We can still do good things whatever our age whatever our condition,” he said. "I just try to make sure you have some hope for the future--I know I do. Life is good."