"Things changed so quickly for so many people that day," says Danny Caiazzo, who shares his story so other survivors will know they’re not alone
Danny Caiazzo was a 23-year-old bond trader working on the 55th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower on Sept. 11, 2001. That morning, he carried his boss down 55 flights of stairs and then urged coworkers to ignore announcements that it was safe to return to their office. Moments later, the building collapsed.
"I wished that I would've been able to save more people that day," Caiazzo, now 45, tells PEOPLE on the 22-year anniversary of the day that changed his life.
Caiazzo, who was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after 9/11, urges others to talk about their feelings —and to spend time doing what they love with those they love.
“You have to make the most of the time that you have with the people that you care about because you never know how quickly things can change. Things changed so quickly for so many people that day,” he says. “I really did see the terribleness, but also the best part of humanity that day.”
At the office that morning, Caiazzo asked a coworker to go downstairs and grab breakfast, like they did most days.
“As soon as he said, 'Let me get off this phone call,' the first tower got hit,” Caiazzo remembers. “My entire building shook. We all knew something wasn’t right.”
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The elevators weren't working, so Caiazzo ran to the staircase. A few flights down, he turned back to check on his coworkers and found his boss sitting frozen on the steps. “She couldn't move. It was like a panic attack. And she said to me, 'Danny, I don't want to die,'” he recalls. “I put her on my back and I started carrying her down the stairs.”
When they reached the 10th floor, an announcement came over the loudspeakers saying Tower 2 was secure and they could return to work.
He ignored the announcement and continued down the stairs.
Once in the lobby, he says that one of friends suggested they should go back upstairs, but Caiazzo disagreed. "I said, 'I don't think we should go back. I think it's a stupid idea,” Caiazzo says. “Thank God they all listened.”
Outside the building, he looked up and saw a giant hole in the first tower. "People were jumping out of the building and landing literally 20 feet away from me," he says. "I heard a noise coming from the other way. As I turned my head, the building that I just walked out of exploded. I just started running."
Caiazzo was hit with debris as he ran. He remembers "horror" in the faces of everyone he passed.
The next day, he visited his grandfather, a Korean War veteran in Staten Island. “It was the first time I ever saw him cry," he says. "He said to me that nobody in this family knows what it's like to be in a war except me. And he started crying.”
A few months later, Caiazzo was officially diagnosed with PTSD. Then, he had to learn to accept that while he wishes he could have saved more people, his actions helped many that day.
"I had to change my perspective," he says. "I realized that I was 23 years old and I actually saved a handful of people besides my boss who I carried down, I was responsible for the people leaving who didn't want to. Once I changed my perspective — which was a big thing for me — it turned some of the negative feelings to positive.”
His therapist encouraged him to leave Wall Street and do work that he loves. So he went back to school and earned a degree in music production, starting his own independent label. He went on to work on albums with artists like Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck and produced the 2021 album, Remedy Meets Wu-Tang, which went to no. 1 on iTunes.
Because he benefited so much from therapy, Caiazzo wanted to pay it forward. So, he went back to school and earned a master’s degree in school counseling and child psychology. He now works as a school guidance counselor.
“Talk about your feelings," he says. "Don't keep things inside."
He and his wife, Grace, brought their now 12-year-old son, Joseph, home from the hospital on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
“I always felt like the innocence that I had lost that day came back when he came home,” he says. More sunshine came into his life when his now 10-year-old daughter, Sophia was born.
Still, his battle with PTSD is ongoing — and even sunny days can be a trigger, he says, because 9/11 was a "picturesque" day.
He shares his story so other survivors will know that they’re not alone.
“You feel like nobody gets it, nobody gets what you are going through or what you've gone through or the experience,” he says. “But if you're able to step out of that, you do realize that there are people who do share a lot of the same experiences and a lot of the same feelings and fears. You just got to be willing to take that step."
He also encourages others to listen to the words his therapist told him.
"You just got to keep doing what you love," he says. "That's really what I try to live my life by: I try to be a good person, a good father, and keep making music.”
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