For Kyle Pittenger, September 11th will forever haunt him.
Although the Frisco resident is now settled into married life with three boys and living a fairly quiet life, what he saw that morning while coming out of Tower 2 at the World Trade Center will never leave him. Like others, Kyle suffered PTSD and sleepless nights years afterward.
Born in Katy, Texas, and a graduate of Texas Tech, Kyle says he was completely unprepared in his early 20s about navigating New York City, much less during such a terrible crisis. Now 42 and the senior vice president of sales in talent solutions for IT staffing company The Pinnacle Group, Kyle shares his personal story for the first time in this format.
Following are his memories in his own words:
“I was just recently married, lived in Houston and worked for Morgan Stanley. At Morgan Stanley, you’re an advisor working through other senior advisors and you train in New York for roughly three months. I got to New York on maybe the last walk on the Wall Street floor at the stock exchange, since they don’t do that anymore. We were in Tower 2. Morgan Stanley had several floors. All trainees were in one hotel, the bus picked us up in the morning and drove us to Tower 2. We would go down to the 'basement,' and it would take us up. There were two elevators. One would take you to the 45th level and another cuts over to get to the 60th floor.
On that day, September 11th, it was a beautiful day, the skies were clear, I was going through my normal routine and we were in training. One of the lead analysts was just completing his session of stock market history. After that, we all took a break and boom! I started to see paper flying out. I hadn’t been to New York ever and I thought someone was maybe partying because they were celebrating a big trade or something because you’re seeing all this paper. When the filing cabinets came flying, I knew something bad was happening.
I was looking out from the 60th floor at Tower 1 because Tower 1 got hit first. Over the speaker, Morgan Stanley security said, “A small plane has hit Tower 1. For the safety of all Morgan Stanley employees, we’d like to evacuate.” I left all of my stuff at my desk and headed down the stairwell with everybody else. No one knew what was going on, so we’re all casually going out all calm. We got down to about the 45th floor and nothing had happened yet. I was going to get off because I had left my laptop. Someone said, 'Hey, I wouldn’t do that just yet. Let’s not stop.” It was the best decision ever not to go back up, because my life would have been impacted.
So I kept going down about five or 10 more floors and boom! We didn’t hear it but you could feel the building sway. That’s when chaos happened in the stairwell. Fear because you’re encased, there’s no windows, and this was years and years ago so connectivity was not what it is now, no one knows what is happening, and everyone is pushing each other out of the way, trying to stay calm. I was trying to stay with other people but I didn’t understand what could possibly happen.
I think some folks who'd been around for a while were very fearful. They had a lot of ideas what could happen.
As we got closer to the bottom, firefighters were coming. If you’ve seen the movie Backdraft, it’s almost identical to that. You’ve got firefighters coming up and us going down the stairs. So we got to the bottom of the stairs and they were pushing us out one way and there was a reason behind that because the way the towers were positioned, some people were jumping. For the protection of the folks coming out of the building, they had people coming out of the lobby where the shops were.
As I exited the building, I’ll never forget this -- I’ve never seen so many white sheets. As a 22-23 year old kid, I was new to everything. People are jumping off and they’re up 80 levels, because they were either going to burn or jump. It was pretty nasty. Scary. [Pauses] It’ll never be erased from my mind. They moved us over to the church, which is still standing today. One of my fellow trainees was from the Houston area as well, and he had an engineering degree and really thought we needed to keep moving because if the steel in the building got hot enough, it was going to collapse. So we started walking toward Jackson Square and about eight or 10 minutes later, Tower 2 collapsed.
You look back and you’re in shock. You don’t know what’s happening. All cell phone connectivity was down. You had no contact with anybody. We’re walking through the city in shock trying to get back to our hotel.
Once back to our hotel, I couldn’t be reached. My wife told me they had gotten her out of her classroom in Houston where she was teaching to ask where I was. She said, 'He’s on Wall Street.' They said, 'Do you know where he is?' And she said, 'I have no idea. He’s just on Wall Street.' My sister-in-law or mom had called and said, 'Kyle is in Tower 2. He can’t be reached.'
It’s pretty sad [pauses and starts to tear up]; it gets me every time. No one knew. It could be five hours of not knowing if you’re alive. So everyone’s mind got warped pretty negative because they all thought I was gone. My father-in-law was calling his investment banker buddies trying to find anyone who knew. Everyone was trying to find me and eventually they found out I was safe and back at the hotel. But it didn’t stop there.
What’s unique is that I was trying to get out of the city, like everyone else, and we were going to get on a train going to Delaware and I think they caught one of the terrorists on there. It felt like everything was falling and I just took a deep breath and I was like, 'Alright, we’re not going to rush things.'
It was the craziest time. It probably took me three years with PTSD. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t understand why God saved me. I didn’t have anything. I was a 22-year-old kid. I mean, I had a wife but I didn’t have kids. There are so many great mothers and fathers that are not there to see their kids. I didn’t understand. I was feeling guilty.
For years I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t talk about my story. Over time I got to: 'What is my purpose?' And that's to get people to have gratitude for their life experiences. I get it now. Finally I’m able to tell people how difficult it was to deal with and yes, it brings back bad memories, but look where you are and look how you can make an impact in the world -- especially in today’s world.'
That’s the stance I’ve taken, that this is my purpose. It took me a while to get there. Once I figured that out, I was able to get through September 11th. In years past, I just struggled. I just couldn’t understand: 'Why me? Why save me?'"
Eventually, Kyle got out of the city by taking a train to Baltimore with a fellow trainee from Maryland. He then flew home to Houston.
He worked for Morgan Stanley for another year. He stays in touch with colleagues there since bonding over the terrible tragedy. He’s had to continue to work, even when it means being near One World Trade Center at the site of the fallen Twin Towers.
Taking His Kids To The Scene
About three years ago, it happened.
"I was finally ready to go and that’s all I did. But it took me that long. Yes, I was on the footsteps of the memorial constantly -- I would say probably every other month, but I would never stop. Obviously, I would think about everything and say a prayer for everyone else but never took any time to go through the memorial until I was ready and wanted to take my family," recalls Kyle.
He adds, “As my kids are growing up, they’re trying to learn about this and why it happened. I think that’s where we are in the history books and that’s why there are so many security protocols in America. It may not be convenient, but you have to tell the story to get to the why. Kids love convenience, and they don’t understand why things are put in place, but it’s a good opportunity for people to understand why so many security protocols are in place to protect us.”
Life in Frisco Now
After living in North Texas for the last 18 years and working with The Pinnacle Group, Frisco is home to Kyle.
“It’s clean, safe, family-friendly, there are great schools, and it’s good for business. You can see the explosiveness happening all around in Prosper, Allen, Plano -- it’s booming. The amount of customers coming here is insane," he says.
But like 9/11, COVID-19 impacted the country in many of the same ways, changing the way business occurs.
After traveling for two decades, Kyle is working from home, mostly via video. “Being through something like a crisis situation, you stay calm even when you get rattled. And with COVID as well -- I think a lot of people got rattled. You gotta' look at it and say, 'We’re gonna get through it,' take a deep breath and make sure we’re making the right decisions.”