After Sept. 11, an Eight-Year Delayed Reunion Between Strangers

Two women meet hotel heroes who whisked them to safety before twin towers fell.

ByABC News
October 25, 2009, 6:56 PM

CHICAGO, Oct. 25, 2009 — -- Leigh Gilmore and her mother, Faye, would have likely died in the 9/11 attacks if not for the quick thinking of two strangers.

"They are total heroes," Faye said of Greg Frederick and Arnulfo Ponce, two hotel employees who helped evacuate them from the World Trade Center complex.

On that day, the two women were among hundreds inside the 22-story Marriott Hotel, which was located in 3 World Trade Center in between the twin towers.

When the attack occurred, the Marriott's elevators and phones stopped working. Leigh, who has multiple sclerosis and depends on a wheelchair, had no way to escape. She and her mother waited in the hotel's fifth floor hallway as other guests fled.

"Everybody that came past I would say, 'Please tell them in the lobby that I'm up here,'" said Leigh, 50. "I felt like no one knows I'm here."

An agonizing half hour passed, but still no one came to help Leigh and Faye.

Suddenly, with the situation growing desperate, Marriott engineer Greg Frederick appeared. He and his boss, Arnulfo Ponce, had helped Leigh with her room two days earlier. Despite everything that was happening around him, Frederick remembered where Leigh was.

"It was chaos," said Frederick, 43. "For some reason, I thought of Ms. Gilmore, and I had a bad feeling that this lady is up there."

Frederick used the hotel's freight elevator, which was still working, to bring the women down to the lobby. They separated, and moments later, the first twin tower collapsed on top of the hotel, decimating it.

Faye and Leigh had barely escaped with their lives.

"Good Lord, these men saved our lives," said Faye. "They took the time to come and check on us. They could have easily just run for their lives."

In the years after 9/11, Frederick and Ponce talked often about Leigh and Faye, though they did not know the women's names or what had happened to them. The mystery haunted them.

"I thought they were dead, but I knew they had a chance of surviving," said Ponce, who was the hotel's chief engineer. "But I never heard from them."