Remembering 9/11: Portland FBI Special Agent in Charge

On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Kieran Ramsey, special agent in charge of the Portland Field Office, describes responding after the attacks. He was a young agent assigned to the Seattle Field Office, having only been in the FBI for just under three years at that time.

Video Transcript

Hello, my name is Kieran Ramsey. I am the special agent in charge of the Portland Field Office for the FBI. On 9/11 I was a young agent assigned to the Seattle Field Office having only been in the FBI for just under three years at that time.

GRAPHIC: A relative called Kieran at about 5:50 the morning of 9/11. She screamed “turn on the TV. You need to see this now.”

So, I turned on the TV and I watched what millions of Americans were watching at the time…  that being the burning tower, the North tower. And, as we were talking about three minutes later or four minutes later, I watched in horror with the TV going as the South tower was impacted.

GRAPHIC: For the first few days, agents across the country prepped for more potential mass casualty events. They also responded to many calls of suspicious activity.

GRAPHIC: Several days later, the FBI deployed the Seattle Evidence Response Team to Ground Zero in New York. Kieran was the team leader for that group.

As we were coming down into the area, you know there were people lined up with flags and with signs supporting all the first responders there. But it just… it kind of changed as you almost rounded the corner and could see everything there.

My team was initially set up around the perimeter of Ground Zero. And we were literally assigned to look in trucks as they were bringing out debris from Ground Zero to look for human remains and personal effects and anything else that stood out to us.

Just finding those little things, and the whole time you’re wondering “did this person survive or did they not?”

When we were there, for as much activity that was going on… I mean there was major construction equipment moving things, there were literally thousands of police and firefighters and first responders. There were tons of volunteers, but it was still quiet. There was this weird sense of quiet.

GRAPHIC: Search crews would sound a horn when they found someone in the debris. The horn was a signal for everyone to stop working out of respect for the victim.

And, I just remember thinking, like there are literally tens of thousands of people around here at this mass casualty terrorist attack and yet you could hear a pin drop when they called for silence.

Later, about a week or two into it, we were switched out to the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. There, they were again having people go through the debris, literally raking it by hand with shovels and rakes and the like… again looking for human remains, personal effects, what have you, alongside NYPD, FDNY, and other government personnel that were there assigned to help.

GRAPHIC: The effects of the 9/11 attacks would change the FBI, as an institution, forever. For those who bore witness to the trauma, the impact was life-changing in more personal ways.

I came off the plane from 9/11 after having been there, and one of the first things I told my wife is we needed to have kids. She thought I was crazy. She looked at me, like, are you, are you okay? No, but I just saw the absolute worst in humanity.

We need to start having kids so that the world is populated by good people that would never, ever do something like that or allow something like that to happen.

GRAPHIC: Kieran and his wife have two children. He has taken them to the 9/11 Memorial Museum twice.

The second time we went the woman was talking how about first responders were at Fresh Kills, and they kept having to get new boots because their boots kept melting. Well I was one of those people. When I was there, my boots … it was the weirdest thing. I noticed my soles were feeling… or my feet were like sliding… and, whatever it was had burned through the Tyvek suit, and then it burned through the soles of my boots.  It just made me really, really emotional, and it is one of the, one of the few times, I think, my kids have seen me cry.

You knew that this was something that, again, it would be altering for anybody. I think there’s no doubt that anybody who was alive at that time, whether you were from New York or Washington or whether you, whether you were in law enforcement let alone the FBI, that it didn’t affect you in the most personal and emotional way.


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