A 9/11 survivor who was overcome with grief after her best friend was killed in the South Tower has revealed she spent a decade unable to even look at pictures of the attacks.
Living in New York City at 22, Lisa Ridd had no idea her life was about to change when she arrived at work at the World Financial Center on September 11th 2001.
A stone’s throw away from the Twin Towers, Lisa had initially thought the commotion was because of a nearby parade, only realising the true horror of what was happening when she saw a plane flying towards her.
Soon Lisa became concerned about her best friend, Lindsay, who had began working on the 89th floor of the South Tower just months earlier, frantically contacting her, convinced she may have survived.
A year later, Lisa decided to partake in a documentary project, titled Memory Box, where she shared a raw confession about how she was unable to process her friend’s death.
Two decades on from the attacks, Lisa, 43, appeared in the series once again and speaking to FEMAIL, said it took ten years to be able to fully acknowledge what had happened to her.
Lisa Ridd, 43, appeared on Sky documentary series Memory Box after sharing her personal testimony of the attack on the Twin Towers over 20 years ago
Lisa recalled her awe-inspiring account of the attacks on the Twin Towers at the age of 22, where her best friend Lindsay (pictured with Lisa) tragically died on the 89th floor of the South Tower
‘I think i’m still processing’, she said. ‘I was stuck for a very long time. I had to avoid the topic for a very long time. I couldn’t look at pictures I couldn’t hear people talking about it and that went on for years, a really long time.
‘Honestly it was probably a decade until I could look at that photo that everybody thinks about – of the smoke billowing out of the tower – that was so triggering for me and I was so young, I didn’t have the tools at my disposal to processes it.’
Lisa met Lindsay at the age of 18 while they were studying at Williams University in Massachusetts, where the pair bonded over their love of tennis and music.
‘To say she was the biggest light in the room is no exaggeration’, said Lisa. ‘Nobody loved music more than her, nobody loved dancing more than her. She was kind, she was funny, she was smart.
The World Trade Center is pictured shortly before the second plane slammed into the South tower as the North tower burned following an earlier attack
‘I just loved being around her. I loved her energy and she was just a special person and her mom, she was incredibly close with her mom, both of her parents she loved so much. ‘
After graduating the pair moved away from Massachusetts, with Lindsay going to work for a year in Washington before joining Lisa, who was working as a trader for Lehman Brothers, in New York.
‘I was 22 and single and living in New York City so life was great’, said Lisa. ‘I didn’t have a ton of consciousness about the political zeitgeist. Of course I read the paper, I wasn’t completely disengaged – but I was having a really good time in New York.
‘I don’t think anybody, even the people who had eyes and ears open at all times, could have anticipated this.’
Lisa arrived at three World Financial Center at 6.30am on September 11th 2001, remembering what ‘perfect blue sky day’ it was, and was on the phone to a client when the first plane hit the North Tower.
‘We were right next to it and I saw a bunch of people run over to the windows and I was so young and naive I thought there was a parade, I had no idea what had happened’, she said.
Memory Box: How 9/11 survivors came together to share their personal testimonies
Appearing on the series on September 10th, 2002, Lisa Ridd, nee Knappen, delivered a moving testimony of her experience on 9/11
In the months following the 9/11 attacks nearly six hundred people – survivors and eyewitnesses – entered a simple plywood video booth.
Inside this safe space, ordinary people used a self-operated camera to record their deepest feelings of trauma and loss.
The many personal testimonies that followed created a startling and original film titled MEMORY BOX: ECHOES OF 9/11.
Some of the original contributors returned twenty years later during the Covid pandemic, to a new video booth to reflect on living with grief after 9/11 and during the current pandemic.
Appearing on the series on September 10th, 2002, Lisa Ridd, nee Knappen, delivered a moving testimony of her experience where she admitted: ‘I basically spent the past 364 days trying to avoid what happened.
Just because i’m not ready and I thought this would be the best way to do it, so this is kind of a therapy for me as much as it is telling my story.
With all the debris falling one of the guys at my desk grabbed me and was like let’s go, let’s get out of here.
But then it dawned on me that my friend Lindsay Morehouse, one of my best friends from school, was in the second tower on the 89th floor. She’s gotta be okay obviously she has to be okay because there’s no way anything bad could ever happen to anyone I know.
I guess maybe now getting this off my chest i’m a little more willing to talk about things and take what happened and come to terms with Lindsay’s death, but I just can’t get over the fact she’s gone it’s too much to think about, what happened that day is still too much for me to think about.’
The confessional will air 18th January, 9pm on SKY Documentaries
‘Somebody said something about a bomb I thought “That’s ridiculous”, but quickly the older, more seasoned people on the trading floor told me to get off the phone – we are evacuating.’
With no idea of the severity of the situation, Lisa left behind everything had taken to work with her, including her phone and wallet, as she left the building for the last time.
While there were ‘rumours of an airplane’, nobody had any idea what was going on as hoards of people flooded out onto the street.
‘Of course everybody was really confused about how an airplane could have hit the World Trade Centre, of course it must have been an accident. There was never anybody speculating anything about terrorism or at least the people I was speaking with at some point.’
Panic ensued as Lisa, whose older sister worked in the building next door to her, realised she had no way to find her loved ones.
‘I had no way of getting in touch with her so I just started wandering around looking for her and as I was walking sort of away from the World Trade Centre, that’s when I saw the second plane coming round the bend’, said Lisa.
‘I’ve never seen a plane coming towards me before and I was like “Oh my god i’m gonna get hit by a plane”.
‘I turned and I ran in the other direction, loads of people were doing the same. It was pandemonium and so, that’s when we realised there was something else going on here and the panic and the fear really set in’.
Among the chaos and panic, Lisa managed to find her sister and her then boyfriend, and terrified there may be more attacks on the city, decided to evacuate on foot to her sisters apartment.
‘On our way to her apartment we decided to step into a church that was close to her, when we were inside that church that’s when the South Tower collapsed, because we came out of the church and you couldn’t see the South Tower anymore.’
Lisa began desperately trying to contact Lindsay, and says that after the second tower had fallen, she became more convinced the attacks on the Twin Towers had been the result of terrorism.
‘When the second plane hit it was clear it was intentional’, she said. ‘I don’t know the word terrorism was even a word people were using at the time, I didn’t necessarily have a word for it, but I knew there was something intentional going on and that it was really dangerous.
‘I’ve never seen a plane do anything but take off or land at the airport so this was something really different and I suspected that we were in danger, further danger and my concerns were about Lindsay and they turned out to be true.’
After evacuating to her sister’s flat, she and Lisa immediately contacted their parents, later reaching out to friends who had been in the vicinity of the attacks, as well as both Lindsay and her mum.
‘The things we had seen, we saw people jumping out of the towers from 100 floors up and we saw smoke billowing out of these towers. We saw things I have never seen in my life, obviously you’re going to call your parents when you need to feel safe’, she said.
In the days after the attack Lisa travelled to Virginia, where her parents lives, where she ‘hunkered down’ for a couple of days.
Lisa desperately hoped her best friend was still alive and would be found in the aftermath of the attacks.
‘I was convinced’, she said. ‘I had heard some story about some people who the next day had been found trapped under some rubble, in these elevators and was certain Lindsay was there.
‘I kept calling and calling and calling, particularly her company they had a hotline that would give out information. I think it was three days after September 11th, her mum called and said we’re having the funeral in three weeks.
‘I was like ‘funeral? What are you talking about? She was in there somewhere’. They must have had some confirmation they did not share that she did not survive.’
In the months following the attacks Lisa’s office was temporarily moved to New Jersey, and while she says her employers were incredibly accommodating, she never took up any counseling services that may have been offered.
‘I just avoided the topic entirely’, she said. ‘You can when you’re busy and young and then I think over the years the rawness of it sort of gets softer so you can cope with it, it’s not to say I was processing it.’
In the years following the attacks, Lisa stuck up a romance with her now husband – a British national who she met over the phone while working at Leeman Brothers.
The pair have four children, aged 12, ten, six and two – and Lisa says it wasn’t until her oldest began learning about the attacks in school seven years ago that she knew she’d have to face up to her trauma.
After evacuating to her sister’s flat, she and Lisa immediately contacted their parents. The family are pictured on holiday when Lisa and her sister were children
‘I was like “Okay I guess I need to tell my kids my story”,’ she said.
Visiting the World Trade Center memorial was a monumental point for Lisa, who says she was finally able to reach out to Lindsay’s mum following her visit.
‘You have no idea when you see photos how powerful it is’, she said. ‘There are holes that will never be filled up. All you can hear is the water rushing through, water is so therapeutic anyway and the way they designed it it feels like cleansing an endless cycle of energy. All of your senses are just alive and I really could not think of a more beautiful way to memorialise that spot.
‘So that was a really beautiful way to confront it and to find Lindsay’s name and be surrounded by all of those other names, because there were so many people who died that day and so many people who still grieve those people, so that was an important day I think.’
Lisa met Lindsay at the age of 18 while studying at Williams University in Massachusetts, where they bonded over their love of tennis and music
She believes appearing in the documentary has allowed her to process her trauma further, adding that while it was difficult to relive the attacks, she is ‘proud’ that Lindsay has been honoured.
‘It was a really hard decision it felt like a really hard thing to do, a hard topic to think about in such a profound way’, she said. ‘It was an incredibly traumatic event, a traumatic time.
‘I lost one of my best friends, it was not a decision I took lightly, I really felt that I have a story that is a part of history.
‘It’s not a story that belongs to just me, it’s a story that deserves to be passed down for future generations and I would say it’s probably unlucky to be part of history in that way but that’s the reality.
‘I felt despite my fear of going back to that mental place, that emotional place it felt really important to share my story in an updated way.’
Speaking of Lindsay, Lisa added: ‘She has just made such a mark. There are so many songs she loved. She would sing the loudest and music is kind of thing that can take you right back to that instance and that moment and the time you danced the hardest to it.
‘I feel she’s left this connection to her for us through music. I have opportunities to think about her alot, she had so much life in her that life reminds me of her.’
MEMORY BOX: ECHOES OF 9/11′ will air on Sky from 18 January and NOW TV. Find out more on Twitter and Instagram