Marcy Borders, often known as the “Dust Lady,” is shown in a haunting image after barely surviving the destruction of the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes.
Borders fled from her 81st-floor office in the North Tower only seconds before the World Trade Center collapsed, surviving the unspeakable tragedies of that day that will live on in all of our hearts and memories. The woman, who was paralyzed with shock and coated from head to toe in ash and hazardous debris, was recorded in a photograph that became a haunting reminder of the 9/11 catastrophe.
Despite fleeing the towers, the woman was unable to escape the trauma and, later, the disease that took her life. Her daughter stated years later that “the dust has settled.”
The devastating anecdotes and photographs published after the 9/11 terrorist attacks destroyed New York City’s Twin Towers shook the world.
Among them was the “Dust Lady,” a then-28-year-old Bank of America employee named Marcy Borders, whose expression exemplifies the tragic human consequences of the attacks.
Borders had recently begun working for the firm as a legal assistant and had arrived early that day to get a good start.
Borders, of New Jersey, and her colleagues on the 81st level felt the building rumble at 8:46 a.m.
28-year-old Marcy Borders, dubbed “the dust lady,” worked at Bank of America in the World Trade Center and survived…Published on Wednesday, July 19, 2023 by Historical Stories
They were all uninformed at the time that an al Qaeda-hijacked airliner had purposely crashed into the North Tower between the 93rd and 99th floors, barely 12 stories above where Borders was sitting.
A second plane slammed into the South Tower minutes later, causing both 110-story structures to fall.
“My supervisor thought a small jet plane might have nipped us. We had no idea what was going on. I began to panic. They tried to calm me down, told me to relax, take deep breaths, but the way the building was shaking, I couldn’t sit there,” Borders related to a New Jersey paper in 2014 (through the Guardian). “You felt the building shaking, you heard the explosion, you saw chairs coming out the windows, office supplies, what I know now were people.”
Panicked, she defied a boss’s instruction to remain at her desk and joined the outflow of people attempting to flee down the tower’s main staircase. She described seeing numerous injured persons, some with glass and metal pieces stuck in their body, others with scorched skulls.
While the building’s employees were going down, firefighters were running up, saying, “Run, and don’t look back!”
The South Tower had been attacked throughout the hour she had spent attempting to reach the building’s ground floor. By the time she reached the exit, she had created a dust cloud large enough to be observed from the International Space Station by station astronaut Frank Culbertson.
She tried to outrun the dark cloud.
“I took chase from this cloud of dust and smoke that was following me,” Borders said. “Once it caught me it threw me on my hands and knees. Every time I inhaled my mouth filled up with it, I was choking. I was saying to myself out loud, I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to die.”
Borders was helpless since she couldn’t see her hands in front of her face because of the darkness and hazardous particles.
A stranger then dragged her into the lobby of a neighbouring building, where Stan Honda, a freelance photographer for AFP, was also seeking refuge.
He recalled that “this woman came in completely covered in dust. It was a strange sight. She paused for a second, and I took one photo. It was just that one frame–I really only had time for that shot, then somebody took her upstairs and she was gone.”
The photograph, of the then-unknown “Dust Lady,” was widely circulated in newspapers and publications around the world. My father and IMarcy Borders posted this on Friday, May 17, 2013. The “Dust Lady” was later identified as Marcy Borders by a phone call to AFP.
The terrorist assaults on 9/11 killed 2,977 people and injured an estimated 25,000 more. Others, like Borders, survived but were permanently damaged physically and mentally.
Speaking with the New York Post, Borders said “It was like my soul was knocked down with those towers. My life spiraled out of control. I didn’t do a day’s work in nearly 10 years, and by 2011 I was a complete mess. Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked. If I saw a man on a building, I was convinced he was going to shoot me.”
The sorrow and memories of that horrible day became too much for her to bear, so she turned to narcotics like crack cocaine to alleviate her sadness. Borders admitted that he committed suicide “because I didn’t want to live.”
Reaching “rock bottom” Borders entered rehab in 2011 and was not only sober, but she was also given a gift. Osama bin Laden, the diabolical mastermind behind the 9/11 atrocities, was assassinated on May 1, 2011.
“[God] got rid of my biggest fear,” said Borders, then 38, who learned in rehab that Navy SEALs terminated bin Laden. “I used to lose sleep over him, have bad dreams about bin Laden bombing my house, but now I have peace of mind.”
Borders moved back in with her partner, Donald Edwards, and reclaimed custody of her daughter Noelle (then 18) and son Zay-den (then three) after leaving rehab on May 20th.
Borders told the Jersey Journal in 2014 that she was just starting back into the workforce after a decade of sadness that fueled her substance addiction when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
At the time, she wondered if her cancer was related to 9/11.
“I’m saying to myself ‘Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?’ I definitely believe it because I haven’t had any illnesses. I don’t have high blood pressure…high cholesterol, diabetes,” she said.
I adore my daughter; she is incredible, and I am overjoyed that you are being honored today.Marcy Borders on Sunday, September 16, 2012
Borders was forced to wait until December for surgery, which would be followed by radiation therapy due to $190,000 in medical debt from rounds of chemotherapy.
Marcy Borders died at 42 on August 24, 2015.
When she was once asked if she looked at the “Dust Lady” photo, she said, “I try to take myself from being a victim to a survivor now. I don’t want to be a victim anymore.”
To the world, Borders is immortalized as the 9/11 “Dust Lady,” and to her family and friends, she’s more of a hero than a victim.
“Not only is she the Dust Lady, but she is my hero. And the dust has settled, and she is free now,” said her daughter Noelle.
It’s difficult to realize 9/11 happened so long ago. We’re confident that if you asked somebody, they’d be able to tell you exactly what they were doing at the time of the attacks. It’s profoundly ingrained in our minds, and we’ll never forget it.
Our hearts go out to all of the 9/11 victims, survivors, and loved ones, and we hope that bin Laden’s death brings some peace.
As for Marcy Borders, what her daughter stated about the dust settling is amazing, and we hope the woman is pain-free.