Traverse City Woman Loses 49 Friends In 9/11 Attacks, Starts Organization To Make A Difference

A Traverse City woman living in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attacks has devoted her entire life to bringing awareness and woman empowerment in the Middle East.

Twenty years ago, Christine Smith was living and working in New York City. She moved to the city in 1993 when she was 23 years old.

“I was a karate instructor, worked on Wall Street, and an actress, as well,” she said.

On 911, Christine was living in Brooklyn Heights, right across from the World Trade Center.

For her and millions of other American’s, it started out as just a normal, sunny day. Christine was getting ready to take the subway into the city near the World Trade Center.

“I had overslept and when I had heard that the subway had started up again, I had shut the door and locked it… and I never go back… when I, lock and bolt the door,” Christine said. “I heard the phone ring, and for some reason I was like, ““you know what, that’s my mom””… to go back and talk to here because I know she’s worried.”

Sure enough, it was Christine’s mom on the other end of the phone.

“We watched the next plane hit together,” she said.

In just a few shorts hours, Christine lost 49 close friends, neighbors and co-workers.

“If she hadn’t made me go back in the building, I would’ve been in the subway under the buildings, when the building fell,” Christine said. “Something that a civilian should never have to go through… and yet, so many of us did.”

Christine said herself, as well as thousands of others, were stuck in Brooklyn for months. She said the Brooklyn Bridge was only open for emergency vehicles.

“I can’t guide myself. I don’t know where I am in New York, without looking at the buildings,” Christine said. “I haven’t been able to assimilate that those buildings are gone. I watched the buildings fall from the promenade. All I saw was this cloud of dust that was sinking lower. It’s burned into my mind.”

Three months later, on December 20, just three days after the Twin Towers finally stopped burning, Christine packed her bags, quit her job on Wall Street and moved back home.

“When I came home, to recover, I made a promise to myself and the people that I lost that I was going to make something beautiful out of this… and make my life meaning something,” Christine said. That’s the reason I walked away from my life that day.

Christine said she didn’t stop having nightmares for about ten years after the attacks.

After moving back home, she got her MBA, eventually landing her a job working for the government.

“I came into federal government partially because it’s a way to affect systemic change,” she said. “Instead of reactive, it’s proactive.” 

Twenty years later, Christine lives in Washington D.C. with her husband.

She founded her organization after working in Pakistan, called Khazana, which focuses on women empowerment in the Middle East.

For more information on Christine and her organization, tune into Michigan This Morning on Monday.

Categories: September 11