Face in the smoke of World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 just seconds after the second plane struck the south tower. NO REPOSTING. ©Mark D Phillips

“Satan in the Smoke”  ©Mark D Phillips | No reuse without permission.

More than two decades have gone by in a flash. It was my now-24 year-old daughter’s first day of pre-school when the planes piloted by Islamic savages felled the World Trade Center. I watched the twin towers collapse from the roof of my apartment house in Brooklyn, saw papers blown out of the demolished buildings land on my deck like snow although it was 80 degrees as the world changed forever.

Twenty-two years.

I was so absorbed by the apocalyptic horror playing out before me that day – What happens next? What will I tell my baby girl, who never went to school that day? Will we survive? – that I didn’t even notice that my camera caught a picture that looked like the face of the devil jutting from the smoke pouring out of the trade center.

I didn’t see the face within the image now known as “Satan in the Smoke” until people started calling the offices of the newspapers that published it on their front pages.


Nearly 3,000 people died in New York City, in the Pentagon across the Potomac River in Virginia from Washington, D,C. and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a jet carrying resistant passengers crashed rather than take out another target. More would die in the coming years from cancers caused by breathing the air around Ground Zero. So much pain. 

The News Journal in Wilmington, DE, was one of the newspapers that ran "Satan in the Smoke" on September 12, 2001. No one on the staff noticed the face until readers began calling in.
New York Post on September 12, 2001

The News Journal received hundreds of phone calls asking about the face while The New York Post declared war on September 12, 2001.

And then, I had to deal with the crazies who believed I was put here on Earth to capture that image, and with the reporters, editors and newspaper readers who accused me of doctoring that photo. (I was vindicated when the head of Olympus cameras digital division determined the shot was not altered). My journalist wife spent the next days combing the wreckage and I had to figure out how to deal with my daughter.

My daughter.

She wasn’t yet three on that earth-shattering day. And one evening, as her mother, still wearing a hard hat caked with Ground Zero ash and grime, met us at a pizza restaurant with a TV blasting news of the attacks, she’d had enough.

She stood up from the table and, tears in her eyes, begged, “Turn it off!”

No child should ever have to face the demons before her. So we took her home and kept off the news.

New York Post on September 13, 2001, with Tom Franklin's famous flag raising at Ground Zero showed the deep patriotism that came to life.
New York Post on September 13, 2001, with back page of the paper going from Sports to the face of evil, Mohamed Atta.

New York Post on September 13, 2001, with Tom Franklin’s famous flag raising at Ground Zero showing the deep patriotism that came to life, with the back page of the paper forgoing sports to show the face of evil, Mohamed Atta.

Another anniversary of 9/11. Another day of profound mourning. Another morning searching online or on TV for the ceremony at the horrific site – of bells ringing at the times the planes destroyed the various places and people. Of the reading of the names of the dead, some by the children who grew into adulthood without knowing fathers and mothers who went to work and never came home. Of cops and firefighters who heroically entered the buildings as bodies jumped out. Who made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of saving people of all races, genders, ages, physical abilities. Of searching for broadcasts of the annual remembrance and finding that most of the news readers just mouthed the stories or talked over the ceremony, bored.

Another day.

And on this day of sadness, where was our 80-year-old president?

Not at the Pentagon. Not in Pennsylvania. And not in New York, where so many of his constituents perished.

When he should have been comforting the nation in the arms of the grieving, President Biden was scheduled to be in Alaska with First Lady Jill to meet with first responders.


For Biden, this is not a day of grief, but of changing the subject. His spokesmouth announced he’d be practically as distant as one can get from the killing fields and still be on American soil. The message was clear: Your loved ones and strangers are gone. Get over it.

But how can anyone who was alive on that dark day simply forget?

For as long as I live, I will never forget 9/11. I will bear witness to the worst day in American history.

Never again.

New York Post on September 17, 2001, listing all 403 dead or missing first responders from 9/11.

New York Post on September 17, 2001, listing all 403 dead or missing first responders from 9/11.