09/11/11 — Goldsboro mom didn't rest until she heard from her son in New York City

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Goldsboro mom didn't rest until she heard from her son in New York City

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 11, 2011 12:58 AM

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Alfred Griffin, center, with his parents, A.W. and Norma, on a trip home to Goldsboro. Griffin, who works for CitiGroup bank, was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center when the twin towers were struck by terrorists.

Norma Griffin did not know her son, Alfred, was five blocks away from the twin towers in New York City when the terrorist attacks brought them down 10 years ago.

She had started the day on a tour of a farm in Mount Olive with her garden club and then moved on to her Daughters of the American Revolution meeting at St. Stephen's Church.

She found out about the attacks only because the meeting had been moved into the chapel from the fellowship hall.

"When the minister finished reading Bible verses, he prayed and then had a moment of silent prayer," she said. "Still the towers were not mentioned."

Having no idea what the minister was praying about, Mrs. Griffin tapped the woman next to her, one of her garden club members, who didn't know either.

So Mrs. Griffin went up to the minister and asked him what was going on.

That is when she learned about the events of Sept. 11.

It was a mother's worst nightmare -- the fear that something might have happened to her child.

"I just about lost it because I knew my son, Alfred, was up there," she said. "He works for CitiGroup in New York City, just five short blocks from the towers."

Mrs. Griffin knew exactly how close her son's office was to the towers because she and her husband, A.W., had visited him. And thoughts were running wildly through her mind that maybe he was injured -- or worse, dead.

"At the time of the strike, my son was in a business meeting in a room that had no windows," Mrs. Griffin said. "He said the guard came in and told them they needed to finish the meeting. Then a few minutes later, the guard came back and yelled for them to get out and started pushing them out of their building."

Her son said he didn't know what was happening until he and his co-workers got out onto the street. Then they started running toward Greenwich Village, afraid that more planes were on their way.

Alfred's cell phone didn't work, but he found a pay phone and made a collect call to Mrs. Griffin's home here in Goldsboro, saying he was OK. Eventually he left three other similar messages.

When Mrs. Griffin heard the news, she immediately called her husband, who had been away from the house until lunch time. He told her he had not talked to their son, but heard his voice on the answering machine.

"I could hardly say a word over the phone for crying," Mrs. Griffin said. "When I got home, I had to hug and cry on my husband."

Watching the events unfold over and over again on TV, Mrs. Griffin wondered how in the world anybody could do such a thing to anyone.

"Everyone who was killed was somebody's parent or child. You just don't do that. It made me have lots of tears," she said as tears gathered in her eyes once again.

Mrs. Griffin did not talk to her son until 11:30 p.m. that night. In the meantime, although she knew her son was OK, she was still a basket case.

"So was he," she said of Alfred. "They had all been walking sideways and backwards to get away from it all, but not knowing what in the world to do.

"It was a blessing for me that I didn't know anything about it until I could hear his voice on the answering machine, and feel like at least he was all right."

Although Mrs. Griffin was overjoyed to hear her son was OK, it was several weeks before she could breathe a sigh of relief, mostly because her son was so upset being that close to the attacks.

"We talked to him every day and tried to make sure he was OK healthwise and otherwise," she said.

This was not the first time that her youngest child had given her a scare.

When he was in college, Alfred and some of his classmates worked for a landscape architect in Wilmington. One Sunday they took a catamaran out -- during storm warnings. The mast came out and they couldn't fix it. So they spent the next 32 hours stranded on the ocean.

Making things worse was the fact that they had to spend the night in the water -- while sharks were swimming all around their boat.

The next day a shrimp boat picked them up and took them to Sneads Ferry.

"I didn't know anything about that either until after the fact," Mrs. Griffin said. "I was scared then, too -- after the fact.

"In both cases, I thanked God that he had looked after my son. He's really a nice young man."

Each year on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Mrs. Griffin tries to put it out of her mind. Shortly after the attacks, she and her husband visited Alfred again in New York City and went to ground zero.

"It was just a big hole," she said. "It's just one of those things that there aren't words to describe."