Sharing his story of bravery and courage, a former World Trade Center janitor spoke on the University of Wisconsin campus Saturday about how he came to be known as the "9/11 Key Master."
William Rodriguez, the last person out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center who has since been honored by the White House, spoke of his experiences on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and his belief that explosives were detonated in the basement of the building, where he was that morning.
At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Rodriguez, who was two levels below ground, said he felt a large explosion that "pushed him upward into the air" seven seconds before the plane hit the building.
Once Rodriguez knew what was happening, he said his intuition was to save his friends who worked at the restaurant atop the North Tower — friends that provided him with a complementary breakfast daily, he said.
"If it was up to me, I would have gone up past the fire to help my friends," Rodriguez said. "Even though I saved hundreds of people, the people I wanted to help from the very beginning — my friends — I didn't save a single one."
As a member of the maintenance staff, Rodriguez was one of five people who had a master key to open any door in either tower.
Rodriguez said he led firefighters up the stairs to the 39th floor, unlocking doors that resulted in saved lives.
After helping a man in a wheelchair escape from the building, Rodriguez said he dove underneath a fire truck moments before the buildings fell and was rescued four-and-a-half hours later.
Rodriguez said that, through his presentation, he hoped people received a deeper understanding of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition, Rodriguez said he wants people "to understand the catastrophic event that 9/11 was, to feel the despair, to feel the pain and, at the same time, the hope that we can actually make a change by reopening the investigation and getting the answers that we need."
Rodriguez's visit to campus came after a March 20 visit by another 9/11 survivor, Earl Johnson, who spoke out against former UW lecturer Kevin Barrett, who supports theories that the U.S. government was responsible for the attacks.
"[UW] had an event where they brought a survivor prior to my visit that basically attacked Kevin Barrett, who has been asking hard questions about what happened on 9/11," Rodriguez said. "As a leader for the victims in New York, I wanted to set the record straight."
Barrett, who introduced Rodriguez, said Rodriguez is well known throughout the world, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Venezuela.
"This guy is the No. 1 9/11 hero in the world," Barrett said. "But he's been blacked out [in the United States], and the reason is that he testified honestly about the explosives that destroyed the World Trade Center that he witnessed."
Barrett added Rodriguez's legacy would remain in history for many years to come.
"I think William Rodriguez is our premier national hero, and he will be remembered centuries from now," Barrett said.