A Picture of Hope from 9/11

By   •   September 11, 2014

Ground Zero cross
A photo of a cross from mangled metal taken by Anne Bybee about three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, on the backside of Ground Zero.

This story was originally published on BillyGraham.org on Sept. 7, 2011. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we pause once again to remember and pray for those who lost so much. And we remember a glimmer of hope found in the midst of the rubble at Ground Zero—to many, a reminder that Jesus is always with us, especially in our darkest hours.

The rubble pile at Ground Zero was 10 stories high.

Yet nothing was identifiable.

Three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and the scene in lower Manhattan was defined by this enormous mound of smoldering destruction.

Anne Bybee struggled to find one thing of significance.

“It was just this mangled rubble pile of nothing,” Bybee said. “I kept looking at the pile, thinking I would recognize something. A computer monitor. Or a chair. Or anything.”

Bybee was on her third day of work as part of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Mission Support Team, providing logistical support to the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) who cared for rescue workers at Ground Zero.

Walking the Ground Zero perimeter for about 16 hours a day, she found herself almost numb. A sense of hopelessness had kicked in as she kept staring at this pile of madness.

But then, out of nowhere, she finally saw it.

‘I’ve never seen that before’

Bybee stared at it for a few minutes. Or maybe it was an hour. She lost track of time.

She noticed a worker standing nearby and asked him a question.

“Did they do that on purpose?” Bybee said.

In his thick Bronx accent, the man quickly responded, “Yeah, they hit it with two planes.”

That wasn’t Bybee’s question.

A cross had naturally formed from the mangled remains of the Twin Towers and despite walking past this spot many times on the backside of Ground Zero, Bybee had somehow missed the imagery

As did the worker: “Oh, man, I’ve never seen that before.”

‘You are not alone’

The image of the cross was more than a coincidence for Bybee, more than two fallen beams.

The voice of the Lord was speaking to her.

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“As I was staring at that, I got a sense of peace,” Bybee said. “I got a very strong message. That message was, ‘You are not alone. I am here.'”

The longer she looked at the cross, the more she was moved. There was other material wrapped around it that resembled the clothes that Jesus would have worn.

The steam in the background represented the devastation for the 9/11 families, while Bybee saw a ray of light coming in from the left, which was actually a stream of water gushing in.

“I couldn’t move for a long time,” she said. “I felt that message was not only given to me, but also to the people that I was working with and in contact with.”

‘I was just speechless’

Opening the envelope from Long’s Drug Store near her home in Roseville, Calif., Bybee braced herself.

Five days earlier, she had dropped off the film to be processed. More than three weeks had passed since her encounter with the cross in the rubble.

Would the picture do it justice? Would the image be as powerful as she remembered?

Had she embellished it in her own mind?

This was a disposable camera, after all, long before digital cameras became mainstream.

“I went through the photos and was just speechless. I really was,” Bybee said. “The more you study it, the more you see.”

The iconic photo was picked up by CatholicPlanet.com, and a mega-church in Seattle used it to recreate a real-life 9/11 stage for their Easter service, which reportedly drew 25,000 people.

“I didn’t realize the photo had caught as much as it did,” Bybee said. “It brought me right back to that moment.”

‘The memory of the smell’

Of all the images seared in Bybee’s brain from her two-and-a-half week experience at Ground Zero, the first thing that pops into her mind isn’t always this image of the cross.

In fact, sometimes it’s not an image at all.

“The memory of the smell is still with me,” she said. “That smell was constant. You knew what the smell represented.”

Bybee also thinks about the owner of the deli, who was just staring into space.

“He was just standing there and I asked if I could come in,” she recalled. “His name was Steve. He shared his story with me.”

Steve had sent all his employees home after the plane hit the first tower and shortly after that, a beam — “25 to-35 feet long” — crashed into his building.

“He said ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to do?'” Bybee said. “I wonder what happened to him and his business.”

‘So much has changed’

Growing up in Nevada as the sixth of 10 children, Bybee knows a thing or two about chaos. But as an experienced emergency planning analyst for the state of California, she also knows what it takes to handle an emergency situation.

Bybee is a firsthand witness of the impact 9/11 had on the nation.

“So much has changed in our country because it happened,” she said. “We are much better prepared for disaster responses than we were then.

“Every aspect from small, local communities to the federal government has learned from it.”

Billy Graham Rapid Response Team

A ministry was born out of the ashes of 9/11. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team deploys crisis-trained volunteer chaplains to offer spiritual and emotional care in the midst of disaster. More than 1,500 chaplains in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom stand ready to deploy with the hope and love of Christ.
Learn More

Bybee has traveled around the country giving lectures on emergency preparedness, using her 9/11 photos as training tools, especially in the years immediately following the attacks.

“Part of me felt like it wasn’t appropriate to take pictures of things I saw there,” she said. “It’s interesting, I was looking at another 9/11 presentation and so many of the pictures that are published are from a distance — the building on fire, the building collapsing, the smoke, the skyline…

“The photos that we took are literally up close and personal.”

And the photo of the cross? That’s still in her PowerPoint.

And whenever she comes across that image, Bybee pauses, if only for a second.

“I almost feel like I was a medium to capture this image,” she said.

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67 Comments

  1. David says:

    THis is a wake up call for American all over the USA. Come to God. And repent, we must pray to God to forgive us. Are action speak for them self. 10 YEARS LATER we see the signs all around us of the coming of our lord but we keep living in the way we do.

  2. Donna says:

    On that day I was at home watching TV and I saw the first plane to hit, then the second one and of course the rest of what happened. I was there in my heart and I felt the distrubing message it was sending to me, I knew right off it was terrorists. That could not happen without it being anything else,I started to pray for all those people right then and asked God to step in and take control, he did in his own way, we do have to except death but I dont want to that way, but to get to heaven we must forgive, allthough we won't forget. God reminded us he was there with the rubble of the cross how wonderful God is.Hope and Pray you have him living in your heart today. Thank you lord for letting us serve you. AMEN

  3. James says:

    Thank you FATHER GOD and LORD JESUS for loving us all so much. Thank you for showing Ann Bybee this awsome sign and most significantly awsome testament that you FATHER GOD and LORD JESUS were there and are always with us in our lives, through the good and the devastating times. AMEN AMEN

  4. Pat says:

    God is the Everlasting GOD, He'll never change. He is GOD with us “Emmanuel”

  5. Shannon says:

    I only wish that people would realize that GOD is there always. In the good times and the bad. I have learned this more and more as I walk closer to our LORD. Blessings to all those on this 10 year anniversary. GOD is our only answer in this world.

  6. Kim says:

    Praise God for the gift of his son Jesus Christ. Thank you for always being there in all of our trials and tribulations. As we remember the events of 9/11, bless all of the families who lost their loved ones, the heroes who prevailed and those who lost their lives. Bring peace to people all over the world, knowing you are always in control no matter what the circumstances. Use this tragedy for us to come to you, praise you, and know that You are the Lord of our lives.

  7. olie says:

    That cross was a clear reminder that whatever trouble we're going through GOD always in control.

  8. segni says:

    Emmanuel.. God Is With Us!!

  9. marie says:

    Nice article, awesome picture. God Bless all those involved.

  10. Karen says:

    The evening of 9-11-2001 had the most memorable sunset looking toward Manhattan from Long Island. It had the deepest reds I have ever seen in a sunset. It seemed to pass quickly. Did anyone manage to get a photo of this moment of beauty amongst such heartbreak? The children in my neighborhood led a candlelight vigil walking through our streets that evening, praying for the families that lost loved ones, praying for those that survived. Remember to pray today for those that survived, so many saw such horror that day.