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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  1. Kenny says:

    My sister, Anne, is my inspiration in life. She is one of the most beautiful people I know and there is no one that deserves this honor more than she does. She was there, working from dawn to dark… and beyond that, day in and day out after the tragedy of 911. This was her role in helping our nation defeat terrorism. The picture that she saw and captured in the midst of that horrible rubbish after the disaster was no accident. It was a gift that came through her, and one that gave hope where there was despair. It was also a strong message to those who caused such pain.

  2. Becky says:

    Auntie Anne, thank you for this incredible gift. You are right – how special is it that God chose you, to bring us back this message of HOPE in one of our darkest moments as a modern nation. We are blessed to have this be a lasting remembrance of all the lives who were affected in this place on Earth. Truly, you brought us back a message of peace and comfort. We are grateful!

  3. debi says:

    I see so much love it makes me remember love is all we need

  4. Michelle says:

    My parents made the RIGHT choice in making Auntie Anne my GOD-MOTHER! 🙂 She is a beautiful woman with a LOT of wisdom! As evidenced in finding this cross among all the destruction, it is obvious she sees what nobody else can at times and makes the world a much better place by sharing her heart and experiences! It is always wonderful knowing that even when you might not have the right attitude, strength, words, ability, etc., God works through you to reach others EXACTLY as they need it! I REALLY REALLY REALLY love my Auntie Anne…Always have and always will! 🙂

  5. Joe says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, and for the reminder again that God is always with us, in everything we go thru. This photo is now my desktop at work.

  6. Anne says:

    When I was contacted by BGEA asking to use my photo, I was of course honored. Never could I have known that once again the greatest blessings would come back to me in subtle ways as they did 10 years ago. First, the blessing from our Creator reminding us that we are NOT alone, regardless of the struggles in our lives. Second, the blessing of family — my nieces and nephews have given me great joy through this connection. Finally, appreciation for the life that God has given us. When I watched the television specials yesterday (9/11) I was most moved by the children who lost a parent in this tragedy. I pray that God gives them peace in feeling the presence of their parent, always. A sincere thanks to Trevor and Tom from BGEA for using my photo and telling this story. My Mama grins from heaven. She was touched deeply by the events of 9/11 and was so proud of the work that we did there. She knew that this cross came as a gift from our Lord. Anne.

  7. Sandra says:

    What an amazing and powerful visual! I'm so thankful that God is ever present, especially in all the turmoil our society has created! Jesus Christ is our Hope and our Peace. I pray that He blesses all those who lost loved ones during 9/11 with both.

  8. Mom says:

    Thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ. God with us he is with those who trust in him thank God for this tenth year anniversary.

  9. The McCowans says:

    Love goes out to all the familys that was impacted by this day.God Bless us all

  10. Sue says:

    As the scriptures teach, ” He will Bring beauty out of ashes”. Only God can take a tragic situation such as this and bring good from it. The heightened awareness of God and our need to include Him in our lives was so evident in the days following 9-11. People went to church who hadn't felt the need for years! At this anniversary time may we remember our need for God.