A key rescue on 9/11: How a janitor at the World Trade Center used this tool to save lives

William Rodriguez had a master key and knew how to use it to help rescue efforts as the building crumbled

One of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers collapses after it was struck by a commercial airliner Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. (Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)

The number of lives lost in the 9/11 attacks likely would have been higher, had William Rodriguez not been one of five people to have this item inside the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico and ended up moving to New York, where he first aspired to be a magician.

Ultimately, Rodriguez took a job as a custodian at the World Trade Center, a gig that turned him into an influential figure when the terrorist attacks occurred.

On the morning of the attack, on the North Tower of the WTC, Rodriguez was in the basement’s building when the tragic events started to unfold.

At first, Rodriguez said he wanted to go to the restaurant at the top of the building to save friends who gave him a free breakfast each day, according to an article in The Badger Herald after he spoke about his experience at the University of Wisconsin in 2007.

But when that didn’t become feasible, Rodriguez went to work with a tool that only five other people in the building had: A master key to open any door in either tower.

Using that key, Rodriguez was able to open doors on various floors for firefighters and police in their efforts to save people as the building crumbled, especially with elevators out of service.

Eventually, Rodriguez ended up taking cover underneath a firetruck and was rescued from the rubble about four hours later.

To hear his experience that day, click or tap here to watch a video from VOA.

In the years after the attacks, Rodriguez traveled the world to go on speaking engagements. He was also critical of the U.S. government’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks, which you can read about here.

But still, 22 years later, Rodriguez is praised for his quick action and use of a master key.

This article was initially published in 2021. It has since been updated.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.