9/11 "Dust Lady" Marcy Borders Dies Of Stomach Cancer

In the somber days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Marcy Borders' dust-coated body appeared on newspaper front pages and television screens across the nation. The unsettling, yellow-tinted image of a shellshocked Borders, taken just seconds after the World Trade Center's North Tower collapsed into a twisted pile of melted metal, became one of the most iconic images from the attacks. On Monday, the 9/11 survivor known as the "Dust Lady" died after a battle with stomach cancer — a disease she and her family believed stemmed from the terrorist attack. She was 42 years old.

The Bayonne, New Jersey, resident had just started a new job as a legal assistant at Bank of America, then located in the WTC North Tower, when American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 brimming with fuel, slammed into the skyscraper. Borders was on the 81st floor when the plane struck the building, sending employees into a panic.

Borders, who was just 28 years old at the time of the attacks, told filmmaker Mike McGregor in 2012 that her supervisor advised everyone to keep calm and stay in the office. But Borders said the building was "quaking and swaying," and she just couldn't stay. Once she made her way down the damaged stairwell and got outside, the North Tower began collapsing, leaving her surrounded by ashy rubble. That iconic photo of Borders (shown below) was taken by Agence France-Presse photographer Stan Honda shortly after Borders was pulled from the rubble.


In a Facebook post in 2011, Honda recounted the events that led to his iconic photo of the "Dust Lady":

I was near a building lobby and a police officer was pulling people into the entrance to get them out of the danger. I went in and outside became black for a few minutes. A woman came in completely covered in gray dust. You could tell she was nicely dressed for work and for a second she stood in the lobby. I took one shot of her before the police officer started to direct people up a set of stairs, thinking it would be safer off the ground level.

Following Sept. 11, Borders spiraled into severe depression. She began abusing alcohol and drugs for nearly a decade, leading to a stint in rehab, she told The Jersey Journal in 2014. Unable to work because of her depression, Borders struggled to pay off thousands of dollars in debt.

Now that she was clean, Borders was hoping to finally live a life free from the haunting memories of 9/11. But in August 2014, the Bayonne resident was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She told The Jersey Journal that her cancer may have been directly linked to the 9/11 attacks.

"I'm saying to myself 'Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?'" Borders said in an interview with the New Jersey newspaper last year. "I definitely believe it because I haven't had any illnesses. I don't have high blood pressure ... high cholesterol, diabetes. How do you go from being healthy to waking up the next day with cancer?"

Borders added to The Jersey Journal in 2014 that she cannot look at that haunting photograph that has become one of the most widely circulated images of 9/11. "I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now," Borders said. "I don't want to be a victim anymore."

screenshot: Mike McGregor/Vimeo