Ground Zero Rising

9/11 comeback story: Original twin towers tenant moves to One World Trade Center

Greg Carafello is the only twin tower tenant to move to One World Trade. He and his daughter volunteer at the 9/11 museum.

The new CNBC original documentary "Ground Zero Rising: Freedom vs. Fear" explores the arc of the World Trade Center site from 9/11 to its ongoing revitalization. Correspondent Jim Cramer interviewed 9/11 survivors and One World Trade Center tenants including Greg Carafello, the only twin towers tenant to move to the new building.

Greg Carafello volunteers five hours a week as a guide at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. His recollection of that day is vivid because he was there — when a hijacked airplane struck the north tower, Carafello was at work in the south tower running a small printing company. He was able to escape to safety within 20 minutes. "All of the difference between the first plane and the second plane," Carafello said.

Carafello survived, but he lost a dear friend that day.

"Jimmy, his name was James Martello, and we had grown up since 6 years old together next to each other, three houses away," said Carafello. "We had always been like brothers, really. We were co-captains of the football team. He was my best man at my wedding. My wife and I loved him to death."

Greg Carafello with his daughter return to the WTC.
Source: Greg Carafello
Greg Carafello with his daughter return to the WTC.

For nearly six years, Carafello made sure to avoid the World Trade Center site. That is, until he decided to train to become a guide at the 9/11 memorial and museum. "I became a docent in 2012, and the more you were around it, the more you could feel the energy, and the more I was healing or feeling better about being here and about myself and about Jimmy and about everything else."

"I volunteer there every Friday for about five hours. And it's a very cathartic thing for me to do for my own well-being," he said. "I say hello to him every day when I'm there, you know."

The survivor stairs, the lone salvaged pane of glass, a damaged fire truck: By telling the story behind each artifact, Carafello found that he became more comfortable. "So this is the slurry wall, and this is where Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the museum, he felt… this best represented the American psyche," Carafello explained to museum visitors. "We were hit, we cracked, we bent, but we did not break."

His youngest daughter, Rachel — only 3 at the time of the 9/11 attacks — shares her father's commitment by volunteering at the museum on Saturday afternoons.

"People all over the world have told me stories, that they remember what they were wearing, where they were when they heard that the buildings had been attacked," she said. "So just seeing that opened my eyes to how it really affected the whole world, and not just the surrounding community or people who were in the towers — it had a global impact."

"Sometimes when I come in with my dad and I see him talking about certain artifacts and stuff and adding his personal experience with it, it kind of makes me kind of emotional just knowing that he was there and what he went through," she said. "I think he does it honestly to get closure from everything that happened, not only being here but losing his best friend — and to really give back and teach future generations about what happened so no one forgets."

In 2015, her father had to find new office space for his company, ink and toner retailer Cartridge World. He chose, of all places, One World Trade — becoming the first and only tenant from the twin towers to move into the new building. "A lot of people will ask me, you know, 'Do you regret it? Are you nervous?' And I'm really not. Not at all. I don't regret it a little bit. I just find it the beginning of a new life for me."

As surprising as his decision may be to others, for Carafello, it was rather simple. "I don't think Americans are built to run away," he said. "There's a resurgence going on. It's a rebuilding and a rebirth. I think that's what we do — we build 'em bigger, and better, stronger, and so on. And that's the pride of being here, really."

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, Carafello divides his time between his 85th floor office at One World Trade and the 9/11 museum below. "He's a great role model, definitely, and someone I look up to," said Rachel Carafello. "He works so hard, and the fact that he makes time in his busy schedule to come and volunteer and really make an impact on the people visiting and to educate people, I think it says a lot about him as a person."

Tune in to Ground Zero Rising: Freedom vs. Fear, Thursday Sept. 1 at 10 p.m. ET on CNBC.