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'I'm lucky': Raleigh man survives both 9/11, mass shooting

One is the worst terror attack on United States soil that left nearly 3,000 people dead. The other is the worst mass shooting in our country's history that left 60 people and the gunman dead. A Raleigh man witnessed and survived both.

Posted Updated

Ken Smith
, WRAL anchor/reporter
N.Y. — A Raleigh man witnessed and survived both the worst terror attack on the United States and one of the most deadly mass shootings in our country's history.

"These anniversaries bring up triggers," Mike Dempsey said.

His memory leading up to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is as clear as the New York City sky was that morning.

"We felt the full blast, not knowing a plane had hit the building," he said.

He was working in World Trade Center 5, when the first plane hit tower one, where his wife worked. Dempsey tried to get to her office because phone calls weren’t going through. He couldn’t get past the lobby. He went outside to try to call again, and he looked up.

"There is the second plane, I’m right under it and it crashes into the building," he said.

Dempsey said that’s when chaos and panic set in.

"I was trampled. Knocked face forward, knocked unconscious, woke up semi-conscious in City Hall Park which was about three or four blocks away," he said.

He had a fractured skull, internal bleeding and no idea who dragged him to safety. Dempsey was in the hospital when the first tower fell. He felt the rumbling and feared the worst.

"The mental injuries of fearing for your life, thinking that this is the last seconds, you just got nuked in an attack," Dempsey said.

When Dempsey finally realized it wasn’t another attack, but the towers coming down, his focus shifted to his wife.

"I thought she was gone, because when I heard that the tower had collapsed I’m thinking she was in it," he said.

Luckily, his wife was late for work that day and wasn’t in the tower when the attacks started. But she was also unsure if he was alive. The two couldn’t make contact for 12 to14 hours after the attacks.

Las Vegas mass shooting

Sixteen years later, Dempsey was outside the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas for the night en route to a charity golf tournament in California.

"Just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Dempsey said. While there, a gunman staying in that hotel opened fire on an outdoor concert.

The confusion started all over again.

"Everything that happened that night was all when I heard shots fired, didn’t know where they were coming from, all of the sudden I heard sniper," he said.

Dempsey, who did not attend the concert that was targeted by gunman, Stephen Paddock, was rushed back into the Mandalay and put in lockdown. It took hours until word got to him about was going on outside.

"People either say I’m lucky or unlucky. I think I’m lucky," Dempsey said.

Witnessing these two tragedies changed his perspective on life. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Dempsey started donating his money to philanthropic organizations.

"There’s no closure," Dempsey said. "People always say get over 9/11. There’s no getting over it. You have to accept it, compartmentalize it and move forward and do something that’s going to help you to help others."


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