When Matthew Weiss of East Hills heard about the story of Welles Crowther, he wanted everyone to hear it.
“I’m a lawyer, and I’ve never made a film. I never took a film class. I never even had a bucket list item to make a film,” Weiss said. “I figured it out because I wanted people to hear this story and be inspired to do great things and be inspired to be better.”
From this drive and six years of writing, researching and interviewing came “Man in Red Bandana,” a documentary film about Crowther and his final hours inside the World Trade Center.
Crowther, 24, of Upper Nyack, New York, worked on the 104th floor of the south World Trade Center tower in 2001 as an equities trader. When United Airlines Flight 175 hit floors 75 to 85 a little after 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, Crowther quickly called his parents and left a voicemail that he was OK.
That was the last phone call Crowther ever made to his family, but it isn’t the end of the story.
Weiss interviewed Crowther’s parents, Jefferson and Alison, for the documentary, where Jefferson talks about teaching his son that the handkerchief in his breast pocket is for show, “but the red one is for blow,” and gave him his first red bandanna while his father always used blue.
“The story takes an amazing turn because eight months later, The New York Times wrote an article with different survivor accounts — what people saw and how they got out,” Weiss said. “Among this group of people were two survivors who said they were led up and out by a man who had a red bandanna on his face. When Alison read that, she knew instantly it was her son because her son, from age 8, always carried a red bandanna. It was a habit he got into, his friends teased him about it, but he always had it.”
After the article, the survivors saved by the man in the red bandanna looked at photos to identify Crowther as the man who saved them and were invited to the Crowther family home to help his parents piece together their son’s final hours.
“[Ling Young], too, said she had been steered by the man in the red bandanna, hearing him call out: ‘This way to the stairs,'” The New York Times reported. “He trailed her down the stairs. Ms. Young said she soon noticed that he was carrying a woman on his back. Once they reached clearer air, he put her down and went back up.”
Survivors told the Crowthers their son went back up the stairs to save more people at least twice, and according to survivor accounts, Crowther saved as many as 18 people after the attack on the South Tower.
“You can imagine for the family, their perception shifts when they learn how their son died that day a hero,” Weiss said. “Obviously they still cry for him and their hearts break every day, there is no closure, but it did give them some peace of mind … It’s a tremendous story of courage and sacrifice and selflessness.”
“I feel in this world, there’s not enough giving and selflessness, and I feel we also could be better people,” Weiss said. “I know I could be a better person, and Welles is a reminder to me to be a little more selfless, whether it’s giving up my seat on a bus or holding a door for someone who’s trailing me.”