COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A woman searching for a group of people her dad helped on 9/11 by driving a van from Omaha to Colorado has connected with one of his passengers.
On Sept. 9, 2021, Mercedes Martinez tweeted that her father had been on a flight leaving Ohio for Denver when it was grounded following the terrorist attacks. Mercedes explained that her father had quickly rented a van, grabbed a marker and wrote "Going to Denver" on a piece of cardboard, and held the sign up in the terminal. Seven scared strangers quickly surrounded him and the group began the long trek back to Denver, where he dropped each person off at their home.
Mercedes said her father died of brain cancer on July 24, 2016, but she wanted to try to find any of the seven people he had helped that day.
And now she has.
UPDATE: I heard from one of the passengers! More information to come. THANK YOU to everyone for spreading the word. I can’t believe it.— Mercedes Martinez (@MercedesLV) September 13, 2021
That person is Joyce Blutt of Colorado Springs.
In an interview with Denver7, Blutt said she was on her way to Chicago to visit her parents on Sept. 11, 2001. She said she remembers it was a clear day in the west.
About halfway through the flight, everything changed.
“The pilot came on and told us that we were going to be landing in Omaha because the FAA has ordered us out of the air because there was a major terrorist attack in New York," she said.
When the plane landed, Blutt walked into an airport full of chaos — all flights in the vicinity were coming in and the terminal was crowded, she said.
The TV screens showed nonstop coverage of the attack — the planes flying in, the Twin Towers crashing — as horrified people in the airport watched, cried, and hugged each other.
Blutt said she called her husband and attempted, but failed, to find a rental car. She said her husband urged her to stay patient.
That's when she spotted Emilio Martinez holding a cardboard sign that read he had a van and could take seven people to Denver.
"Like a magnet," Blutt said she and six others rushed toward him, all seeking the ride.
“Not a hesitation," she remembered. "It was like, OK, at that point, you had to trust. The worst had just happened. And maybe more was to happen. We don't know. But I didn't want to be in the airport.”
Any concerns she had about getting a ride from a stranger were dwarfed by an intense urge to get home to her family.
The group piled into the van and as Emilio pulled away from the airport, he switched the radio to NPR to listen for updates. For an hour, the group listened in shock, silently.
Then they slowly began talking, Blutt said. They introduced themselves and where they lived around Denver as they traveled down an empty interstate.
“When you're watching tragedy, are you thinking what you can do for others? No, you're thinking of yourself and your family, and you want to get to them. But he went beyond that. What a man, you know?” Blutt said of Emilio.
Once in the Denver area, Emilio dropped each passenger off and refused any payment for the ride.
“I got his name and phone number and email and all that so I could write him a letter because his graciousness — maybe he was the force that held us together in the van," Blutt said. "Because everybody was visibly upset. You know, when you saw what you saw, it's hard to understand that somebody did that to our country.”
She said she has shared the story with her children and grandchildren, and thinks of Emilio often.
"He’s a man I will never forget," she said. "I will never forget his face.”
So when Emilio's daughter, Mercedes, reached out to Blutt, she quickly responded. Mercedes said her father had passed away in July 2016.
“And she was just so excited," Blutt said. "She said, ‘I'm so happy to hear from you.’ And I said, ‘Well, I'll share with you my seven, eight hours with your father, and that are in my memory forever.’”
She said she hoped her talk with Mercedes gave her a little more closure.
“It warmed my heart that it made her feel good," she said. "So, her dad did good for us. And we did, hopefully, some good for her. And then she invited me to get to Las Vegas, and she'd buy me a glass of wine.”
Blutt said it was simply a miracle that Emilio was there and had the kindness in his heart to offer help amid the panic.
"I always talk about him," she said. "I called him St. Emilio or I would say, ‘He's my guardian angel.’ I have one. And I know I do because he helped me on that day.”