"Thank you, Karen, for giving us the gift of Ben."
Among the thousands trying to escape the crumbling Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, were a group of small kids and their caretakers from the Children's Discovery Day Care Center, at 5 World Trade Center, a small building just across from the iconic skyscrapers.
“It was amazing... the kids did not cry... the kids were so calm," day care worker Karen Caycedo said.
Karen said that she still remembers the day clearly.
“It felt like the earth was sinking in,” she said. “I try to forget it.”
Karen has always wanted to be a day care worker.
“It’s my calling,” she said.
She was among the workers who carried the children to safety on that tragic day.
"It was exhausting, finding our way to safety.... I saw shopping carts lined up and I just grabbed them and we all put [the children] in,” she said.
Then the group started to run for safety, not knowing where to stop.
Karen remembers passing a stranger as they moved downtown.
“There was this man… he took the shirt off his back to gave it to me, so I could put it over the kids’ faces. There was smoke everywhere. I just wanted to keep them safe,” she said.
Eventually, the day care workers made their way over to a Lower East Side elementary school.
Educators that had taken shelter there welcomed them with open arms, providing formula and diapers for the babies, giving them a chance to pause.
“I remember putting them down in their cots and making sure each and everybody was asleep," Karen said. "That’s when we all just broke down.”
It was a miraculous story of survival, and hours later, the day care workers were able to reach the families of the infants and relay that everyone was safe.
One of those children was Ben Chang, a 16-month-old at the time.
Ben’s parents, Art and Allison Chang, were left frantically looking for him.
In remembering that day, Art said to Karen, “I held the deep, deep belief inside my that whatever happened to Ben would only happy if the same or worst happened to you.”
Ben is a teenager now and said that he, understandably, has no memory of that day.
But Karen still remembers hearing the deep exhale of each of the parents when they were reunited with their children.
“Every child went home that night,” she said. “These are my kids. And I’d do it all over again.”
- Digital Exclusive: Karen Caycedo shares more stories from their escape to safety
- Digital Exclusive: Art Chang takes viewers through his timeline of that day
Read Art's letter to Karen, below: