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‘Man in Red Bandana’ documentary soothes 9/11 parents’ loss

NEW YORK — Jefferson and Allison Crowther did not get the remains of their son, Welles, for more than six months after the September 11th terror attacks.

The body of their 24-year-old oldest child — their only son — was discovered where the South Tower lobby used to be, close to fallen FDNY firefighters, in March 2002.

Still struggling to deal with the pain of their loss, Welles' mother discovered something else — in May 2002 — that brought her great pride.

Reading a New York Times story, she read quotes from survivors who'd been assisted to a stairwell near the 78th floor sky lobby.

Several of them talked about "the man with the red bandana" — the calming presence who showed them the way to the only, working stairway in the crippled tower, which had been slammed by United Airlines Flight 175. At least one witness said the man with the bandana over his mouth and nose carried a woman on his back down 17 steps, before getting more people on the path to safety. He'd saved at least a dozen.

"I'd found Welles," his mother recalled. "He carried a red bandana with him every single day."

Welles' story eventually became a documentary, "Man with Red Bandana," which has just been released in advance of the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

The genesis of the film begins with a dad's sweet recollection about a 7-year-old Welles, who was watching his father get ready for church one Sunday in the family's home in Nyack, New York.

"He said, 'Daddy, can I have a handkerchief like you?'" Jefferson Crowther remembered.

The father had a blue bandana he carried in his pocket and a handkerchief he placed in his suit jacket.

He let his son have a handkerchief, and then gave Welles a red bandana, telling him, "One is for 'show' and this (the bandana) is to blow," gesturing to his nose.

Welles became so attached to the red bandana that he carried it into young adulthood, through his time as a lacrosse player at Boston College and into the business world at Sandler O'Neill and Partners, located in the World Trade Centers South Tower.

When word spread of Crowther's selfless acts on 9/11, it inspired a country song by Stive Lenik and more than a dozen moms to name their children after Welles.

Then, one day, businessman Matt Weiss went for a lunch with his banker, Jefferson Crowther, Welles' father.

"I was just blown away by Welles' story," Weiss said. "I wasn't looking to make a film. I never took a film class. This story found me."

PIX11 spoke to two, 9/11 survivors who encountered Crowther on the 78th floor of the south tower.

"I heard a voice: 'Take this staircase,'" said Richard Fern. "He was lining up people and getting them ready to evacuate."

Ed Nicholls had made his way down from the 102nd Floor.

"It's important that people understand what happened," Nicholls told PIX11.

Fern added, "We need heroes. People should know his unselfishness. He gave."

It's something that then-President Barack Obama was mightily impressed by.

When the September 11th Museum was dedicated in 2014, the President observed of numerous survivors, "They knew their lives had been saved by the "man in the red bandana."