Godwin Ajala is remembered as a U.S. national hero who fought to save
the lives of countless people as they escaped from the World Trade
Center towers on September 11, 2001.
Ajala was born in Nigeria on June 9, 1968, the son of a retailer from a
small town in eastern Nigeria. As an adult, Ajala became a lawyer in
Nigeria. His family, including his wife, Victoria, and their three
children, Onyinyechi, 7, Uchechukwu, 5, and Ugochi, 1, lived in the town
of Ihenta in Ebonyi State. In 1995, Ajala emigrated to the United
States to make a better life for himself and his family.
When he first arrived in the U.S Ajala bounced between poorly paid jobs
but eventually obtained a steady position as a security guard or Access
Control Officer at the New York World Trade Center towers at the
Concourse (ground floor) level. In this position, Ajala rode elevators
and walked floors of the 110-story tower at Two World Trade Center,
helping secure the building and attending to small emergencies.
Ajala worked in this position while preparing to take the New York State
Bar Exam with plans to reunite his family in the U.S. once he had
passed the exam. Friends described him as working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
as a security guard and then coming home to study for another 6 to 8
hours every day.
Despite his efforts, Ajala never achieved his goals of becoming a lawyer
in the United States and bringing his family to the U.S. Nor do we know
if he would have ever been able to achieve these goals since, having
little money, he was unable to attend law school in the U.S., and
instead took more affordable specialized prep courses for the New York
Bar Exam. He failed the exam three times.
Yet on the day of September 11, 2001, Ajala demonstrated his
self-sacrificing character when, instead of running to save his own
life, he helped to evacuate thousands of people from a street-level
security post inside the lobby of Two World Trade Center when the second
plane hit the building. He held the door open for people running out,
and repeatedly went back inside to guide more people out of the blazing
structure. Exhausted after helping to guide many out of the attacked
building, Ajala reportedly first went into a coma and died the following
Ajala died at age 33, one of 11 security guards among the nearly 3,000 people who were killed at the World Trade Center.