"You could see the Twin Towers from our school, right across the water," Santiago said. "You look across the street and you can see the buildings up in smoke."
Santiago was born and raised in Newark, N.J., roughly 10 miles from Ground Zero, where two passenger airlines -- American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 -- crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The death total for that day, which included two other plane crashes, was 2,996, including the 19 terrorists who hijacked the planes. But one survivor sticks out in Santiago's mind. It was the son of his teacher that day. He worked at the World Trade Center, and that morning, he fell asleep on the train and didn't make it to his stop. He never went in to work.
"She called it the luckiest she's ever felt," Santiago said, smiling. "It's the only day he's ever been late to work, and it was that day. I thought that was nuts."
Santiago was 13 at the time. Right next to his parents' house was a little hill. And from that hill, he could see where the Twin Towers used to be. That day, Santiago and five others stood on that hill and only saw smoke. His mother began to weep.
"It was just crazy," Santiago said. "We were so young. You see all the high-sky smoke and you're like, 'What is going on?' And everybody's just crying. At that time, you didn't really know what was going on. You couldn't process it. We were 12, 13 years old."