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Interview with Susan Pauls

Aired January 15, 2003 - 11:11   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we're going to go back to Philadelphia once again and get some more on that story that we broke -- the breaking story that we talked on at the top of the hour here.
Fatal fire -- apparently fire there in the Washington Square area of Philadelphia, a building on the south side of Washington Square, a 35 story tall high rise, fire breaking out there on the 25th floor area or so, and we're just now getting a chance to talk with an eyewitness to all of this.

Susan Pauls is joining us now on the phone, and Susan, I understand you actually were in position to see everything that happened there?

SUSAN PAULS, EYEWITNESS: Well, from the time the man fell off or jumped off of the balcony.

HARRIS: So you did see that happen?

PAULS: I did.

HARRIS: Could you tell from what you saw where you were, did he fall or did he jump?

PAULS: It looked like he jumped. It looked like he jumped, but I'm on a kind of caddy corner angle, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

HARRIS: Tell us what you were seeing.

PAULS: Well, first of all, I saw in the street are tons of furniture that seemed to have been thrown from a high floor, and then I saw this man dressed in black fall or jump off the balcony and hit several balconies on his way down, and landed on the concrete overhang over the entrance to the building, and they just put his body in a body bag and are taking it down. It was so horrible. It was so horrible.

HARRIS: You wouldn't happen -- do you know anybody who lives in that building?

PAULS: I know several people who live in that building but not in that area of the building.

HARRIS: Do you know where they are right now? We understand that the building had been evacuated. PAULS: Yes, I think they were in the lobby, but they've let people go up, back up to their apartments. They can walk up to their apartments below that point, and there are firemen all over the place, hundreds of them.

HARRIS: Were people -- were people there -- sorry, in the -- down there in the lower level when the man fell?

PAULS: People were in the street in front. They couldn't see the level. The overhang is like on the second floor.

HARRIS: So they may have been in position to actually see all of it?

PAULS: Oh, yes. Many, many, many people saw this.

HARRIS: Good God all mighty, that's awful...

PAULS: And I live in a high rise, so I'm very nervous now.

HARRIS: Are you on the same level sort of?

PAULS: No, I'm on the sixth floor, but suddenly our fire drills don't seem as silly.

HARRIS: Interesting. In fact, we are going to show some pictures. We have some pictures of some of the debris that you talked about that you saw...

PAULS: There is a sofa there in the middle of the street.

HARRIS: Boy. We see what looks like an Ottoman or a sofa or something as well as lots of papers and everything.


HARRIS: Is there any way for you to tell what was going on up there?

PAULS: Well, I've heard from people who have been downstairs talking to residents that this couple had had a fight, and apparently the woman had thrown furniture off the balcony, and the man set the apartment on fire purposely.

HARRIS: So the woman was throwing the furniture, and the man set the fire.

PAULS: That's what I heard, but I don't know how accurate that is. I can't imagine a woman throwing a sofa off of a balcony.

HARRIS: Susan, I'm thinking the exact same thing. And looking at the pictures that we see here, that was a...

PAULS: You see the roof of the overhang there with the yellow bag. HARRIS: Awful. We can see that from these live pictures that we're getting in from KYW right now. You are watching these pictures too?

PAULS: I am.

HARRIS: Yes. Boy, I tell you something -- what time did you look outside at first? Do you know?

PAULS: Oh, I guess a little after 10:00. I was in another part of the apartment and had no idea that anything was going on.

HARRIS: And you didn't know this until you heard the alarms and sirens?

PAULS: No, my daughter called me to find out if it was my apartment and am I OK, and alerted me to this fact.

HARRIS: Now, some of the reports that we have seen said that this man was jumping from balcony to balcony.

PAULS: Yes, I didn't see that, but I've seen the reports of it, and that's very easily possible in this building.

HARRIS: Have you ever seen someone do that?

PAULS: No, but I had often thought that for a safety matter for friends who lived there, it might be a concern.

HARRIS: I'm looking at the way these balconies are staggered. It looks as though that is possible.

PAULS: Exactly. Exactly.

HARRIS: And I can't imagine teenagers at least not trying something like that at some point, that is why I am wondering if that had been done before.

PAULS: I don't know.

HARRIS: Do you know anything about these people, whether...

PAULS: Not at all. Only what I have heard on the news, that apparently there have been some domestic violence calls to police about him, so there's obviously a history of anger there for sure.

HARRIS: And Susan, I don't know how to ask you this one gently, but what was going through your mind? What did you feel when you saw that happen to this man?

PAULS: I just started screaming. I'm here all by myself and screaming. You feel so helpless. You can't do anything except watch, and it was almost as if it was in slow motion.

HARRIS: How would you describe this neighborhood? Is it sort of a quiet neighborhood? PAULS: They call it the suburbs of center city. It's a beautiful residential area with a lovely park designed by William Penn who founded Philadelphia. It's an absolutely lovely, kind of upscale neighborhood.

HARRIS: Considering what time of day it is, I would imagine that any kids would probably be in school...


PAULS: Oh, I certainly hope so.

HARRIS: Did you happen to see any kids down there?

PAULS: No, I didn't see any children at all. They're probably all in school.

HARRIS: I certainly hope there were none there to see that.

PAULS: I sure hope so.

HARRIS: Susan Pauls, thank you very much for sharing with us your story, and we sure wish you well, and hope that you can somehow get that image out of your head. I know it is going to bug you for some time.

PAULS: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: Take care. Susan Pauls in Philadelphia.


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