Syreeta Harrison said the photos of rescue workers searching atop a pile of rubble made her think of 9/11.
These photos, however, were not of Lower Manhattan but her hometown, about eight blocks from her office at 15th and Arch Streets in Center City.
And terrorism was not involved, just a mix of greed, arrogance, and incompetence that ended at 10:41 a.m. on June 5, 2013, when a building under demolition collapsed and crushed the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market Street.
Harrison said the Philadelphia photos also had the same morbid attraction as those from 9/11: "It felt like you just watched and watched and watched until you couldn't watch anymore."
Watch she did, along with 15 other Philadelphians selected as jurors and alternates, for the Common Pleas Court civil trial of lawsuits filed after the collapse, which killed seven people and injured 12. It was one of the longest civil trials in Pennsylvania history.
Beginning Sept. 19, Harrison and the other jurors sat through 15 weeks of testimony before deliberating about four hours and returning a verdict Jan. 31. Then followed three days of testimony to prepare the jury for a second deliberation on how much money to award in damages.
The jury also found the Salvation Army liable, though the religious charity lost two of its employees and the store in the disaster. The jury found that ranking officers ignored warnings of danger and a potential collapse from Basciano's top aide, Thomas Simmonds, and did not pass along the warnings to store employees and customers.
The damages phase of the trial was a shock to all the jurors, Harrison said. The jury had never been told about a second part of the trial that the judge said could take weeks more of testimony.
It never happened. After three days of mournful, often graphic testimony about the injuries sustained by those in the collapse, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina brought the jurors into City Hall's ornate Courtroom 653 on Wednesday and told them the parties had settled.
"Yes, it was a surprise," Harrison said. "After all, the judge had just told us the trial could last until the end of February."
Still, as she entered the courtroom, Harrison said she thought something was up. As the jurors took seats in the jury box, plaintiffs' lawyer Robert J. Mongeluzzi was looking directly at them with a smile on his face.
For months, Sarmina had told the jurors that the lawyers had been ordered not to even acknowledge the jurors if they passed in the hallways so as not to influence them.
Harrison said she was stunned: "He's not supposed to be doing that."
The jurors did not learn until later that the settlement amount was $227 million: $200 million from the Salvation Army and $27 million from Basciano and his STB Investments Corp. Plaintiffs' lawyers said it was the largest personal liability settlement in Pennsylvania state court history.
Harrison said she was shocked at the amount – "Still not enough" – and at the settlement after all those months of trial.
"They're a Christian-based organization," Harrison said of the Salvation Army. "Why take these families through all this? Why couldn't you have done this at the front end?"
Sarmina gave the jurors the answer before she dismissed the panel Wednesday. "The fact is that your findings in your liability verdict were pivotal in these claims being able to settle," the judge said.
"Once the jury spoke, things began heating up," said plaintiffs' lawyer Steven G. Wigrizer at a post-settlement news conference.
In addition to Basciano and the Salvation Army, the jury also found liable Plato A. Marinakos Jr., the Center City architect hired by Basciano and his STB Investments Corp. to monitor demolition of the four-story Hoagie City building.
It was Marinakos who recommended Griffin Campbell, an inexperienced, unlicensed North Philadelphia contractor, to do the demolition and, by extension, Campbell's excavator operator Sean Benschop.
"There was obvious anger in the jury's liability verdict and we believe that was going to be expressed in the damage verdict to come," added Mongeluzzi.
Harrison, 43, a city social worker and the mother of five children ranging in age from a college freshman to a 3-year-old, was the only juror who could be reached to speak about the trial and their service.
She said there was no real debate once deliberations began, a fact underscored by the speed of the verdict.
Simmonds warned in the emails of the danger of an imminent collapse and loss of life if the charity did not grant demolition workers access to the thrift store roof. He testified that he was exaggerating, hoping to get action from the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army officials testified that they did not trust Simmonds or Basciano and did not believe the warnings. According to trial testimony, the Salvation Army did nothing to investigate what was going on in the vacant four-story Hoagie City building next door.
"That was really disheartening," Harrison said. "As a Christian woman of faith, it was really disheartening that they didn't think enough of their employees to include them in the know."
As the trial stretched into the holiday season, Harrison said, she had trouble reconciling the bell-ringing Salvation Army workers and their red kettles at all four portals of City Hall with what she heard in the courtroom.
"Yes, it really started to bother me," Harrison added.
As for Basciano, who left the witness stand in tears after testifying that he was heartbroken about the injuries and loss of life, Harrison said his testimony "did not add up."
"I just felt like, 'And the Oscar goes to,' " Harrison said. "One minute he's weak and frail and the next he's using profanity."
To Harrison, Basciano's most significant testimony was when he said he always awarded contracts to the lowest bidder.
"That's OK when you're buying a birthday cake, but that's not OK when doing demolition," she added.
Harrison said the jury believed that Campbell and Benschop were scapegoats and that Campbell was "seduced and used" by Marinakos, whom she called an "obvious opportunist."
The judge and lawyers praised the jurors' dedication; all stayed for the duration of the trial.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Harry Roth said the jurors "represented everything that is good about Philadelphia. Their attention, their understanding of what was going on, their verdict helped to heal the tear that happened in Philadelphia on June 5."
Sarmina called the trial the longest Philadelphia civil trial in history. Not quite. According to newspaper archives, the city's longest civil trial ran five months. That jury began hearing testimony in a lawsuit involving lead poisoning of a Frankford lead smelting plant worker on Nov. 18, 1985, and finished April 11, 1986. The jury never got to render a verdict: The case settled.
Despite the trial's length, Harrison said she was lucky because the city supports jury service. Still, the long trial meant juggling schedules with her husband to accommodate child care and school activities.
As a social worker who has confronted trauma in children and adults, Harrison said she tried to steel herself for what she and other jurors would see and learn in the trial. But even she was not totally prepared for the testimony and photos of the dead in the rubble that they saw in the last three days of testimony before settlement.
She said the images remain with her to this day.