He saw one person whose arm was pinned between collapsed slabs of concrete. Others, staggering in confusion, coughed to clear their airways of choking dust.
"The first responders didn't tell us to move because they needed our help," said McLaughlin, 18, of Chestnut Hill, who attends the Science Leadership Academy nearby. "But then they eventually told us to move away" as more rescuers arrived.
Maintenance workers Harold Corbin, 51, and Jim Buggey, 46, also sprang into action seconds after the collapse. A construction crew working nearby joined them.
"We just started grabbing people," said Corbin, who had hurried to the scene from the River West Condominiums at 21st and Chestnut streets, where he'd been working. The construction workers "went in the hole and passed the ladies to us."
"It was like a quarterback-wide receiver play," Corbin added. "They passed us the people; we carried them out and came back in."
The impromptu rescuers pulled four victims - all conscious and talking - from the wreckage in what Corbin called a "furious 10 minutes."
The survivors seemed to be in shock and suffered bumps, bruises and other minor injuries. One woman clung to Corbin as he carried her.
"She was screaming and hollering. I was like: 'We got you, ma'am, we got you, ma'am.' . . . she was saying: 'Please don't drop me. Please don't drop me.' "
The collapse knocked at least one victim out of her shoes, a problem given the tangle of jagged nails, splintered boards and glass that the building had become. Corbin and others just hoisted the victims into their arms and hauled them out to the street.
" 'Thank you and God bless you.' That's all we heard" from the victims, Corbin said.
Corbin, Buggey, McLaughlin and others shrugged off any hints of heroism.
"It was by the grace of God, I think, today. The grace of God," Corbin said. "It's amazing that everybody just clicked together. People that you don't even know together, and everybody just responded and just acted in the same nature."
McLaughlin agreed: "I wouldn't say I was heroic. I had the ability to help people who were trapped."
Nadine White, 54, of South Philadelphia, an employee of the Salvation Army thrift store, was among the victims taken out of the rubble.
George Roach, a Fox 29 cameraman, interviewed White as she was being released from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital yesterday afternoon.
Roach, who didn't film White because she didn't want to be on camera, said that she told him she was rescued by a co-worker.
"Please don't leave me, please don't ever leave me," White had said to her co-worker, according to Roach.
"I won't ever leave you," the co-worker responded, according to Roach.
- Staff writer John Moritz
contributed to this story.
On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo