The Survivors of 9/11 Who Were Lucky to Escape

American flags lined campus to represent the lives lost on 9/11.

Saturday, Sept. 11 marked 20 years since al Qaeda surprised the United States with a series of tragic terrorist attacks. Sept. 11, 2001, was just another normal day for many Americans. However, it quickly turned into one of the darkest days in United States history.  

Families woke up, sent their kids to school and made their way to work that morning. This was just before two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, another plane into the Pentagon in the nation’s capital and a final plane that crashed down in a Pennsylvanian field. There were 2,996 people who lost their lives that day, 412 being first responders, and therefore, this sad day resonates closely with many of our own Villanova students. 

With a large portion of our student body coming from areas like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and even Washington D.C. and Massachusetts, many students have families or know families who have been negatively impacted by this tragedy. For example, both my friend’s family and my own family have close ties with this day.  

Sophomore Emily Cahill’s mother worked in one of the Twin Towers. She left for work that morning, but on her way there she was told that her meeting was cancelled and she could fortunately spend the day at home. While Cahill returned home that morning, she had lost two co-workers that day when the building collapsed.  

Similarly, to Cahill, my father experienced luck that morning. Before 2001, my father worked as a volunteer firefighter, but at the time was working for Chase in a building two blocks from the World Trade Center. Luckily, my father did not go to work that day because he had to take my mother to one of her checkups since she was pregnant with me. Otherwise, he would have been there helping assist in rescuing people and could have lost his life, like many of the people he knew. My father and Cahill were among some of the fortunate people who missed their trains or slept in that day and never made it to work.  

Comparably to the thousands of families who had to cope with the lasting impact of a loved one’s death, there were also many people impacted by the lasting health issues developed by those who worked near the Twin Towers and those first responders who risked their lives that day. It took months for the destruction to be cleaned and as a result, people were breathing in toxins and carcinogens that later led to health problems, like breathing issues and cancer. 

Now, there are programs like the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, which give money back to families who lost a loved one or people who worked and lived near the attacks and developed health issues.  On top of this, there are foundations that give back to the military and first responders. One example is the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, which I am very familiar with, as my dad has been donating to them monthly since he recovered from cancer likely related to 9/11.  

Tunnels to Towers was created to honor Stephen Siller, a member of the Brooklyn 1 Firehouse. On the morning of Sept. 11, Stephen finished his shift and was headed to play golf, but once he heard of the attack, he headed right back to the firehouse. Siller got in the firetruck and headed over to the World Trade Center, but the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was blocked, so he took all 60 pounds of his gear and ran through the tunnel to the Twin Towers.  

Unfortunately, Siller lost his life that day while saving others, but his courage and legacy lives on through this foundation. So far, Tunnels to Towers has raised more than $250 million in support of our first responders and military heroes. On top of accepting online donations on its website, the foundation has set up various events around the country, like golf outings, barbecues, 5K runs and marathons, all to help raise money.  

As it is the 20th anniversary, to commemorate and give back to those who keep us safe, the University is selling “NEVER FORGET 9-11-2001" merchandise through Nova Insider. Faculty, staff, students and families can go to the Nova Insider Instagram and click the link in its bio to find the store. All proceeds will be donated to the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, which will be used to build mortgage-free homes for first responders and veterans.  

We should keep those whose lives were lost on 9/11 and those who continue to serve our country in our minds, hearts and prayers. Let us all be inspired by our military and first responders and live by the Saint Francis of Assisi philosophy that Siller followed: “While we have time, let us do good.”