Fifteen years ago on Sept. 11, many people were going about their day as if it were any other. But it was on that September morning that everything changed when the United States came under attack.
Sophomore Emily Thomas had just started preschool. Her father dropped her off, as was their daily morning routine.
Her father was an NYPD officer. It was his day off, but he came back to her school with his badge on.
“He told me something’s wrong,” she said. “Something along the lines of ‘there’s bad guys and they are really bad in the city and I have to go. If I don’t come back for a while just take care of Francis.”
Her younger brother, Francis, was an infant at this time. Thomas did not like his reply and as a preschooler she just wanted to go home.
“I remember he gave me a huge hug and then he told me he loved me and he left,” she said.
They closed the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel as her father and fellow cops were traveling into the city.
“I always say I thank God that he got stuck in the tunnel because while he was in the tunnel, the second tower went down,” she said.
Late that night Thomas remembers her father coming home covered in dust.
“I remember him telling my mom it was an office building, there should be like couches, desks, computers and it was just dust,” she said. “Everything was gone. He couldn’t even believe it.”
At this time Thomas’ father was a detective with the Brooklyn South Narcotics Division. From Sept. 11, 2001 and many months forward, he was doing body recovery on site.
“It was so traumatic for him because these people weren’t even people anymore,” Thomas said. “They were like pieces.”
She explained how there are so many people that have died from a post-9/11 illness. Her father was one of the many first responders who suffered from cancer related to 9/11.
“He had angiosarcoma. When he went in with it, he had a horrible cough and they found a tumor in his chest. It was ten years later. It had just been growing in his chest,” she said.
The doctors questioned whether he was a mechanic or worked with planes until they found out he was a cop and was there that September morning in 2001. He was the first person from Sept. 11 to be diagnosed with that type of cancer, she said.
He had chemotherapy and is now five years cancer free. He retired out of the Terrorism Task Force that he joined after 9/11. Her father didn’t speak many words about what he witnessed that day and for months after.
Thomas visited the National 9/11 Museum as a part of her Discover New York course last year. She was scared to go and was overwhelmed once inside.
“You walk around and you just hear feet. No one talks. You walk in and you just feel it,” she said.
She appreciates the new addition of the Freedom Tower to the New York City skyline.
“We built back up better than we were and we have the museum, that’s important,” she said. “There’s going to be kids who don’t remember or who weren’t even alive. I think it’s important that we have that because I remember for the longest time looking and not seeing the towers and it just being blank. It was the worst thing.”
As the country remembers the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Thomas recognizes that in New York, it is painful every single year. That day will always hurt for Americans and especiallyNew York City natives like herself.
“These people come in so hateful and they don’t even know you and they just want to hurt you and want to kill you. And then there’s people who are running inside buildings because they don’t know you and they want to save you. It’s the craziest paradox and I can’t understand it. I’ve never been able to understand it honestly,” Thomas said.