Linda Irizarry narrowly missed being in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when a plane struck it on Sept. 11, 2001 – all due to a spilled glass of milk and a missed bus.
Irizarry, who now lives in Delaware and is a graduate student at the University of Delaware, was living in Staten Island at the time. With her young daughter in tow, she was getting ready to catch a bus into Manhattan for a meeting at a Department of Labor office on the 33rd floor of the World Trade Center.
Her daughter spilled chocolate milk on herself, so they had to go home to change her clothes. Irizarry took a later bus, and when she arrived in Manhattan, the air was filled with smoke from the South Tower.
Irizarry walked toward the North Tower, still intending to keep her meeting, when she saw the second plane hit.
She was stuck in Manhattan until late that night, when a kind firefighter taking a break from working at Ground Zero agreed to driver her home.
“Nearly everyone I knew had PTSD of some sort, and returning to commutes via public transportation was a test of human strength. I prayed the entire hour ride each way. I carried rosary beads,” Irizarry recalled. “I could not shake the PTSD and decided to move away from my beloved New York City to Delaware.”
On Friday, Irizarry shared her story during an event on the UD Green commemorating the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11.
The event, which drew a few dozen people, was emceed by Mayor Jerry Clifton.
“I served in the military for almost 20 years. We understand that no person is dead unless you let his or her memory fade away,” Clifton said. “On Patriot Day, and every day, let's commit ourselves to remembering and saluting the courage of all Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice that day and in the days, weeks, months and years that followed.”
State Sen. David Sokola noted that the freshmen and sophomores at UD today weren’t even born on 9/11 and the juniors and seniors are too young to remember that day.
“That's why events like this are so important. Each of us, I'm sure, vowed to never forget Sept. 11, and as time marches on, we each have a responsibility to share our memories of that day with young people so we can learn from this tragedy and appreciate just how fragile our sense of safety and security can be,” Sokola said. “It is also important that we remember how the abject horror of that day quickly gave way to acts of incredible heroism, as men and women from across the country joined the rescue efforts in New York and Washington, D.C.”
He noted that first responders continue to die from health problems triggered by working at Ground Zero.
“It's important that we remember that Sept. 11 was not just one day. It continued for weeks, months and years afterward as first responders suffered lasting health effects, as we restructured government to address this new threat, and as our nation entered two wars simultaneously, one of which came to an end just a few weeks ago,” Sokola said. “It's important that we remember the servicemen who lost their lives last month, who I pray to be the final casualties of conflicts born on that late summer day 20 years ago.”
State Rep. Paul Baumbach recalled how the 9/11 attacks united Americans and the world. With the country bitterly divided 20 years later, he said, it’s a good time to reflect on the legacy of 9/11.
“I would like that legacy to be a reminder that we are all one family, that an attack on one family member is an attack on all,” Baumbach said. “It showed us that it is most often when the chips are down, in the face of adversity, that we find the emergence of our better angels. We can and we must be strong together, grieve together, rebuild together and stand together.”
Lauren Simione, who now works in UD’s alumni relations department, was working as a flight attendant for United Airlines based in New York. She departed LaGuardia Airport on a flight to Denver just a half hour before the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
Simione recalled getting word of the attacks while in the air, and said her pilot could hear radio traffic of the hijackers taking over Flight 93, which later crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers fought back.
Simione’s flight diverted to Chicago, and it was hours before she could let her family know she was OK or see the television footage of what had happened.
“I definitely wasn't prepared for what I saw when we watched the videos in the crew lounge,” Simione said. “The severity of the day, the impact of the terrorist activity, and realizing all that was literally happening in the air around us earlier that day finally hit me, and I sobbed for those that died, for my fellow flight crews, for scaring my loved ones, for the first responders and all those trying to help, and for America.”
She continued to work as a flight attendant until 2003.
“My mom really hoped I would retire my wings after 9/11, but I wasn't ready to give into fear or give up what I loved,” she said.
Simione said she realizes she is one of the lucky ones.
“I know that my story is just one of a million from that day. So many Americans have such different sad endings to their stories,” she said. “So I focus on my gratefulness and do my best to carpe diem, or seize the day, with every chapter I continue to write in my life story.”