Memories of a nightmare: My 9/11 experience


The Appalachian Online

Nicole Caporaso

Sept. 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. People typically don’t remember a Tuesday 13 years ago, but there are special exceptions all the time: Weddings, birthdays, the first day of school, the day you met your best friend, the day you lose a family member.

Sept. 11 is one of those exceptions, and it is an exception for almost an entire nation, perhaps even the whole world.

I was in school in Port Jefferson Station, Long Island on that Tuesday, sitting in Mrs. Kleinpeter’s first grade class. Port Jefferson Station is a town of almost 8,000, roughly an hour from New York City.

I was wearing blue, a blue similar to the nearly cloudless sky on that day. People would later comment on how exquisitely beautiful it was for a September day in New York.

Sitting at my school desk, there was a knock on the classroom door and the principal of my elementary school swiftly walked in. My first thought was that one of my fellow classmates was in trouble and I anticipated the drama.

Instead, my teacher and principal quietly excused themselves and went out to the hallway for a private conference. I could see their serious exchange through the window on the door.

Surprisingly, my school did not release the students early and we completed an entire school day.

I was completely unaware of what was going on when my mother picked me up from school. I walked to the car and there were more parents than usual on the sidewalk, waiting for their children. Some of the parents grasped onto their children and others had tears on their faces.

I was confused as to why my mother was so solemn when I got in the car and when we got home. She walked straight to the living room and turned on the news, she stood in front of the TV, crying. I looked up at the screen and saw the news coverage, not understanding what was happening, so I asked her.

“Your cousin Sean was in one of those buildings,” she told me.

My cousin, Sean Fitzpatrick, was working for the Port Authority Police Department and was located in the South Tower on that day. The North Tower, which was hit first at 8:46 a.m., was being evacuated after the plane hit the building and Sean was on his way to help.

On his way, the North Tower collapsed and Sean was sent airborne, as a result he was thrown through a drugstore window and was buried under tons of debris.

Sean ended up being buried under the debris for about seven hours before he was rescued. Those seven hours were hell for my family.

My uncle, Sean’s father and now a retired policeman, had a friend who saw what happened and he told the family that Sean was gone.

During those seven hours, my uncle went to almost every morgue in the city, looking for his son. Firefighters were eventually able to find my cousin and was able to notify the family he was one of the fortunate souls to survive. The same could not be said for his partner.

It is strange to use the word lucky in this circumstance, but it is also a blessing to say that luckily Sean’s injuries, while serious, were not as bad as they could have been.

He could have been one of the thousands to lose their lives that day. The injuries included burns on his eyes from the fuel abrasions, knee damage that eventually led to surgery and lung issues. Emotional distress as a result of that day is in a category of its own.

Sept. 11 is now a day of reflection for my family; it is a day that brings back the memories of a nightmare. Despite my memories of that day, above all, it is a day that I personally am thankful for the brave men and women who were police officers, firefighters, EMS, search and rescue crew members and any others who helped during our country’s time of need.

Caporaso, a sophomore journalism major from Port Jefferson Station, is a news reporter.