Americans commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in different ways Sunday. Some took a moment of silence. Colleen Keane visited her local police and fire stations.
It is an annual tradition for Keane, who has a personal connection to that fatal day. Her father helped build the World Trade Center and her brother was part of the crew that looked for survivors after it fell.
She lost three people on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001—her first high school boyfriend, a cousin who was working as a temp in AON Corporation in 2 World Trade Center, and a member of her brother’s high school football team.
“I watched the funerals of the firemen and police after the attacks," she said. "I saw their families mourn and I decided that it is really important to find a way to say thank you to their faces and let them know that we appreciate them and care, not after it’s too late for them to hear us.”
A legacy of the New York skyline
Keane and her brother Patrick grew up visiting their dad many stories up on the steel beams of some of New York’s most iconic buildings. Their father was a rigger, a construction worker that specialized in moving heavy things like steel girders.
“When I was a little girl, on more than one occasion, I practiced my ballet out on the open beams," she said. "Dad actually attached a harness to me so the wind wouldn’t blow me off, and I would throw a fit because I didn’t want to wear it.”
The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and The MetLife Building (formerly Pan Am Building), which was the largest commercial office building in the world when it was built in 1963, were just a few of the historic buildings her father worked on. Her father died in 1996 of lung cancer, and her brother grew up to follow in his footsteps.
He went back to help
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Keane was driving to work on the Fox studio lots in Century City. Her first thought was to call her mother.
“Everyone wanted to know where my brother was,” she said. She knew her brother had been working all week at the top of the World Trade Center. “The next few hours were absolute hell. Not only was it hard enough not getting calls in and out of New York, no one had heard from my brother.”
Unbeknownst to Keane and her family, Patrick had finished his work that morning and had left the site and headed for the subway. He was already underground when the first tower fell.
The city stopped the subways and made the passengers get out and walk to the nearest station. When he got out and saw the tower was gone, he grabbed a policeman and proclaimed, “I’m a rigger. You’ve got to get me down there.”
Understanding that his skills for lifting and moving big objects like beams and operating cranes was essential, the cop put him on the back of his motorcycle and rode him down to the south end of Manhattan. When they arrived, the second tower had already come down. He was one of the first on the scene and was assigned to an engineer and a battalion.
“My brother jumped right in and stayed there for six days until he was certain that there were no survivors, then he decided it was finally OK to go home and take care of his family," Keane said. For months after, her brother was part of the regular clean-up crew.
Teaching gratitude to the next generation
This year, as Keane prepared to do her rounds at the and , Keane decided to bring her godson along, a second grader at Wonderland Avenue Elementary in Laurel Canyon. She wanted to teach to him to be grateful to service men and women at a young age.
“While he’s still too young to understand the details of what happened on that awful day, he has come to understand how brave they are in their everyday job that they do," she said. "Learning to say thank you and appreciate fellow human beings in our local community goes a long way to counter the events of that awful day.”