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9/11: A day to remember

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The hardest part of his job in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was working the barricades around the ruins of the World Trade Center. That’s where the victims’ families came looking for information, looking for hope.

“I’ll never forget the crying, the faces, the tears,” said Felix Cruz, a school resource officer at St. James Middle who was a New York City Police officer in 2001. “We didn’t know what to tell them.”

Cruz spoke to students at Waccamaw Middle School on the 11th anniversary of the attacks. He told them how he was assigned to election duty that day. When the first plane hit the twin towers at 8:48 a.m. they were told it was an accident. When the second 767 hit 18 minutes later, they were mobilized to prepare for further attacks.

He talked about the search for survivors, listening to the signal from locator beacons worn by firefighters grow faint. “Fires were still burning,” Cruz said. “After a day or two we knew, there was no way you could survive that.”

And so when they worked the barricades, officers were torn, he said. “What could we say?”

That feeling returned as he took questions from students. They asked if he had been hurt. How many people survived? Why did people jump from the buildings?

“I don’t know. It was just horrible to see,” Cruz said.

“My uncle was in the building,” one boy said. “And he was one of the people who jumped.”

“Oh,” Cruz said. “I’m sorry.”

The man in the dress blue uniform was no longer a guest speaker at a memorial. He was a 29-year-old cop from the 100th Precinct in Queens on the barricade at Ground Zero. “I stumbled a little when he told me that,” Cruz said later. “It’s hard to hold your emotions.”

Jake Hoffman, a seventh-grader, spoke up. The father of one of his friends was killed at the World Trade Center. “I’m sorry,” Cruz said.

He began talking to students about 9/11 five years ago. Sometimes he finds they already have a connection with the events he wants to be sure students don’t forget.

“You feel bad,” he said. “What do you say?”

Cruz stayed with NYPD two years after 9/11. He got married, started a family and moved to Myrtle Beach. He works for the Horry County Police Department and has been at St. James since 2006.

Mark Phillips, principal at Waccamaw Middle, was assistant principal at St. James for five years. “It’s very powerful, very emotional,” he said of Cruz’s presentation.

“I felt they could connect more to it if they knew someone who was there,” Cruz said.

He shook hands with every student as they filed out of the auditorium. After the first few rows had cleared, a girl gave him a hug. More hugs followed, from girls and boys.

“We never want them to forget,” Cruz said. “That’s the main thing.”

Jake Hoffman was not yet 2 when the attacks occurred. His family lived in Connecticut. His father worked in Manhattan. “He was leaving his office when the plane hit,” Jake said.

Sept. 11 is part of his life. His dad was on a plane Tuesday, flying home from New York. “I’m not too happy about that,” Jake said.

Crowds gather to reflect at inlet benefit

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Jersey City policeman William Costigan dropped to his knees and prayed when the first of the World Trade Towers collapsed 11 years ago.

Costigan was just across the river from the terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. He was in Murrells Inlet Tuesday, marking the 11th anniversary at the Dead Dog Saloon during a benefit for local fire and police personnel.

Costigan, a resident of Conway now, said his first job was to deliver ice, water and food to the rescuers at the World Trade Center and later he was stationed outside the Holland Tunnel. He spent two years with Homeland Security before retiring and moving to South Carolina.

“Everybody knew three or four people who were killed that day,” he said. “The way they are donating money and their time here today, it’s very touching.”

Dead Dog Saloon was hosting its annual “Local Hero’s Benefit” Tuesday with 12 bands performing and a free buffet. Proceeds from live auctions, silent auctions and 50/50 drawings went to benefit local police and fire departments. There was a huge crowd by early afternoon that grew larger as evening approached.

Maryann Fenocchi of Cherry Hill, N.J., said she and her husband stumbled upon the 9/11 memorial at the Dead Dog Saloon three years ago. They started scheduling a vacation at their house in Wachesaw East so they

See “Crowd,” Page 16

From Second Front

can attend every year.

Fenocchi was working for Vlasic Foods in Cherry Hill on the day of the terrorist attacks 11 years ago. “It was a beautiful Tuesday,” she said. “Being at work, I felt cut off as I watched on TV. Here, 11 years later, it’s good to be with people and enjoy the music.”

Patricia Atchison of Massapequa, N.Y., and Terry Dunn of Wantagh, N.Y., are 911 emergency operators for the Nassau County Police Department. Both were at the Dead Dog Saloon on Tuesday to commemorate the 11th anniversary.

“People kept calling and asking about their relatives,” Atchison said. “Nobody was prepared for that type of situation.”

Atchison’s brother-in-law, Tony Gawrych, worked in the World Trade Center but managed to make his way down more than 80 stories to safety.

Atchison later dealt with relatives of missing persons in the tragedy as they brought toothbrushes and personal items for DNA samples, hoping to identify a victim as their loved one and get closure.

Dunn said she was working in a doctor’s office 11 years ago and did not know about the terrorist attacks until later in the morning. She did notice that firemen and policemen from the area were missing appointments and failing to answer their phones.

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Barbara Werre was an employee of the Pentagon in the Defense Intelligence Agency but had been sent to Ottawa, Canada, on Sept 11, 2001. Seven of her co-workers were killed when a passenger jet struck the Pentagon. “I remember turning on the TV and just feeling really sad,” she said.

She retired in 2010 and moved to Murrells Inlet. She was at the Dead Dog Saloon with Carol Moize on Tuesday. “I never want to see anything like that again,” Moize said.

Georgia Jansson, a Maryland native and now a resident of Murrells Inlet, was happy to be part of the scene Tuesday.

“I think it’s wonderful what the Dead Dog does,” she said. “We need more of it.”

Renee “Pink” Sciapiti of Myrtle Beach said she feared that something might have happened to her dad, who was at the Pentagon 11 years ago when the passenger jet crashed into the exterior ring. He was on the opposite side of the building and escaped injury, she said.

She worried about her son too, she said. He has completed three tours of duty in the military and today works for U. S. Homeland Security.

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Tina Willis, also of Myrtle Beach resident, said there is one degree of separation from the tragedy for many, many people. “I have friends who lost friends,” she said. “I remember being in shock and crying. I just didn’t want to be alone. I felt human, vulnerable.”

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