East Rockaway resident recounts surviving 9/11 attack


East Rockaway resident Theresa Gaffney was walking down the staircase from the 84th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when the second plane struck her building.

“Not until I got away from the building did I know that we were under attack and our lives would be forever changed,” she said. “I was fearful for my own life, the lives of my many co-workers, the first responders and my family members. I am sure you have heard many versions of the rest of that day, walking endless miles, scared, alone and afraid of what was to lie in the days and the months ahead.”

Gaffney said that after the attacks, she felt survivor’s guilt. At the time, she was a young, single woman in her early 20s, and saw that so many mothers and fathers with young children died that day.

“As I reflect on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, I honestly do not feel any different than I did on the 19th anniversary or the 14th anniversary or any of the anniversaries in the past 19 years,” she said. “My feelings surrounding that day have not changed. I mourn the loss of so many friends. I treasure the bonds and friendships that were made while we all mourn together.”

Gaffney said that while many things have changed in every day life since that dark day, 9/11 is a day that she will not forget. She added that some people have moved on and many people forget about the tragedy for 364 days per year, only acknowledging it on the anniversary, but for those that lost someone, the day is a part of their lives that will “never go away.”

She added that her life has changed plenty since that day. She built a family and has continued to assist many charitable organizations. Gaffney has also gotten more involved in her community, becoming an emergency medical technician and even serving as a village trustee and deputy mayor in the past.

“I live my life every day to try and make other people’s lives a little better and easier,” she said. “ I try to raise my children to be loving, caring, giving individuals.  It was not until after I became a mom that I realized why I was one of the survivors.  I look at my three beautiful children and thank God every day for allowing me to have them.“

Gaffney said she is unsure what the future holds for her children, but she believes they will make a big difference in the world. She added that the love and support she felt from her family and friends in 2001 sticks with her every year on the anniversary of the attacks, and called it a second chance at life. She still mourns her co-workers and friends that she lost that day, she said, and is grateful and thankful that she was able to make it out alive.

Gaffney said that there is a lot of turmoil in the world, and she wished the country was more united like it was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. She noted that she hoped that children who are growing up in current times will one day see the peace and togetherness the country exhibited in 2001, but added that she hoped it wouldn’t spur from another terrible tragedy.

“God bless our troops that have and continue to fight for our freedoms that we sometimes take for granted and pray for the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “May God bless the families of the thousands lost that day with the strength to keep their legends alive.”