STARTING NEW AFTER 9/11
After witnessing attack, Kirby, family move on to new life
Kingman - John Kirby knew something was amiss the moment he stepped off a subway platform near Grenwich Street in New York City 10 years ago. He could see hundreds of people on the street looking toward downtown, but the surrounding buildings blocked his vision. He walked toward Grenwich to see what people were looking at, and once he reached the street, he saw that both World Trade Center towers were on fire.
"There was a sea of people and cars on the street," Kirby said. "I asked someone, 'What happened?' and he said, 'A plane hit them.'"
Stunned, Kirby headed back toward the train because he still needed to get to work.
Now the Lingenfelter Center's Marketing Director, Kirby at the time worked as the assistant vice president of the Bank of New York's Trust and Custody Department. His office was on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street - no more than three blocks from the twin towers. Daily, he took a train from Hoboken, N.J., into the city, where he would get off at a stop situated in the basement under the towers.
When his train pulled up that day, a woman from the Port Authority came through and said that no one was to get off the train. People were upset and didn't know what was going on, he said.
"I could smell fuel from the first plane, but I didn't know what it was," Kirby said.
The train headed back to New Jersey, and Kirby started thinking of ways he could get back into the city because he still had to work. He opted for another train, which took him to Christopher Street, where he stepped out into the mass of people.
"I didn't understand the gravity of the situation," Kirby said. "Traffic was stopped, and people were all listening to the same radio news station. You could hear (the broadcast) clear as day."
Kirby found a pay phone and called his office but was unable to get through, so he then called his wife, Maria, who was in a panic because she knew what was happening from news reports and had tried several times - unsuccessfully - to get a hold of John.
"She thought I was done," Kirby said.
Once they spoke, Maria started feeling relieved until she saw - while they were still on the phone - that the Pentagon had been hit as well.
"It was clear that we were under attack," Kirby said. "She told me, 'Get home; just get home.'"
So Kirby started back toward the train station. A speech by President George W. Bush was being played on the radio, which could still be heard by all on Grenwich. Kirby took in the scene as he continued his walk to the train, and when the speech ended a news reporter broadcasting from the scene came back on the air.
"The reporter screamed," Kirby said. "I turned around and saw the first tower come down."
The south tower had collapsed, letting off a huge plume of smoke, dust and debris.
At that point, Kirby ran to the train amid screaming people all around him. It left for New Jersey.
"I was intent on getting home," Kirby said. "That's all I cared about.'
Once back in New Jersey, Kirby along with hundreds of people waited for the next commuter train outside. They were right on the banks of the Hudson River and had a clear view of the north tower, which was still standing.
"Then it fell," Kirby said. "And no one said a word."
Orderly and quietly, everyone got on the train. Kirby put his headphones on and listened to Howard Stern, who stayed on the air during and after the terror attacks.
Kirby was home by 11:30 a.m. - less than three hours after the first plane hit. He had friends who didn't make it home till that evening.
"I believe I was on the last train out," Kirby said. "Everything was locked down after the second tower fell. It was awful. Everything was crippled."
The realization that it was a terrorist attack spawned questions in Kirby's mind: "What does this mean for the world; are we at war and with who?"
At home, Kirby took a walk with Maria and his two children, 5-month-old Katelyn and Jack - who turned 3 just three days after the attack.
They walked down their Maywood, N.J., neighborhood, which is lined with oak trees, and contemplated their future.
The couple had already been thinking about relocating to Arizona, where John's parents live. They wanted their children to have a relationship with their grandparents, as Maria's mother and father had passed away.
Kirby's department was also relocating to Syracuse, N.Y., and some weeks later, the Kirbys decided to head west because of that, his parents and the events on 9/11.
Like many Americans, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 has him agitated. The first responders who survived the day are not getting the care they need despite their physical and mental anguish, Kirby said.
"Them being denied health care and support is maddening," Kirby said.
TV stations and newspapers are selling advertisement space for the day, yet these people can't get help they need, he said. Plus, the images from that day continue to be slammed against the American consciousness. Kirby has avoided newspapers and TV news stations lately because he can't stand to see the images any more.
Bob Consadine of the Star Ledger reported recently: "Since the dust settled and dispersed a decade ago, thousands of first responders have been diagnosed with pulmonary, respiratory, skin and blood disorders, as well as cancer. Hundreds have died, according to New York City officials and other groups, although not all of the deaths have been linked directly to ground zero."
Consadine reported that the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in 2009 and established a monitoring and treatment program - including mental health services - for ailing first responders. It may have provided a lifeline for some, but, "In July, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced there was not enough scientific evidence linking cancer suffered by Sept. 11 first responders to time spent at ground zero," he reported.
In the days immediately after 9/11, Kirby said suspicion was rampant.
"I traded in my briefcase for a duffel bag containing a gas mask and a 12-inch hunting knife," Kirby said.
A neighbor who worked with the Port Authority had gotten him the mask.
There was a strong police presence and people were cognizant of their surroundings, he said. Cars parked for too long in one place were reported to police, and people often looked at each other with suspicion.
The Kirbys moved to Kingman and have grown to love small town living. There's not much for Kirby to do about that day anymore.
"I miss Manhattan a bit still, but things have worked out," Kirby said. "For me, it's time to move on."