"It was like the end of the world,” said Sean P. Cassidy, my dad, who was a first responder on 9/11 and is a detective for Nassau County Police Department.
It was not until recently that I finally had the courage to ask my dad, what happened that day, 11 years ago. It wasn’t that we didn’t discuss the tragic events that took place in our backyard. But it was almost as like asking a war veteran to speak about their time during battle. It’s a no-go zone for a conversation around the dinner table.
On 9/11, I was in the sixth grade at Chippewa Elementary School, which is in Sachem School District. I was 11-year-old and rumors were spreading around the small school that there was an emergency taking place. A few kids mentioned the “World Trade Center” but I was confused and did not understand. At the time, I had only known the pair of buildings located in downtown Manhattan as the “Twin Towers,” from previous visits not that many months prior.
In 2001, Detective Cassidy held the position of crime analyst in the eighth percent of the NCPD. His position did not require him to report to Ground Zero as a first responder. But being the brave man he is, he could not sit in an office and file paper work while people were dying. While wives were losing husbands, sons were losing mothers and fathers were losing daughters.
The eighth precinct of the NCPD was heading towards downtown Manhattan in a mega bus the following day, September 12, 200. There was a checklist for officers that were assigned to be first responders and “Sean P. Cassidy” was not listed. But my dad's stubbornness and passion for his career did not allow him to take "no’’ for an answer.
“Let me on that bus,” he said to his Sergeant. But it was against policy. If an officer's name was not on the “First Responder” list, he or she was not permitted to report to Ground Zero. Detective Cassidy slowly walked back into the building and when his foot was about to enter the doorway his Sergeant yelled towards him, “Cassidy, you have thirty seconds to get on that bus!” And he ran to the bus and reported to duty.
When the first responders of the NCPD arrived, the mega buses had to be parked nearly 20 blocks uptown due to road blockage the entire downtown of Manhattan. Detective Cassidy walked downtown along side nearly 80 officers from his bus alone to Ground Zero.
The officers were met with a mob of people at the police blockades. Desperate mothers, brothers, wives and daughters looking for their missing loved ones.
“They were tugging on our shirts,” he said. “Pleading with us to look for ‘Johnny.’ Handing us photographs of their loved ones. But there was nothing we could do but take the photographs and keep walking toward Ground Zero.”
The work my dad was assigned was to search the rubble across Ground Zero for any sign of life. He saved a dog. Poured water into his hands and let the dog drink from it. He and his crew saved no one else. Which seemed like a hard fact to admit while my dad was recalling his memories. But his face lit up when he said that they found and identified countless number of victims’ DNA. Allowing the families of those victims to have a bit of closure from this dreadful day, 11 years ago.
The first responders and volunteers at Ground Zero received criticism for not identifying the victims and fragments of DNA that were found. But my dad told me he witnessed that any fragment of DNA, no matter how small or large, the victim was fully identified. And the family was informed immediately. The work ethic among first responders was something remarkable, my dad recalled. How people from New York and across the country came together to search through massive amounts of rubble for anyone, for anything.
There were auxiliary cops directing traffic and pedestrians near the surrounding blocks of downtown Manhattan.
“I noticed one of the cop cars was unrecognizable,” he said. “I asked the cop where he was from. He said he was a cop from a small town in Texas. ‘We have two patrol cars at our precinct. And we brought one here to help out,’ he told me. That really is amazing to me.”
It amazed me that my dad was one of the US citizens who came together to help find life at Ground Zero. But I will never take for granted that I was one of the luckiest daughters who had the extreme relief to watch my dad walk through our door unharmed.
I had drawn him a picture. With my 11-year-old art techniques, I used my Crayola crayons to draw an image of my dad, who was dressed in his blue police officer uniform, and me in front of the World Trade Center. Maybe I did not understand full what had happened on September 11, 2001. But my preeteen mind was able to interpret in a way my words could not.
My dad. My hero. And a hero to thousands of others.