Thirty years ago, February 26, 1993, at a little past noon, a van filled with explosives in the underground parking garage below the North Tower of the World Trade Center detonated. Life as we knew it, would never be the same again.
Six adults, including a pregnant woman, were killed. More than a 1,000 people were injured. At the time, it was an act of terrorism unimaginable. That would change, too, on September 11, 2001.
Thirty years is more than a generation. All of us should think of the people lost that day and the rich lives that should have laid ahead for them. Four were Port Authority of New York and New Jersey employees: 61-year-old senior structural maintenance supervisor Robert Kirkpatrick; 47-year-old chief maintenance supervisor Stephen Knapp; 57-year-old assistant chief mechanical supervisor Bill Macko; and 35-year-old Monica Rodriguez Smith, a pregnant secretary who was scheduled to begin maternity leave the very next day. The two other victims were 45-year-old John DiGiovanni, a dental products salesperson who had parked in the underground parking garage, and 37-year-old Wilfredo Mercado, a receiving agent for the Windows on the World restaurant.
But all of us should also think about the people left behind – the families and friends of the dead are close to our hearts every February 26th. But the casualties of that day exceeded the 1,000-plus published total: The individuals who worked in the North Tower, who had to slowly find their way through a smoke-filled building, down darkened stairwells carry scars we do not easily see.
In my five-plus years as Chairman of the Port Authority, I have heard some of those stories. I have had the honor of getting to know many of those people – and many of them witnessed an even more horrific attack on 9/11.
What strikes me as important on this 30-year anniversary is that we acknowledge both the inherent beauty of the people around us and we recognize how privileged we are to figuratively walk among them. There were heroes on February 26, 1993, too numerous to mention because so many of them remained and remain anonymous. They helped people down stairwells. They kept people calm and focused on exiting to safety. And in the days and weeks and months that followed, they got people focused on returning to normalcy.
The Port Authority’s workforce has been tested by epic tragedies and it has always responded the same way – with courage, grit, determination, and compassion. That last word – compassion – we do not use enough. But talk to the individuals who were in the North Tower on February 26, 1993, and you do not hear anger; you hear compassion for their colleagues, those who died and those who struggled afterwards from the trauma of the attack.
The Port Authority is in many ways a family – tragedies have bonded us together. We mourn together, and then, we move forward together. That is what we did in 1993, and it is because of that bond, that when the unimaginable happened once again 8 years later, we could move forward once again.
Thirty years ago, the world changed as we knew it. Remember those who died; that is right. But also remember those left behind, who helped so many people carry through that day and through the three decades that followed; that is righteous.
Kevin J. O’Toole is the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.