The moment the first plane hit the Twin Towers, our world was forever changed. But what remained, for most, was a place to start, a reason to go on, a way to contribute to our nation’s recovery. Through the lives of three people personally affected in varied ways, get a sense of our post-9/11 world, 10 years later.

The moment the first plane hit the Twin Towers, our world was forever changed. But what remained, for most, was a place to start, a reason to go on, a way to contribute to our nation’s recovery. Through the lives of three people personally affected in varied ways, get a sense of our post-9/11 world, 10 years later.

Lt. Jason Demas
Aurora, Ill., Fire Department

The day after 9/11, Lt. Jason Demas of the Aurora Fire Department represented his firehouse with five others in a group of Chicago-area firefighters who traveled to ground zero and assisted with efforts there for eight days. 

Looking back on his experience a decade later, an emotional Demas says it’s still hard.

“Those days were probably the proudest days I’ve had as an American,” he explains. “But they were also my hardest days as a fireman.”

Demas’ fears that Americans have already forgotten the way they once came together, all races and religions, along the perimeter of ground zero and beyond, in support of each other. 

“Whatever our differences, we stood together in the days after 9/11,” he says. “I think we’ve forgotten that. From government to family, we need to get that unity back again.”

Donna Marsh O’Connor
Mother of Vanessa Lang Langer

“I was always a perpetual optimist, but that ended on 9/11,” explains Donna Marsh O’Connor, mother of Vanessa Lang Langer, who died in the collapse of Tower 2. “It was the first thing in my life that couldn’t be changed.”

O’Connor describes 29-year-old Vanessa as fierce, wonderful, warm and compassionate. “We should have a different end to this story,” she says.

Anger and frustration surrounding the circumstances of her daughter’s death led her to deepen her involvement with September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group united in their desire to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism across the world.

Supporting efforts such as the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero and civil liberties abroad helps members turn grief into action in honor of their lost loved ones.

Even 10 years later, the aftermath of 9/11 is frightening for O’Connor. 

“Instead of saying, ‘That horrible thing happened, but look what else is good,’ we have taken every opportunity to turn a greater good into a greater evil,” she says, referring to the hate and war perpetuated today. “But as long as there are compassionate people, there is always hope.” 

O’Connor’s hopes include a desire to witness the resonance of arguments for peace and compassion throughout the world.

Heidi Snow
Founder and executive director of ACCESS

Heidi Snow, founder and executive director of AirCraft Casualty Emotional Support Services, lost her fiancé, Michel Briestroff, in the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800, and the events of 9/11 affected her personally and professionally.  

“I recognized the same expressions of sorrow, pain, shock and anger from the early days at the Flight 800 grief site,” says Snow, whose San Francisco-based organization immediately began taking calls, speaking out and fielding bereavement care after Sept. 11, 2001.

In addition, Heidi lost friends in the towers, including Father Mychal Judge, her spiritual mentor after the TWA crash.

By matching spouses with spouses and parents with parents, ACCESS provides comforting connections to support the bereaved through their grieving process. The organization is ready for any air disaster and counsels and mentors as long as they’re needed.

Ten years later, Snow is glad to see light shedding on the new normal for family members who suffered a loss in 9/11 or other tragedies. One of her goals is to ensure they don’t feel something is wrong with themselves when their lives are changed. 

“Those in ACCESS understand that the journey through grief is a life-long journey,” says Snow, who recently published “Surviving Sudden Loss: Stories by those who have lived it.”

“Grief is a process which becomes a part of who we are, who we become and how we live our lives.”