Downtown students say thanks to the Port


By Jefferson Siegel

Port Authority police officer Philip Ashby thanks High School of Economics & Finance students Luz Quiroz, center, and Gabriel Garcia after they read thank you cards, recognizing the force’s rescue and recovery efforts on 9/11 and the months that followed.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the world vowed not to forget rescue workers who ran into harm’s way, many never to escape. Five years later, just two days before Thanksgiving, students at a Downtown and gave thanks to Port Authority police officers for their heroic efforts.

On 9/11, the Port Authority lost 84 workers, including 37 police officers. On the anniversary of 9/11 this year, students at the High School of Economics & Finance, just two blocks from ground zero, wrote and designed 700 cards of thanks and condolences, addressed to the PA police.

Tuesday morning at the World Trade Center Tribute Center on Liberty St., six active and retired P.A. officers stood quietly, listening as two students from the school’s 9th grade, Luz Quiroz and Gabriel Garcia, read from a selection of the cards.

Lynn Tierney was a spokesperson for the Port before 9/11 and is now president of the Tribute Center. Tierney said, “The Port Authority police played such a critical role in 9/11. For them to get this kind of personal recognition, that’s great.”

“Thank you for being there for all of the people that needed your help,” Quiroz read from her card to the group of officers. “If it weren’t for you many more people would have died on 9/11. It took a lot of courage to do what you did.”

Retired P.A.P.D. Lt. William Keegan said, “These kids are part of the support system that supported us during our nine months of the rescue and recovery operations. They were here with us. We received cards and letters like this from them throughout the course of the five years. They live so close to a world-changing event that, to see them reaching out to us reminds us how powerful that support can be.”

Many of the cards bore drawings of the Twin Towers. One cover inscription read, “God Bless America and PAPD, NYPD, FDNY.” Inside, Lamont Lawson wrote, “We thank you for saving our community. You risked your lives to put others in front of you.”

A connection between students and P.A. workers was established after both started receiving counseling and stress management from St. Vincent’s Hospital W.T.C. Healing Services. The hospital, which had mobilized for massive injuries, found itself dealing with countless people suffering from mental trauma. The counseling program began shortly after 9/11, at first offering acupuncture for stress.

Although students currently attending the high school were too young to have been at the school on 9/11, health professionals recognized early indications of mental trauma. “These kids come to this school and many of them don’t even know it’s at ground zero,” said Carole Patterson, director of the St. Vincent’s program.

Patterson spoke of the ongoing therapy program at the school. “They come to this school from other parts of the city and they have not received (mental health) services so we start working with them,” she said. A full-time social worker has been at the school five days a week for several years.

“In other schools,” Patterson continued, “children who were two, three, four years old on 9/11, 2001 are now in third, fourth, fifth grade and they’re starting to talk about their experiences. We still see effects.”

In February 2002, the hospital began offering counseling in several schools located near the W.T.C. site. Originally called the “Hope for the Future” project, the school marks each anniversary by creating murals and banners during the morning hours when others are commemorating the attacks nearby. To mark this year’s fifth anniversary, Healing Services social worker Victoria Bellucci thought it was important to acknowlege what everyone had gone through. “We had the entire school, 700 students, making cards,” Bellucci explained.

In addition to students at the school, others continue to seek help. “Every day we have people contacting us saying they didn’t get help,” Patterson said. Just last week, a teacher who helped evacuate students from a nearby school realized that, five years later, she had never come to terms with what happened. The teacher has just started receiving counseling.