Herb Ouida worked in the World Trade Center for 30 years prior to the 9-11 attack. While he was able to make it out safely from the 77th floor, his 25 year-old son, Todd, was on the 105th floor and did not survive. “As the firefighters passed me on the stairs I told them, ‘Please save the people above me. Please save my son.’ At his son’s memorial, when loved ones offered to give money in his son’s name, he was inspired to create the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation, which helps others like his son, who had suffered from childhood anxiety.
Edith Lutnick, who also lost a family member on 9-11, spoke about how the event inspired her and her brother to co-found the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, a nonprofit charity to address the needs of the victims of terrorism, natural disasters and emergencies. The charity was named Cantor Fitzgerald after a company that occupied three floors of the World Trade Center, and lost 600 employees in the attack. “I decided that if anyone was hurting the way I was hurting, I had to find a way to help them,” she said. In total the foundation has distributed over $180 million to the families of 9-11 victims.
Thirty-year journalist Mike Kelly spoke about his experiences reporting on 9-11 for The Bergen Record in North Jersey. “I was frozen by the tragedy,” said Kelly, noting that he had no idea where to begin when he first arrived at Ground Zero, seeing the beams of the towers reduced to “twists of spaghetti.”
Kelly spent three days talking to victims and their families. One notable person he met along the way was a police officer named Dorothy, who continued to dig through the rubble with garden tools for days until she was able to retrieve the body of her fellow officer. “Many angels surfaced through the insurmountable pain of 9-11,” he said, noting that 1,100 bodies were never found, leaving those families without closure.
Drexel University History Professor Scott Knowles spoke on how 9-11 is remembered today and how it may change in the future. “History is unpredictable and historical memory is doubly unpredictable,” he said, recounting the many debates that have taken place over how the twin towers would be memorialized for future generations.
Several panelists encouraged those in the audience to learn more about 9-11 by visiting the exhibit at the New Jersey State Museum and speaking to those who knew the victims of the tragedy, as it will continue to serve as an important moment in U.S. history for generations to come.
Jessica Rohr was one of several Mercer students who attended. “It was very emotional and moving,” she said. “It was a different experience to hear first-hand stories of survivors and families of victims, rather than just be told about it on the news.”
For more information about the 9-11 exhibit at the New Jersey State Museum, visit the museum's website.