As the 13th anniversary approaches, I start to remember, what my life was like back then, and how far I have come. I thought I would share it all with you, because it truly is a huge part of who I am. That day was a HUGE wake up call for me. It made me realize just how short life can be. And when I start to feel down or sorry for myself, I try and remember just how lucky I am. Things could have gone SO differently that day. Life is a precious gift, that we ALL need to cherish. Enjoy every second you are given. Don't focus on all that you wish you had, focus on ALL that you do have...
Lori Filipiak stood in front of Duane Reade pharmacy debating whether to pick up a few things before work.
“When I close my eyes I can see the front of the store, the guy with his breakfast cart — everything,” she said about the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. “I remember that day like it was yesterday. I can remember exactly what I was wearing, how there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and my exact moves.”
She opted to keep going instead, using a path within the World Trade Center to get to the subway.
“To this day, I wonder just what made me keep walking,” Filipiak said. “Twelve minutes later, the first plane hit.”
Ten years ago today, Filipiak was “on the front lines of a war,” as she describes it. As one jetliner slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, Filipiak was moving swiftly in a subway train underneath lower Manhattan’s streets as they filled with ash and human debris. At the same moment in Springfield, Lori’s father Stan Sproat was trying to get a hold of his daughter.
“When I arrived at my office, my co-worker told me to call my dad immediately. I found this a bit odd, because my dad never called me in the morning. When I called my dad, he told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I was a bit concerned at this point because my apartment complex sits right across the west side highway from the Twin Towers,” said Filipiak, who worked at a nanny placement agency at the time.
“As this thing progressed, I thought, ‘I’ve been right there,’ ” said Sproat, 62. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, what’s happening?’ I knew (Lori) lived at ground zero and knew she walked in that general vicinity. I remember when she called me back, I wasn’t here and she left a message … the terror in her voice, I can still hear it."
At home, unaware
Inside Lori’s apartment, which was situated just across the street from the World Trade Center in Battery Park City and eventually part of the crime scene, was a sleeping husband, before she knew he was in danger.
“My girlfriend and I decided to go down and check it out. We could see the towers from the street, a few feet from our office entrance,” she said. “We were down there a few minutes, and then the second plane hit. I could not believe what I was seeing.”
As she and others that had lined the streets stood immobile, Filipiak said she felt there was a collective epiphany that they were witnessing an attack.
She returned to her office, received another call from her emotional father — creating more terror.
“At one point, I could hear him choke back tears. This is the very moment I knew that my life would be forever changed, that life as we once knew it was gone. I think at this point in my life I still had some innocence left … but it, too, was taken.”
Eventually, all cellular phone service was jammed. Sproat, who was working as an Illinois State Police supervisor at the time, quickly left for the day and returned to his Chatham home.
“I was so wired up, I mowed the lawn and it didn’t need it,” he said about waiting to hear from his daughter. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve walked through there’ … I can remember my daughter and wife went shopping in Towers 1 or 2 and I’d hang out in The Gap, and those people’s faces were kind of flashing in front of me, wondering, ‘Did they get out?’”
Filipiak couldn’t reach her husband, Mark, either. A call eventually went through to Mark, and as he ran out of their apartment at her command, he grabbed a video camera. Afterward, they would find he’d filmed bodies falling just outside their home.
“There are no words to describe what seeing that was like,” Filipiak said. “When the first tower fell, I watched it from my office knowing my (now) ex-husband was out there somewhere. I just remember sobbing uncontrollably, thinking he was dead. By the grace of God, he was able to dive into a restaurant entrance and keep safe from the rubble. At this point, there was absolutely no cell phone service so we were out of contact. I was unable to speak to any of my family. … Finally, hours later, my ex-husband walked into my office, covered in soot and debris. He looked as if he had seen a ghost. Unfortunately, he had seen worse.”
The two could not return home — nor did they know if their home was still standing. They decided to stay with Filipiak’s younger sister and her husband in their Massachusetts home until FEMA and the Red Cross found them hotel lodging.
It was weeks before they were able to go back home — a neighborhood where rescue crews were finding body parts daily. Their apartmentstill had debris inside, and was still considered a crime scene.
“I remember the awful smell,” Filipiak said. “I got off of the subway train and what I heard and smelled is forever burned in my brain. It was so overwhelming. I just stood there and cried.”
Sproat said to this day, his daughter hardly ever talks about New York.
“It’s still with her,” he said. “That was her home, even though she was from Illinois … mentally, they were really affected by it, probably more so than we realized.”
When Filipiak and her husband finally were allowed to return to their apartment to live in December 2001, the building had been emptied — either by tenants moving to a new locale, or by death during the attacks.
“It was very somber for a long time. We all had a bond that we certainly wished we didn’t have. We all lost something that day. But we vowed to stick it out in our neighborhood. We were not going to let those horrible monsters take that away, too,” she said. “Life eventually got back to normal.”
But Filipiak also describes the event as what woke her up. She and her husband decided to part ways, and she moved back to Illinois as family, she said, became her first priority after Sept. 11, 2001.
She is now married to Springfield native Ray Filipiak and has two children, 6-year-old Andrew and 4-year-old Olivia. Ten years later, she’s clearly still shaken — with an unflappable certainty that she will not be able to forget that day.
“Every Sept. 11, I wake up and I am just so sad,” she said. “I relive that day over and over again. I cannot look at a picture or hear audio without losing it. No one in my close circle here in Springfield can relate. It is just one of those things, that will forever be with me. I can’t shake it. The smells, the sounds, the tears, the screams are forever burned into my brain. I went back last May for a visit and it was so sad for me. I miss those beautiful towers so much. They held so many wonderful memories for me.”