For John Lynch, whose son Firefighter Michael Lynch passed away on 9/11, the loss never goes away, and the mourning is never final.
The elder Lynch sat in the Throggs Neck 9/11 Memorial at the corner of E. Tremont Avenue and Cross Bronx Expressway service road on Monday, September 1, and recalled how Michael had been assigned to Ladder Company 32 on White Plains Road, but was stationed at Engine 40 on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan when the terrorists attacked.
Michael had by that point been a FDNY Firefighter for about 18 months and was in rotation at Ladder 40 learning how to combat high-rise fires on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when the call came that Tower 2 had been struck by an airplane. Video obtained by the Lynch family from FOX news cameraman Jack Taliercio showed Michael entering the lobby of Tower 2 at 9:23 a.m., with a look on his face that bespoke the seriousness of the situation. The building collapsed in 11 seconds at 9:59 a.m., with Michael inside. Michael was a month shy of his 31st birthday.
“I have thought a lot about it, but things have not changed for me and I don’t think that they will every change,” said John, who is known as “Jack” in the Throggs Neck community. “The reason that it doesn’t change is that Michael’s absence is there all the time. I know that if I will ever see Michael again, it will be in Heaven, and I think I am ok with that.”
In the days that followed the terrorist attacks, family and friends from all over the country came to town to mount a campaign to find Michael, Lynch said. They were given false hope when his son’s cell phone kept ringing, but he had left it in his car.
“About two days after 9/11 I went down to the site and when I saw the devastation, I realized the likelihood of anyone surviving was virtually impossible,” Lynch said. “At that point I knew Michael was dead, but I didn’t tell the family because they were mounting some sort of search effort and I didn’t see any sense in stopping that.”
Lynch turned his mourning into a mission to find Michael’s remains and see them buried.
“I received a pass from the Fire Department and joined the rescue and recovery effort and went to the site practically every day,” Lynch said. “I was there till the last day, May 30.”
He was not only looking for his son, but anyone else’s son, who might be recovered, Lynch said.
On the evening of March 21, 2002, on his way back from the “pile” with his friend Tom Baker, Lynch received a call on his cell phone just a few blocks from his home as he was riding in a car on East Tremont Avenue.
Michael’s body was found intertwined with that of a woman, and the medical examiner later determined that he was either protecting her or carrying her, a great consolation, Lynch said.
After the process of identifying the woman was complete, Michael was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y. after a funeral mass at St. Frances de Chantal Parish on May 3, 2002.
“I feel a great sadness for the people who never recovered anything because that must be extremely difficult,” Lynch said.
He remembers his son as an accomplished dancer, D.J. and a person who would give of his time to charitable causes all over his Throggs Neck community. Michael had worked as a bond salesman in the World Trade Center, and on his final day on the job before joining the FDNY, he told his colleagues that if anything like the terrorist attack in 1993 ever happened again, he would be there to protect them, his father said.
“He had no idea how prophetic those words would be,” Lynch stated.
The Throggs Neck community was very supportive and Lynch said he is grateful for that fact.
“I am glad to live in a community such as this because they always seemed to understand how to act after 9/11,” Lynch said. “I think the greatest consolation was my church, St. Frances de Chantal, its parishioners, and my faith.”
He believes that God wanted Michael and all of the other first responders to be at the World Trade Center during the attacks to help people, Lynch said, and added that he believes that was where his son found his greatest joy.
In 2002, the Lynch family established the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation, a family-run charitable organization that provides college scholarships to the children of active firefighters and young people affected by disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
To date, the organization has provided scholarships to 96 students that amounts to a total of $2.3 million, Lynch said. It is his family’s response to the evil of 9/11, he said, and for the first time, a non-family member was recently added to the board of the organization. Foundation board member Jonathan Henes is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, one of America’s most prestigious law-firms, and is one of the country’s most accomplished restructuring lawyers.
“He is a tremendous person who understands that it is a strictly voluntary position,” Lynch said.
Volunteers have been the life-blood of the foundation for the past ten years.
“We are so grateful to all of our volunteers because we could never run the foundation without them,” Lynch stated.