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Tolland Brothers Remember 9/11

Ryan, Matt and Kevin Murphy recount how the tragedy strengthened their bonds as a family.

Ten years have passed since 9/11, but the three Murphy brothers, all raised in Tolland, will always divide their lives into a before and an after, with the nation’s tragic day serving as their pivotal marker.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ryan Murphy was working as a staff accountant at the World Financial Center, right across the street from the World Trade Center, in September of 2001. The two buildings were so close, they were even connected by a footbridge.

Ryan said he was talking with colleagues on the 37th-floor office when the first plane struck the towers.

“I heard a boom,” he said, “but there are always noises; it’s New York City.” 

He only realized how serious the situation was when his coworkers gathered at the windows, watching papers and debris float down from above. 

“It was sort of like a ticker-tape parade,” Ryan said.

Soon, however, Ryan’s office saw not only papers, but the horrific last moments of the towers’ trapped employees, desperately trying to escape the carnage of the World Trade Center.

Due to the tragic turn of the day, Ryan says that his boss dismissed the workers, who were understandably shaken. However, Ryan said that he still didn’t grasp the scope of the tragedy.

“All we had heard at that point was that a small plane had hit the tower,” he said. The second plane struck as he gathered his belongings, shaking the World Financial Center.

The building’s security shut down the elevators, and office workers scrambled to exit through the stairwells.

“People who saw it just ran,” Ryan said of those who witnessed the second plane crash. “They just left their purses behind.”

Workers crowded into the stairwells while bangs and vibrations shook the building and the last nerves of the exiting people. Ryan said that it only took 25 minutes to leave the center, but that the stress of not knowing what was happening, if the World Financial Center was the next to be attacked, made the trek seem much longer.

“That was probably the most tense moment,” he said. “You just want out.”

While Ryan was trying to leave Ground Zero, his family in Tolland and upstate New York were desperately attempting to contact him.

Matt, who was teaching in Ellington, said his thoughts went straight to Ryan when he found out what had happened. 

“A teacher came in and said that the principal wanted to talk to us a few at a time,” he said. “I got a weird feeling.”

The principal told Matt what had happened.

“This is the most vivid thing,” Matt said, recalling his exact thoughts. "I thought, 'My brother Ryan is there.'” He went straight to his parents’ house in Tolland, where the family watched the news in silence.

“You couldn’t talk to anyone,” Matt said. His mother paced the room while the family tried to reach out to Ryan. 

“It was the longest hour ever,” Matt said. “The worst scenarios are going through my head. ‘What happens if ….’”

Kevin, the youngest Murphy brother, had just started his first year of law school at Cornell. He had heard whispers of the attack in his morning class, but saw the true scope of the tragedy when he encountered the crowds gathered in the student lounge.

“I was second-guessing everything that I thought I knew,” Kevin said. He went back to his room to watch the tragedy unfold and to try to contact Ryan. 

“It didn’t seem like it was really happening.”

While his family tried in vain to reach him, Ryan exited the World Financial Center only to find himself in a crowd of people, gazing at the still-standing towers.

“We had to fight our way through the crowds,” Ryan said. He and a coworker managed to board what Ryan believes was the last ferry out of the area before the towers collapsed. 

Ryan remembers that he could see the cloud of debris and dust from New Jersey. The World Financial Center’s windows and lobby were completely destroyed from the power of the collapse. Ryan would end up working in a hotel in Times Square for nine months as the building was repaired.

Ryan said that he walked miles to get home, always trying to assure his family that he was OK.

“I remember stopping at every pay phone, trying to call collect. Everything was jammed. It was frustrating.”

By 10:30 a.m. he was home; and half an hour later, he finally got through to his parents. 

“It was such a weight off your shoulders,” Matt said of the moment.

The moment brought more than relief to the tight-knit family. All three brothers agree that after 9/11, they approach their lives and their family in a different, more appreciative way.

“On the one hand, we’ve always been extremely close as a family, so that’s never changed,” Kevin said. “But I think it added a different level of concern. It certainly made you think about every conversation, every interaction you have with your family. I’ve been treating every conversation like it’s potentially my last.”

Matt said that he no longer takes each day for granted, especially with his family.

“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said.

At his home in Tolland, he and his wife Carol made a decision to echo that belief. They decided that Carol would stay home with the children after the birth of their second child, a change he said they had been thinking about anyway.

He and his brothers stay connected with phone calls on the weekends and as many visits as they can fit in. Ryan is living in New Jersey, and Kevin has relocated to California.

“We talk at length on the weekends,” Matt said. “ We definitely make an effort.”

Ryan said that he knows how differently their story could have ended. He explained that his business had signed a lease to rent office space in the World Trade Center until 2003. It was only an executive’s decision to break that lease that has kept the Murphy brothers together. 

“That decision saved everyone,” Ryan said. “It’s a scary twist.”

But he said that he also knows that Sept. 11 gave him the gift of reconnecting with his family.

“Something like that snaps you back to reality,” he said. “It strengthened an already strong relationship. That was the positive outcome of a horrible tragedy.”

And still, he counts himself as lucky.

“I feel extremely blessed. Overall, it definitely made me a stronger person. If you can come out of that, it changes you. I fear a lot less now.”

Other than being the 10th anniversary of Ryan’s ordeal, 2011 has also brought its share of joy to the Murphy family. Both Ryan and Kevin were married this summer.

Janice Bacewicz September 01, 2011 at 11:31 PM
Great story! So happy for the Murphys and their families. 9/11 has marked all of us, but that day was truly gut wrenching for their family. You do not know how long you are here for so enjoy and make the most of it!
PaulofPA September 11, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Counting our blessings.

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