9-11 first responders relive a day of terror at local ceremony
By Samantha Lyles
Firefighters, emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officers were honored and thanked for their service at a special ceremony on Sept. 10, as Darlington remembered those first responders who died as a result of the 9-11-01 terror attacks.
At a gathering hosted beside Fitness World on Pearl Street, guests enjoyed food and drinks with these emergency workers and got the chance to express appreciation for the service they provide our community.
Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd hosted the event and presented a donation to the families of fallen police officers Farah Turner and Terrence Carraway, who lost their lives in an ambush shooting on Oct. 3, 2018.
Guest speakers included two local first responders who witnessed the devastation of the 9-11 attacks first hand.
Darlington Fire Department Chaplain Frank Stoda, a previous resident of Virginia, shared memories of working to free survivors from the Pentagon after terrorists flew the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 into the building’s west wall.
Stoda recalled the intense heat of burning jet fuel buffeting emergency workers as they shifted rubble and searched for people trapped inside. That incident killed 125 people in the Pentagon, and 53 passengers and 6 crew members (along with five terrorists) on board the Boeing 747 airliner.
Darlington Police Department Investigator John Gutierrez previously served as an NYPD officer in the Bronx, and he remembered rushing to the World Trade Center to help evacuate the area and search for survivors. He was on scene as the towers burned and fell, and he recalled the North Tower collapse shockwave picking him up ‘like a matchstick’ and sending him flying.
Gutierrez barely left the site for months afterwards, searching the crime scene rubble every day for evidence, and for bodies. Due to breathing in harmful particulates over a long period of time, he suffers from “a number of 9-11 related health conditions,” which he says he mostly keeps to himself.
Following the attacks, Gutierrez says there was a renewed sense of national unity, and he longs for that sense of compassion and caring to return to American life.
“Right now we are in a very fragile state in our country. I know that people are divided. However, nothing good comes from division. Our country’s not perfect, but it’s ours. United, we will come out of this better and stronger,” Gutierrez said. “Please don’t let our past, present, and future sacrifices be in vain. I ask that we gain strength from what binds us and brings us together so that our country can be a wonderful place for generations to come.”
The ceremony included a rendition of the National Anthem by Saviah Miller, a giant American flag suspended above the grounds, and two bright spotlights aimed at the sky in memory of the Twin Towers.