Michael Fitz-Patrick was on the 61st floor of Two World Trade Center, training to be a broker. A new father at 28, he was switching careers with a goal of spending more time at home.
Daniel McNeal, 29, was also in the south tower that sunny Tuesday morning. He and Fitz-Patrick had been classmates at Loyola Blakefield high school in Towson, Class of 1990. McNeal, an ambitious financial analyst who had decorated his boyhood bedroom with photographs of Ronald Reagan, worked up on the building's 104th floor.
Then terrorist hijackers turned two jetliners into missiles and brought down the twin towers. Fitz-Patrick made it out just 15 minutes before the south tower collapsed.
Not so McNeal. He went down with the tower, one of more than 2,750 people killed that day in Lower Manhattan.
Ten years after 9/11, the coordinated attacks that crashed planes in New York, Northern Virginia and Shanksville, Pa., have left an enduring, complicated legacy. The United States has spent the past decade fighting costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Life for average Americans has changed, too, from tighter airport security to the newfound sense of national vulnerability.
But the victims and their relatives occupy a space all their own. Fitz-Patrick, his family and McNeal's survivors say their lives remain indelibly altered — how could they not be? — in ways that are wrenchingly sad and yet, even for the McNeals, life-affirming and inspiring.
Fitz-Patrick says he thinks about the attacks every day. When he focuses on his terrifying stairwell descent, he can still see the pile of abandoned women's dress shoes.
Ask him how life has changed, and he stresses one word: family. At 38, he says, he strives to put his wife, Mary Beth, and their children first. Though he hardly claims to be perfect on that score, he's such a regular at sports practices and school events that other parents jokingly ask whether he has a job.
Two years ago, the Fitz-Patricks' fourth child was born, a girl named Kirsten. She arrived more than a week early — on Sept. 11. At the hospital, a friend told him, "God gave you the day back."
For the McNeals, the grief lingers like a storm cloud. Dan's mother, Kitty, pauses often at the portrait of her only son, displayed prominently in the family's split-level Towson home. His pursed smile and narrowed gaze seem to promise a big future on Wall Street, and in life.
She still replays the 21-second message he left on the home answering machine that day, just to hear his voice.
The McNeals determined early on to spread Dan's memory widely, launching an annual memorial golf outing to raise money for a scholarship. Each year an award goes to a Loyola senior who exemplifies the Jesuit ethos: "A true man for others."
And when McNeal's sister — who was married 18 days after her brother's death — gave birth to a son in 2002, she and her husband chose a name that seemed perfect: Daniel.
Michael Fitz-Patrick was on the phone with his wife, describing the sweeping view of New York City, when the first plane hit the north tower, One World Trade Center. It sounded as if someone had knocked over a file cabinet in a nearby office. It was 8:46 a.m.
Fitz-Patrick had left Baltimore two days earlier for a three-week training course at the investment bank Morgan Stanley. After a roller coaster ride in the boom-to-bust dot-com economy, he had decided to go work with his father as a broker at Greenspring Station.
He and Mary Beth had started a family. Their first-born, Mary Kate, was almost 2 years old. He wanted a job that would pay well but have flexible hours.
Now, on his first full day of training, Fitz-Patrick called home to Hunt Valley after a lesson on technical analysis to say good morning.
The loud thump was followed by debris falling from the north tower. To him, it looked like a ticker-tape parade. Something's wrong, he told his wife. He had to go. Turn on the television.
9/11 anniversary: Different fates for Loyola classmates
World Trade Center survivor and victim's family reflect on decade
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