Bel Air resident Bob Mumby hit the play button on a cassette tape player. Amid reports of an explosion at the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the voice of his late best friend Port Authority Police Department Officer Thomas Gorman came through.
“Truck 1, you’ve got to roll to the Trade Center on an explosion, no other information ... I’m getting no answer at the Trade Center, copy?” Gorman, who was assigned as a dispatcher that day, said.
Gorman’s voice cut in again as the calls pour in, saying, “Units, you’re stepping on each other.”
Gorman then got an order to call “all available units” to the garage in order to head to the World Trade Center. Gorman, 41, who had been with the Port Authority Police for about 15 years and at the time was serving with its elite Emergency Services Unit, was assigned to the emergency unit’s headquarters at the Journal Square PATH commuter train station in Jersey City, N.J.
Jersey City is across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan in New York City, the site of the World Trade Center. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is responsible for airports in New York, and northern New Jersey, along with the World Trade Center complex, ports, bridges, tunnels, bus terminals and PATH train stations, according to the agency’s website.
Gorman relayed the order for all Emergency Service Unit officers to respond to the garage and issued his final radio call for “10 to cover the desk,” the number 10 referred to fellow Port Authority Officer John O’Donnell. O’Donnell is listed as “Post #10” on a Sept. 11 call sheet that Mumby has saved. Gorman’s name is above O’Donnell’s, marked “Post #9.”
That was the last Gorman was heard from.
Of 25 people on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, Gorman and 13 other Emergency Service Unit officers were killed during the collapse of the World Trade Center after two hijacked planes crashed one each into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. Gorman died when the South Tower collapsed.
In all, 37 Port Authority Police officers died on 9/11, along with 343 New York firefighters and paramedics, and 23 New York City Police Department officers. They were among the nearly 3,000 people who were killed that day after a series of four coordinated attacks by hijacked planes— led by the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda — crashed into the World Trade Tower, the Pentagon and in a field in Shanksville, Pa. The towers collapsed trapping many inside or falling on those outside. Three victims — Willie Troy, Joseph Maggitti and Deborah Jacobs Welsh — had ties to Harford County.
Sixteen years later, as the U.S. is still fighting jihadist terrorists globally, Mumby keeps the memory of his childhood best friend alive through artifacts such as the call sheet, the audio tape of the radio call, multiple photographs and stacks of documents related to Mumby’s mission to help Gorman’s wife, Barbara, and three children handle the legal aspects of his sudden death as well as their grief and loss.
Barbara Gorman, 57, summed up the impact of 9/11 in one word: “Devastating.”
“We’re approaching the 16th-year anniversary and it still brings you back to day one,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Whitehouse Station, N.J., Thursday.
She said her children call Mumby “Uncle Bobby.” One of the three children, Bridget, is Mumby’s goddaughter.
“Bobby is pretty much family, and he continues to be,” she said, calling Mumby a “huge, huge support” to the Gormans.
Mumby said, “The kids will call me sometimes because they want to talk, or maybe they have a life decision.” He has also stayed in touch with Gorman’s parents and his siblings.
Mumby also has a copy of the poster Gorman’s relatives tacked up — among thousands of other posters of people missing — around New York City in the days after the attacks, when officials still classified the response to what they termed “Ground Zero” as a rescue mission. It was later changed to a recovery mission after city officials determined few people would be found alive in the rubble.
Gorman’s body has never been recovered. He is among the more than 1,000 victims whose remains have not been identified, said Mumby, 58, the husband of Cindy Mumby, Harford County’s director of governmental and community relations. Mumby said more than 1,000 death certificates for 9/11 victims were issued “in absentia,” as their remains were never recovered.
Gorman’s keys, gun belt and handcuffs were found during searches of Ground Zero, though, Mumby said. Gorman was last seen in the South Tower helping people get out before the tower collapsed, based on Port Authority Police records and accounts from witnesses, Mumby said.
He has a copy of Gorman’s death certificate, issued by the New York City Health Department Oct. 25, 2001. It lists the cause of death for Thomas Edward Gorman as “Homicide.”
Mumby remembered watching a benefit concert on TV days after the attacks and resolving to do “whatever needed to be done” to help Gorman’s family “because he would do it for me.” He told Cindy about his resolve to help Gorman’s survivors, and she told him, “whatever we need to do for them,” he said.
“The 20 trips I made up there and the hundreds of hours I spent, I would just harken back to that resolve that I found that night,” Mumby said.
Cindy Mumby said Gorman’s death has taught her, “how to live my life,” she said. “Just enjoy it because you really don't know what's around the corner.”
Mumby said he and Gorman had been best friends since they were about 6, growing up around the corner from one another in Bayonne, N.J.
They were both fans of the New York Giants football team, played touch football, baseball and chase, and camped.
“We did pretty much everything,” Mumby said.
Mumby said he is 364 days older than Gorman — Mumby was born Dec. 28, 1958, and Gorman was born on Dec. 27, 1959.
Mumby and his wife moved to Maryland in 1993 when he was recruited by the Baltimore-based Alex Brown financial firm.
Their son, Jack, was 2 at the time, and Cindy was pregnant with their daughter, Grace. Their children are now 26 and 23 years old, respectively.
Mumby now operates a consulting firm, RM Associates, and is a partner in another consulting firm, co-hosts “The Harford Edge” radio show — a project of the Harford County Public Library and WAMD-AM — and is a partner in Slate Ridge Entertainment with Craig Ward, of Bel Air.
The Mumbys and the Gormans remained close after the move to Maryland, going on regular vacations in New Jersey.
Gorman’s children Laura, Patrick and Bridget, were 15, 11 and 8 at the time their father died, Mumby said. Patrick Gorman, 27, now works for the Port Authority Police, Mumby said.
On 9/11, the family lived in Middlesex, N.J. and Barbara Gorman was driving on Interstate 78 to her job as a nurse at the former St. Francis Hospital in Jersey City, when she saw smoke coming from the burning World Trade Center, Mumby said.
Mumby was in New Orleans on a business trip. A week prior, he had been in New York and stayed at the Marriott hotel in the World Trade Center complex.
“A week later, I wake up and get out of the shower and I turn on CNN ... I saw the towers coming down and I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” Mumby said.
Mumby later delivered a eulogy at a memorial service at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish in Middlesex for Gorman. Hundreds of New York first-responders attended, he said.
Mumby attended a number of sessions hosted by the Port Authority Police to help families of fallen officers work through matters such as workman’s compensation insurance, pensions, Social Security and life insurance matters.
“I’m sitting with wives and kids and mothers and fathers,” he recalled. “It was palpable — you could feel the grief; you could almost hear the grief in the room, even when no one was talking.”
Mumby also visited Ground Zero during recovery efforts and met other Port Authority officers who were “still shell-shocked” and dealing with how they survived the attacks simply because they were in a location other than the World Trade Center.
“Talking to them and just looking at the looks in their faces, they lost so many of their brothers,” Mumby said. “They knew it could have been them; that was something that I’ll never forget.”
“The wreckage from [9/11] is very widespread — the emotional wreckage — and it lasts for years and years,” he said.
Barbara Gorman said the Port Authority Police and the Police Benevolent Association have supported her family and those of the 36 other fallen officers, organizing events in New York each year to observe the anniversary of 9/11. She and her children attend those events annually.
“It’s a day of honor and celebrating the life of their dad ... it’s a solemn day, but you also have to, as in any death, you want to celebrate that person’s life,” she said.