This article explores the experiences of several members of the Manhasset community throughout 9/11 and in the aftermath of that day.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, started off like any other day: Americans woke up in the early hours of the morning to prepare for the long work day ahead of them. They showered, dressed, ate breakfast and kissed their loved ones as they headed out the door, unaware that these goodbyes would be their last. This day started out ordinarily, but ended with a tragedy of unfathomable magnitude. Nearly 3,000 Americans began their days unaware that they would never return home to their friends and families. On this day, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists boarded American aircraft, hijacked them and turned them into deadly weapons that senselessly took innocent lives, several having made their way into the city from Manhasset. These are the stories of members of the community, and their accounts of that fateful day.
Sarah Griffin, St. Mary’s Elementary School
Griffin, the current principal of St. Mary’s Elementary School of Manhasset, was a student at the school on Sept. 11, 2001. Her lifelong connection to the school and the town give her a unique perspective of that day and the years afterward. She spoke of how she was in the eighth grade when the Twin Towers fell, and how children whose parents worked in Manhattan were pulled inside from recess. She recalled how she was terrified that her father, who did not work far from the World Trade Center, had perished in the attacks: “I remember picturing my dad pretty vividly,” Griffin said. “I remember picturing him dead. I remember the picture in my head that I created of my dad dead…I can recall the same image in my mind today.”
Kathleen McQuillan, St. Mary’s Elementary School
McQuillan teaches art at St. Mary’s Elementary School, and described how faculty learned about the attacks piecemeal throughout the day. She remembers having students for class immediately after finding out that the towers had been struck, and how she had to act as if nothing had happened when interacting with the children. Because the school building is immediately next to St. Mary’s Church, she mentioned how there seemed to be endless bagpipes playing at funerals and services in the days and weeks following the attacks. McQuillan further stated that the effects of 9/11 permeated throughout the parish. She described the people of Manhasset as being in a state of shock and walking around, “like zombies,” absolutely “dumbfounded.”
Stephen Pinzino, Stephen D. Pinzino Law Offices
Stephen Pinzino is a local lawyer who raised his family in Manhasset and has served the community for a number of years. He saw an uptick in clients as panic ensued following the attacks, many visiting the office to prepare their wills and estates “just in case” anything was to happen to them. Residents’ sense of security had diminished due to the unexpected tragedy. Pinzino explained that the panic and paranoia that people experienced was exacerbated by the realization that such terrorist attacks are unpreventable in the sense that there can be “no guarantee of ‘never again.’” He emphasized how uncertain the future became after Sept. 11: “Regardless of what steps you take to avoid this kind of tragedy, it’s unimaginable. So therefore, you can’t really protect against it.” Pinzino discussed how the community banded together after Sept. 11, because “everyone knew someone.”
Furthermore, he asked, “how much sorrow can you stomach?” This question truly captures the pall that overtook Manhasset following 9/11. He stated, “the ‘Never Forget’ has to be ingrained in those who were not there in the beginning,” so that younger generations and future generations understand the magnitude of Sept. 11, 2001. It was a turning point in American and international history, and the effects of 9/11 continue to haunt the modern world and shape the future of our country. One of Pinzino’s most striking statements was:
“Just watching the image on TV…that stays so fresh in your mind that even years and years later when you see, you know, the symbolism of when Bush was there or you see the last structures that were up…it never changes from what’s stuck in your mind from the first time that you saw it.”
Don Bekteshi, Villa Milano Pizzeria
Don Bekteshi of Villa Milano Pizzeria also recounted his experience with 9/11. He described the day as starting off just as any other would have, but by evening the smell of burning wreckage at Ground Zero wafted 17 miles over to Manhasset, lingering for days after. As day turned into night, customers arrived at Villa Milano, many confused and distraught, in a complete daze from what they had experienced, witnessed and heard about throughout the day. Bekteshi went on to describe how the reality of the situation hit Manhasset hard on Sept. 12, and that the community jumped into action. Villa Milano provided food for first responders returning from Ground Zero, and the restaurant offered anything that it could to those in need. Bekteshi stated: “when situations occur, we get together and stick together…as a unit, as one.” This statement is a true testament to the resiliency of Manhasset. When asked about the town’s recovery, Bekteshi said, “the wound will never heal, but time is the best healer.”
Each of these stories, and those of many others in the community, reflect the uncertainty, devastation, and lifelong impact of 9/11 on Manhasset and its residents. As we head into the 20th anniversary of the attacks, it is important to recognize how much our small town has been through, how far it has come, and how much potential it has for the future.
— Written by Emma Possenriede, who was raised in Manhasset and currently works in federal contracting. She is also pursuing her master’s degree at Northeastern University after graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in 2020. This article contains excerpts from the Senior Art Tutorial she conducted in her final year at Holy Cross.