In “Below the Surface,” we looked at some of the deep effects of September 11 on the Wagner community. Here, a few alumni share personal stories of loss and life.
Craig Jantz '73
On September 11, Craig Jantz '73 was working for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the North Tower. In what he calls a “bittersweet” confluence of events, he is alive today.
In the days before September 11, Craig's mother, Winnie Jantz, was hovering near death. She had had surgery the previous year to remove a brain tumor and had never fully recovered. She lived with Craig's brother, Stephen, who had decided to retire after 20 years with the FDNY and devote himself to his mother's care at his home on Staten Island. Craig spent most of Sunday and Monday with her, returning home to Holmdel, New Jersey, late in the evening.
On Tuesday, September 11, Craig got up at about 5:30 a.m. to go to work, when he noticed the answering machine light blinking. He listened as his brother said, “Craig, you know why I'm calling you.” Steve had left his message at 12:59 a.m. Their mother had passed away.
Craig knew he couldn't work that day; he didn't know it would save his life. Cantor Fitzgerald, which occupied floors 101–105 of 1 World Trade Center, lost a total of 658 employees, making it the single organization with the greatest loss of life on September 11. No one from Craig's division who was in the office that morning survived.
“I don't know why I'm still here,” he says. He points out that his mother saved his life — twice. “Through some divine intervention, I was saved from this. … I'm still trying to figure it all out, and I probably will till the day I die.”
Kimberly Litto Rex '04
Staten Islander Vincent Litto was one of the many who were at work at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11. His youngest daughter, Kimberly Litto Rex '04, was a Wagner College sophomore.
Kimberly took a leave of absence for the fall 2001 semester, but she picked up her studies again in the spring and finished her degree in August 2004. “The school was very good to me,” she says, adjusting some coursework requirements so that she could accept a job offer from St. Joseph Hill Academy on Staten Island. She also received financial assistance from the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, benefiting Wagner students whose parents died on September 11.
When she thinks of September 11 now, she says the initial confusion, fear, and pain have faded into “just sadness.” “I never had an anger phase like some people. I feel sad and bad for my father, for what he had to go through, for how he died,” she says. She doesn't pay attention to politics, which before 9/11 was an intense interest that she had shared with her father. Instead, she says, “I just want to focus on good things” — things like teaching English and coaching cheerleading, her marriage to Anthony Rex in 2008, her puppy, her sisters and nieces and nephews. She is working on a 9/11 memoir. “I'm forever piece by piece writing it,” she says.
Her father continues to exercise a positive influence in her life. “I've never met a person who didn't like him, who wasn't inspired by him. He was selfless and humble. He wanted to make other people happy. He was driven by the desire to do what is right, and he taught that to us.
“Now, when I have to make a decision, I will ask myself what my father would do in that situation, and do what he would have done, which is the kind and selfless thing to do.”
While thousands were trying to escape the burning towers, Michael Fiore '78 was one of the New York City firefighters rushing to the scene. The Wagner business major was a 20-year veteran of the FDNY with three commendations for extraordinary service already to his credit. “His death,” says his older sister Linda Fiore '73, “was a terrible loss. It left a big hole in my heart, and in my parents' heart. To this day, it's a wound that just won't come together, just won't heal.”
Yet Linda, a Wagner nursing graduate who had a long career with the New York City Department of Health, has made her peace with her brother's death. She remembers going to Ground Zero on the first anniversary of September 11, being with thousands of other grieving survivors in the pit. It was a beautiful morning, as it had been the previous year, and the air was completely still. Then, she says, “All of a sudden, the dust started swirling. It was like the spirits of those lost on that day were surrounding us. Everyone who was there felt it, because the stillness became this energy.
“[Ground Zero is] my brother's burial ground,” she continues. “It's not morbid to go there, not sad. Speaking for myself, it's a fulfilling experience to be down there and just reflect.”