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Austinites honor firefighters killed on 9/11 with memorial tower climb at Circuit of the Americas

On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, over 100 people climbed the COTA tower to honor the 343 firefighters and others killed in the attacks.

AUSTIN, Texas — A memorial stair climb was held at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on Saturday, Sept. 11 to remember the 343 firefighters and other first responders who were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on this day 20 years ago.

Participants walked up the tower four times to total 110 stories. That is how tall the World Trade Center once stood before it collapsed.

“Well it’s Sept. 11, and I think it’s very important to remember what happened and going up these flights of stairs is a pretty stark reminder,” said Aaron Schulman, an Austin resident.

One man who made the climb Saturday didn’t need a reminder, as the attacks are a vivid memory. He was a firefighter in Central Texas when the 9/11 attacks happened. When he saw the news, he drove his car to New York City to help with recovery efforts at Ground Zero the day after the towers fell. He didn’t want to go on camera, but shared with us that he was listening to radio calls from 9/11 as he made his way up the tower. He was very thankful for the support shown by the community.


For others, the 9/11 attacks are something they have learned about, like Gordon Murphy, a firefighter with Travis County ESD 11.

“I am 20 years old, I was two weeks old when 9/11 happened,” shared Gordon Murphy, a Travis County firefighter. “My father is a firefighter over in Austin, it means a lot to him and I grew up in this culture so it means a lot to me, so I wanted to show my respect.”

Murphy did his climb in full fire gear, which is no easy task. But he says it is nothing compared to what firefighters went through on 9/11 when they answered the calls for help.

“I am thinking about the fact that there were some real good guys going up all these flights of stairs, while everyone else was going down, carrying more than I am today and doing it faster than I am today,” said Murphy of his thoughts while climbing the tower. “And I just want to remember them and honor them with what I am doing.”

Civilians, firefighters, veterans, and even police officers made the climb.

They ran into a building, a burning building, when other people were running out,” said Susan Gibbs, a University of Texas police officer. “So, you know, it just kind of gives you a feeling of, it gives you goosebumps, and grabs your heart a little bit. These people gave all because they believed in humankind. They believed in each other. They believed in sacrificing themselves for the better, for man.”

It was a day Officer Gibbs remembers, a day that shaped who she is.

“I was a sophomore in high school when 9/11 happened," said Officer Gibbs. "And that's part of the reason why I became a police officer. You know, just seeing how people acted and how they helped people and what not.”

The event was put on by the Samaritan Center, which helps veterans with mental health. People honored the firefighters who gave their lives, and also the military members who went to defend our country following the attacks.

“Helping vets, I just feel like it is something I need to do,” said Elvin Hall, a veteran from Austin. “I am a disabled vet myself, and you know, mental health for vets is a very serious situation, and anything that helps with that, I want to do it.”

There was a feeling of togetherness as people climbed the tower. Many hope our country can heal from our current division and get back to being united.

“I still believe in humanity and I still believe in our country,” shared Hall. “We will bounce back from this like we always do, just like we did from 9/11.”


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