September 11th: The Port Authority Police Department Story
"Dazed and Malaise"
It has been almost five years since 9/11, and stress therapist Peter Killeen has been almost as busy as he was on the day that it happened. Killeen, a counselor who works for the Port Authority Police union, had rushed to Ground Zero as soon as he learned that terrorists had crashed two airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He fought his way through a massive traffic jam to get from his home in New Jersey to lower Manhattan. By mid-afternoon, he had set up shop at the Port Authority Police command center, a short walk from the burning wreckage, where officers had gathered to rest, eat, and process the horrors they were dealing with outside. What Killeen found there was a roomful of survivor guilt and self-recrimination. At the time he described the atmosphere at the command center as "dazed and malaise."
He remembers one cop asking over and over again, "Why did I make it out and my partner didn't?"
"My buddy was in there when the second tower went down," another distraught cop said to Killeen. "He has three kids. I have three kids."
"My entire command is missing!" a sobbing lieutenant shouted.
The stories Killeen heard that day were terribly gruesome and yet real. One cop told him of the utter joy he felt when he saw a hand sticking out of the rubble, desperately hopeful that the person was still alive, but when he started to dig, he soon found that it was just a detached hand without a body.
Another cop Killeen spoke to had been on the street before the buildings collapsed. Office workers trapped inside started jumping out the windows to avoid the monstrous flames. This officer saw one man in particular fall out of the sky and hit a lamppost a few feet from where he was standing. The man's body broke apart, and his organs hit the pavement with a sound like "pumpkins smashing." The officer couldn't get that sound out of his head.
On that first day, Killeen spent 10 hours at the command center listening to these and other gut-wrenching stories. Some officers came to him and asked for counsel. Others Killeen had to approach, particularly those who were visible shaken and clearly in need of help, encouraging them to open up and deal with their feelings.
Today, Killeen is dealing with the same raw emotions in Port Authority officers who have kept them bottled up all these years. Initially Killeen's clientele were nearly all dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Now most of them are struggling with delayed-onset PTSD, their symptoms suddenly appearing out of the blue without any apparent reason. Like a nuclear explosion, the emotional fallout of 9/11 is still being felt.