9/11 a ‘wake-up call’ for some

NEW YORK — On 9/11, Stephen Feuerman saw the World Trade Center aflame through the window of his Empire State Building office and watched, transfixed, as a second fireball burst from the twin towers.

He ran through the 78th floor urging everyone to get out, thinking their skyscraper could be next. With transit hubs shut down, he couldn’t get home to his family in suburban Westchester for hours. Among the dead were someone he knew from college and people he recognized from his commuter train.

Feuerman had always seen himself as a New Yorker, but “everything changed that day,” he said.

Shaken by the experience, the apparel broker and his wife put their home on the market weeks later. Within four months, they and their two small children moved to a gracious South Florida suburb they figured would be safer than New York.

So it was until this past Valentine’s Day, when mass violence tore into Parkland, Florida, too.

“There really is no safe place,” said Feuerman, whose children survived but lost friends in the massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks prompted the Feuermans and an uncounted number of others to quietly move away from their lives near the hijacked-plane strikes that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Some sought a place where they could feel safe. Some placed a new importance on living near family. Others simply re-evaluated what they wanted from life.

As the attacks’ 17th anniversary approaches, The Associated Press caught up with several people who left and asked: Have they found what they were looking for?

‘A wake-up call’

About 30 weeks a year, Scott Dacey drives from his home near New Bern, N.C., to Washington for a few days. The 350-mile trips are a price the federal lobbyist pays for peace of mind after Sept. 11.

He and his wife, Jennifer, were rooted in Washington before the attacks. He was a former federal official lobbying on Native American and gaming issues. She’d grown up nearby, though her parents had moved to North Carolina.

Then came the strike on the Pentagon, the paralyzing feeling of not knowing what might happen next, the weeks of watching military aircraft patrol around their suburban Virginia home.

“It really made us have a wake-up call: ‘How do we want to live our lives?'” Scott said. “Do we want to be up here in this rat race of Washington, D.C.?” Or raising kids somewhere that didn’t feel so on-guard, somewhere closer to family in times of crisis?

The choice wasn’t simple, particularly for a lobbyist. The couple’s 2002 move to the New Bern suburb of Trent Woods meant extra costs, including a Washington apartment and a then-advanced phone system to make sure Scott wouldn’t miss clients’ calls to his office there.

Jennifer, already a lawyer, had to take a second bar exam in North Carolina.

Friends suggested the Daceys were overreacting. And it was an adjustment, going from career-focused, on-the-go Washington to the gentler pace of eastern North Carolina.

“It would not be for everybody, but for us, it’s been the right fit,” Jennifer said. “We’re outside the bubble, and this is how America really lives.”

‘Change your life’

Michael Koveleski isn’t afraid of taking risks. His Christian faith gives him confidence he’ll be OK if he does what’s right, and he’s a motivational-book reader who thrives on “tenacious optimism.”

He needed plenty of it after he and his wife, Margery, left New York in the wake of 9/11 with four children and no work lined up.

New York and church had brought the couple together in the 1980s: she a Haitian-American from Brooklyn, he a white art student from Massachusetts. They had a small house and a full life.

After 9/11, though, Michael sensed emotional burnout surrounding him at his lower Manhattan workplace, while security measures lengthened his commute from Queens and devoured his time with the children. Two months later, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed near the Koveleskis’ home, killing 265 people. There had to be a better way to live, the couple thought.

The next spring they moved to Springfield, Ohio, where they had church friends.

If a better way, it wasn’t always smooth. It was initially a challenge for the Koveleskis’ children to be the new, mixed-race kids in an area less diverse than Queens. And Michael struggled to find work in the shaky post-9/11 economy. A man who’d adhered to healthy eating, he found himself grateful for $5 pizzas that could feed the family, which now includes five children. It took eight years or so before he made what he had in New York.

“You’re only going to change your life when things are bad — or terrible,” Michael said. “Our thing was 9/11, starting over with nothing. … I am thrilled at the way it came out to be.”

‘Had a good life’

Fresh from dropping off his 16-year-old daughter last month for the first day of her junior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Stephen Feuerman still thinks his family made a good move after 9/11.

He’s sensitive to what his daughter and 18-year-old son, now a college freshman, have been through. But he also appreciates the community where they got to grow up.

“We’ve had a good life here,” he said. “And again, this could have happened anywhere.”

In fact, he appreciates Parkland all the more since the tragedy. It introduced him to neighbors he’d never met and plunged him into a whirlwind of events and advocacy on gun laws and other issues. He marvels at the support that has poured into his hometown, and he’s proud of its residents’ activism.