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Emily, on her 11th birthday

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image Emily could be thought of as one of the youngest survivors of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Photo Mitch Traphagen

From one of the darkest days in American history, a shining light has pierced the clouds.

By Mitch Traphagen

Emily Engoran, a beautiful girl with a brilliant smile and magic in her eyes, turned 11 years old last week. She celebrated the day with her family and grandparents in Sun City Center. Emily is quite possibly one of the youngest survivors of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. In many ways, she is a miracle, because she is here, and because of whom she has become.

To describe the events of September 11, 2001, as a tragedy is to inflate the definition of the word. The deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent people who merely went to work on that beautiful fall day, the complete destruction of architectural icons on an iconic cityscape, and the dagger of fear that was thrust deep into the American psyche, fear that in various forms continues to this day, are all far beyond a mere tragedy. The day was a nightmare of epic proportions, the events and outcome of which were things few could have imagined were possible at the hands of human beings.

When the civilian airplanes, filled with innocent passengers, first struck the World Trade Towers, hospitals across the nation’s largest city and beyond immediately took action to prepare to care for thousands of wounded victims. The wounded never came. Most people, at least those generally below the 86th floor, ran out of the mortally wounded buildings as first responders rushed in. The first responders then, too, became victims for merely doing their jobs. Indisputably heroically, yes, but their jobs nonetheless. For them the word “hero” suffers from insufficiency. Yet despite the scale of the ensuing disaster, the emergency rooms remained largely quiet. Most people either escaped or perished.

Friends and family members searched for their missing loved ones, putting up posters and handbills, often created in haste, around the city.  The majority of those loved ones remain missing today, but there were some exceptions. In the confusion and chaos that followed, some were found, perhaps after wandering home on foot through the paralyzed city, covered in soot, opening the doors to their homes to be welcomed with tight grasps that felt as though they should never let go and with tears of joy. Amidst a tragedy that the passage of eleven years has yet to fully reconcile, there were moments of joy.

Florence Engoran was in a World Trade Center elevator in the South Tower when the first airplane hit. She got out on the 55th floor and despite instructions for people to stay put in their offices, she decided along with many others that it was time to leave. She began running down the stairs, with people pushing and shoving the entire way. The second plane hit her building when she reached the 10th floor and the stairway began to sway. Eventually she managed to get out of the building and then she passed out.

Florence’s husband Russell worked on nearby Wall Street and rushed over to the World Trade Center as soon as he heard news of the disaster. He repeatedly called his wife’s cell number with no success and finally turned away to return to his office to attempt calling from a landline. He was there when the second airplane hit Florence’s building. Not long afterwards, the first tower collapsed.

For a short time, Florence was among the missing. Calls to area emergency rooms yielded no results and, at first, no one thought to ask about maternity wards. Florence was four months pregnant at the time.

On that day, in those hours, it may have felt like forever, but before long Florence and Russell were reunited and five months later, Emily was born. Their survival and Emily’s birth were bright stars shining in one of the darkest skies of American history. Emily’s star continues to shine brightly to this day.

“I was in my Mom’s tummy in the Twin Towers,” Emily said. “I’m really glad she made it out alive.”

A lot of people are glad about that. Emily, at only 11 years old, has made helping others a part of her life. Her birthday party was held at Bella Cucina restaurant in Sun City Center. Emily wanted the party to be held in honor of her Aunt Susan, who is struggling with cancer. She is also trying to raise funds for Relay for Life.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Florence. “She always wants to help; she helps me at the homeless shelter [in New York]. She is a very giving little girl.”

With her parents, grandparents and extended family at the table, Emily said she has already gotten everything she wanted for her birthday. The list of what she wanted, no doubt, included her family and being with her grandparents in Florida for her birthday, but it also included an Xbox. Her aunt, however, was foremost in her mind.

“I just really wanted to help her,” Emily said.

Both Emily and her younger sister Sophia seem geared towards helping others. Both are active in their church and in helping the homeless. Both are happy, smiling young girls for whom giving is just a natural part of their lives.

It is said that every dark cloud has a silver lining. For the many thousands who lost loved ones in the senseless destruction on September 11, 2001, and for the millions more that felt the pain of the lives lost and a lost sense of security, the silver lining may be difficult to see. But from one of the darkest days in American history, a shining light has pierced the clouds, a family was reunited and has emerged from the tragedy.

One such light is named Emily. She just turned 11.

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