Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

9/11 survivor fights guilt to share story, encourage remembrance

ST. PETERSBURG — The first plane struck the north tower with such force that it knocked Michael Fineo from his chair.

As the World Trade Center building swayed and his colleagues struggled to their feet, he remembers thinking it could have been a kitchen fire. In the stairwell, when the second boom sounded, he realized it wasn't an accident.

He remembers the first firefighters passing him, heading up the stairs as he headed down from the 25th floor.

"They were young, and they were sweating, and they were carrying gear, and their eyes were huge," Fineo told a crowd of 700 gathered Wednesday at St. Petersburg's Coliseum to commemorate the anniversary. "They knew what they were going into."

Fineo lost friends that day, most of them co-workers at Garban Intercapital, where he worked as a money market broker. He thinks about them, and those firefighters, every day. Survivor's guilt weighs heavily, but he's grateful he can still feel.

The 49-year-old Safety Harbor resident shares his story because he doesn't want people to forget the tragedy and solidarity of that day. And he wants the younger generation, like his 12-year-old daughter, Samantha, to understand why it matters.

"We've got a short memory," Fineo said. "It's sad, but it's true."

Near the back of the Coliseum's ballroom, a group of teenagers in white uniforms watched as Fineo spoke. A video shown before Fineo took the stage showed the second plane crashing into the second tower.

It was the first time Mitchell Linder, 17, had seen video of a plane hitting the building.

"We were in kindergarten," said Linder, who was attending the breakfast as part of the Admiral Farragut Academy drill team. "I've never seen it."

Linder remembers teachers talking about the towers falling but never really understood until Wednesday.

Fineo talked about what it was like to watch the buildings come down from a ferry, where he and other evacuees were herded.

"Lower Manhattan disappeared from sight, completely covered in a thick cloud of dust," Fineo said.

Another Admiral Farragut student, Patrick Hales, 14, had never heard a survivor speak. He was 2 on Sept. 11, 2001.

"You don't really get the feel of it — how it felt for him — but you want to try to understand what he'd gone through," Hales said.

• • •

When the towers were hit, Fineo had three small children: Nicholas, 9; Brianna, 5; and Samantha, 9 months. He used to bring Brianna to show off at work.

After the attacks, he'd get drunk and return to the hole where the towers had stood.

Fineo eventually decided he had to leave Wall Street and relocated his family first to Clearwater, then Safety Harbor. He now owns a floor treatment company.

"It's been the healthiest thing, on so many levels, for us as a family to have done," Fineo said.

The last time he shared his story, with a group of Florida International University students on the attacks' 10th anniversary, he was struck by the media interviews he saw later. Some of the students said it was the first time they'd grasped the full weight of it.

Before he spoke Wednesday, he took his youngest, Samantha, aside. He wanted to make sure she was familiar with what he was going to say. It was the first time she heard him speak about the attacks.

"I knew that she really didn't completely digest what happened that day," Fineo said. "Not even just to me, but to our country."

Claire Wiseman can be reached at [email protected] On Twitter: @clairelwiseman.

9/11 survivor fights guilt to share story, encourage remembrance 09/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cubs down Dodgers 3-2; force NLCS Game 5 Thursday

    Ml

    CHICAGO — Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, former Ray Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

  2. One of the best places for investing in a rental house is in Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    Two Tampa Bay ZIP Codes are drawing national attention.

    . If you're looking to invest in a house to rent out, few places are better than  ZIP Code 34607 in Hernando County's Spring Hill area, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
[LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Times
 file photo]

  3. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  4. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended

    Nation

    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Harford County, Md., Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler shows a picture of Radee Labeeb Prince, the suspect in the workplace shootings.
  5. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.