As dawn peeked over the Statue of Liberty Sunday, hundreds of people raced to the top of the World Trade Center to honor those killed on Sept. 11 and remember the victims of the Parkland, Florida, high school massacre.
Dressed in orange T-shirts to support the gun control movement started by high school students nationwide, several family members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School participated in the race up 102 floors. At least 1,000 people registered for the race organized by the Stephen Siller Tower Climb in honor of FDNY firefighter Stephen Siller, who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
This year’s tower climb acknowledged the rescue efforts of the three Florida high school coaches who were shot Feb. 14 while trying to save students’ lives after confessed gunman and former student Nikolas Cruz fired an assault rifle, killing 17 people, including 14 students.
“This is gun-control weekend and we live life differently now,” Linda Beigel Schulman, 63, of Dix Hills, said on Sunday. Her son Scott Beigel, 35, a geography teacher and cross-country coach, was shot when he opened his classroom door and led stranded students into the safety of his classroom.
“I have to live life for today and sometimes the moment. Today I celebrate my son’s life,” said Beigel Schulman, who later Sunday will also attend Stoneman Douglas High School’s graduation, where her son will be honored.
Tommy Hixon raced up the tower to honor his father, Chris Hixon, 49, Stoneman Douglas athletic director. Chris Hixon was shot and killed while trying to save students. He was a Navy veteran of the Persian Gulf War during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
“Today was a time to reflect on September 11th, which is one of the reasons I joined the Marines,” said Tommy Hixon, 26, a first lieutenant from Hollywood, Florida. “But it was also about my dad who was a caring, compassionate man.”
“It’s humbling that the teachers were honored as first responders,” said Debbie Hixon, wife of Chris Hixon. “Here they are recognized for the sacrifice they made,” she said tearing up at the thought of her husband.
“The three coaches acted as first responders,” said Frank Siller, brother of Stephen Siller, who was from Staten Island, and raised in Rockville Centre. “These coaches gave up their lives for their students. Their stories are incredible acts of the ultimate sacrifice.” The third coach recognized was assistant football coach Aaron Feis, formerly of West Islip, who was shot and killed at Stoneman Douglas while shielding children from gunfire.
The Stephen Siller Tower Climb — which began four years ago — typically raises between $500,000 and $600,000 at the annual event. The money is used to build handicapped-accessible homes for military service members wounded in the line of duty.
The World Trade Center Observatory competition is sought after by elite climbers. Women’s first-place winner, Suzy Walsham, 44, of Australia, said the challenge has “the body screaming to stop, but the brain takes over to push you up.” She made the climb in 13 minutes, 50 seconds.
The men’s first-place winner, Piotr Loabodzinski, 33, a personal trainer from Poland, made the climb in 12 minutes, 5 seconds.