Sunshine State offers solace to 9/11 families

Sunshine State offers solace to 9/11 families
Dominic Puopolo Jr. of Miami Beach lost his mother on Sept. 11, 2001, when her plane, American Airlines Flight 11, was hijacked and flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Joshua Rosenblum, whose mother, Sue Rosenblum, lives in Coral Springs, was killed after the same plane crashed a few stories below where he was working.

And David McCourt, of Palm Beach, lost his entire family -- his wife, Ruth, and his little daughter, Julianna, when their plane, United Airlines Flight 175, was hijacked and crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

In the aftermath of one of America's worst tragedies, the families of 9/11 victims have all sought to heal the scars of a horrific day.

Many remained in the New York area, but a significant number have left, choosing one particular part of the country to rebuild and resume their lives -- Florida.

Florida is the No. 1 spot where New York-area families who lost spouses, parents, children or siblings in the 9/11 terrorist attacks have relocated. Tennessee and Texas are second and third, respectively.

In all, about 120 Sept. 11 families from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and the Boston area moved to the Sunshine State between early 2002 and late 2005, according to the Coalition of 9/11 Families, which maintains the exclusive national database that is used by the government.

Nobody knows for sure why this state was the destination of choice. Some say it was because Florida, historically a choice vacation and retirement destination for most New Yorkers, offers the exact opposite of New York City living.

The families themselves say they have a far more simpler reason: peace of mind.

In interviews with The Miami Herald, the families tell their stories and why they have found some solace in the southernmost state.


Bill Doyle, founder of the Coalition of 9/11 Families and WTC United Family Group, the two top nonprofit organizations that advocate on behalf of 9/11 families, moved to Florida four years after his son, Joey, was killed in the World Trade Center.

During those four years, he dedicated himself 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, to fighting for the rights of 9/11 families.

''After the attacks took place, families had no one and nowhere to turn to for their rights, for resources, for nothing,'' said Doyle, a retired stock trader for Lehmann Brothers, who launched the groups to honor his son and the thousands of others killed.

Doyle remains the lead case worker and facilitator for all the 9/11 families, which total 7,113 worldwide.

''When my son died, it just felt queasy for us to continue living in our Staten Island home without Joey coming through the front door anymore,'' Doyle said.

``So after Sept. 11 of 2005, we decided to move near Ocala, as we liked this area. There is this connection New Yorkers have to Florida for retirement. We just did it a little earlier than we expected.''

Doyle frequently visits New York City, a place he forever will call home, but it is at The Villages where he is able to enjoy his retirement years, comprised of golf, beaches, and more golf.

``A day does not go by that I don't think of Joey and help some of the 9/11 families, but I can now balance it all, for some reason, down here.''


New Yorker Michael Conner, 60, who moved to Boca Raton in 2004, said opportunity and less expensive housing were factors in his decision to move, but he was also searching for peace.

Conner's wife of 26 years, Margaret, 57, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

Unable to reach his wife on the phone, he ran to the World Trade Center, only to see the north tower, where she worked on the 103rd floor, collapse before his eyes.

Today, Conner, a Brooklyn native, sits in his Boca Raton home discussing that terrible day with his new wife, Joyce, 60, a Bronx resident whose husband of 37 years, Barry, died of a heart attack a month before the terrorist attacks.

Their home is decorated with framed photographs of themselves, some with their friends, and some with their late spouses.

The couple, both of whom thought they would never find love again, met a year after the death of their spouses and started going out as friends.

''But that friendship soon started changing into something else,'' Joyce Conner said.

In 2004, shortly after they were married, these two New Yorkers moved to South Florida to begin new lives.

''Here it's the exact opposite of life in New York,'' Michael Conner said. ``The sunshine and the ocean and the quiet and the beauty -- you can regroup here. You can step back and think.''

The couple, who work as insurance adjusters, were surprised that despite so much heartache they could still love again.

''I never thought that there could be life after life,'' Michael Conner said.