The report of a father who lost his son on 9/11. He also had a friend in his son until the Twin Towers came down …
When, on the morning of the sadly celebrated Tuesday of September 11, 2001, the iconic Twin Towers in downtown New York collapsed, the world of the Portuguese immigrant Augusto Rocha also collapsed.
Arriving in America, the land of big opportunities, with a letter of invitation signed by his wife’s family in 1969, he brought with him a 7-month-old child and the dream of becoming a pilot. He did not make it into the commercial aviation universe, but he made a career as a wealth manager (he had Ayrton Senna’s investment portfolio in his hands …) and saw his son António Augusto Tomé Rocha grow up, become a man, give him grandchildren and conquer a successful professional path. However, destiny would soon tragically deny him of more opportunities …
“He dedicated himself a lot to his studies and was even an honor student,” says Augusto Rocha, in an exclusive interview with the LUSOAMERICANO newspaper. “António initially thought about pursuing a career in mechanical engineering, but then he embarked into the area of finance. I would say that he was not very talkative, but rather reserved”. ”.
Augusto and Rosa Rocha’s first son (he from Coimbra city and she from Seia) came to the world on February 8, 1967, in Paranhos da Beira, and was about six months old when the family left Portugal for the New York neighborhood of West Village. (The second son, Jason, was born in America, thirteen years later). After attending high school at La Salle Academy in Manhattan, António graduated from Manhattan College. Through his father’s network, then at the service of the Swiss Bank, where he found employment as a broker at Garban Intercapital; his career rose at the speed of the elevator that at the time took him to his office on the 55th floor of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. He quickly became the main broker responsible for emerging markets.
In July 2001, he moved to one of the giants of the finance sector – Cantor Fitzgerald, where he occupied a new office on the 105th floor, this time in Tower 2 of the same WTC. He was 34 years old and at the peak of his career.
Two months later, in an attack orchestrated by Islamic radicals, his life was shortened when two Boeing planes hit the Twin Towers.
“I was, however, in a Brazilian financial group located in Nassau, in the Bahamas”, reports Augusto Rocha. “My wife had returned to our home in New York since our son Jason was going to start school. On that fateful day, as it was my routine, I ran in the morning very early, and when I got home, I turned on the TV and realized what was going on in the USA. My heart left my chest …”.
When he arrived at the office, he realized that he had a message from his son – with whom he had already been transacting within his Bloomberg terminal: “The message said: ‘Good morning, Catalino’ – which was what he called me – ‘late as always’, he wrote. He always arrived earlier than me at work… ”.
Only a week later, he managed to catch a plane from Nassau to Freeport and from there a ferry to Fort Lauderdale. “It was loaded with tourists who went for a walk while I experienced bitterness, sadness, and anxiety of reaching land”, he narrates. “It was one of the most difficult things I’ve faced in life.”
Days later, his brother-in-law who was a police officer, had contact with the Port Authority and he went to the morgue at Bellevue Hospital to first identify the body of his son. After, the mass with the present body happened – “I myself chose a tin coffin” – and shortly after he was buried in a cemetery in East Hanover, NJ, where António lived with his Portuguese-American wife, Marylin Marques Rocha, and two young children – Alyssa, about 3 years old, and Ethan with only a few months of life.
Part of the large group of so-called ‘9/11 Orphans’, young Alyssa, now 22, graduated in health and Ethan, 19, pursuing a finance degree at a university in Michigan.
“When my son passed away, we stipulated a rule at home: we didn’t cry in front of the children,” notes Rocha. “António and I were more than father and son, we were also friends. That day, more than a son, I also lost a friend ”.
His son’s death caused him “several health problems”, he reveals. “I had constant panic attacks; it is a wound that would not heal until I transcend to another world. It took me and my wife about 6 to 7 years until we could breathe a little better. We lived a very isolated and bitter life… ”.
When the calendar brings the date back to them, “it’s like everything is coming back. I change my attitude a lot, I don’t speak ”. The Rocha family are discreet people. They prefer to go to the cemetery to leave flowers at their son’s grave (the headstone has a very simple message, he adds, “in remarks to the good father and husband he was”). Augusto was only at the annual ceremonial at Ground zero once but says he likes to go to his son’s ‘reunion’ at the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan where it all happened. “It is one of the most sacred places for me, I find spiritual comfort”, he confesses. António’s mother never had the strength to visit the location …
Augusto was 58 at the time of 9/11 and immediately retired. Or, as it’s preferable to say, “I stopped working. I had to take care of my family … ”.
When talking about António, Augusto speaks with a mixture of tenderness and serenity. He made Antonio go to the Portuguese school in Manhattan (“I always told him that knowing how to speak Portuguese was another tool for professional success”); as motorsport enthusiasts, they attended many Formula 1 races; “He didn’t create problems, he always preferred to be part of the solution”.
Less than a year after having buried their eldest son, the Rocha family went through another trauma… “Through searches for DNA, the authorities managed to identify a part of António’s body. We received these remains in a box; we had a religious ceremony and burried it at his grave