Obituary: The 9/11 rescuers who died a day apart, 17 years on

When Thomas Phelan and Keith Young died within a day of each other last week, it was as a result of cancer, from which both had been suffering.

But the underlying cause of the firefighters’ deaths was the event which they both witnessed up close 17 years earlier: the 11 September attack on New York.

Phelan and Young’s names will not be added to the official tally of 2,977 people killed in the attacks, which also targeted the Pentagon and a plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Their deaths were, however, a result of what happened at the World Trade Center that September morning.

According to records maintained by the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York (UFANYC) union, theirs were the 172nd and 173rd deaths of firefighters to have occurred because of 9/11-related illnesses, and the sixth and seventh so far this year.

Keith Young joined the FDNY in 1998 and was stationed in Midwood, Brooklyn on the day of the attacks, when 343 firefighters were killed.

He joined the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, which went on for nine months afterwards.

While no emergency workers died during the recovery efforts, working in Ground Zero soon took its toll. The first 9/11-related death of a firefighter registered after the disaster is that of Gary Celentani, who took his own life 14 months after losing many of his close friends.

Many others, like Young, were struck down with cancer attributed to the effects of being at the site.

He first fell ill in December 2015, three years after his wife Beth died of breast cancer aged 47, and underwent surgery to remove a large tumour from his pelvis.

After his treatment, he retired from duty, but died aged 53 on Saturday 17 March.

“He fought so hard and kept believing in miracles,” his daughter Kaley wrote on Facebook after his death. “There are so many adjectives we could use to describe my dad: funny, smart, kind. He was just an incredible human.”

While working for the FDNY, he became well-known for his skills in the kitchen, and received a degree in culinary studies.

In 2003, he published a book, Cooking With The Firehouse Chef, and he went on to win two titles on the Food Network television show Chopped.

He leaves two daughters and a son, and his funeral took place on Saturday.

Skip Instagram post by kaleyyoung

Heaven is so lucky to have the most incredible angel. I love you so much Dad, thank you for being the world’s greatest father and best friend. Mom must be so happy to have you in heaven with her ♥️ until we meet again xoxo @firehousechefky

A post shared by kaley young (@kaleyyoung) on Mar 17, 2018 at 5:15pm PDT


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According to the CDC, just under 70,000 people who helped during 9/11 have applied for medical aid after the disaster, as have about 14,300 people who were in New York City at the time.

Among the main illnesses treated are chronic coughs, asthma, cancers and depression.

In January 2011, the Zadroga Act – named after a police officer who died of a lung disease – was signed into law, authorising a fund for monitoring, treatment and compensation for 9/11 survivors. So far, close to $3.3bn has been paid out.

New York’s Committee for Occupational Safety & Health says that about 6,000 of the 9/11 first responders are now living with cancer, with thousands more suffering breathing problems or mental health issues.

Many, it said, had “suffered severe exposure to numerous WTC-derived contaminants”.

Gerard Fitzgerald, of the firefighters’ union the UFANYC, told the BBC that of the 10,000 active firefighters and 6,000 retirees who attended Ground Zero on or after 9/11, about 2,000 had gone on to suffer some form of cancer.

He fears the alarming rate of cancer cases among New York firefighters could soon increase substantially. It’s feared that 9/11 first responders were exposed to significant amounts of asbestos, but cancers caused by asbestos exposure rarely emerge until 15 years later.

“We are living proof of the 9/11 effects, of that toxic soup we were breathing in,” said Mr Fitzgerald, who arrived in Manhattan just after the second tower fell, before staying for 40 more hours.

“Every time, the thought goes through your head – could it be me next? Is it inside me? But you can’t live like that.”

Naomi Wadler – the girl inspiring America?

Naomi Wadler is only 11 – but her strong voice at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC, is still reverberating across the US.

The fifth grader from Alexandria, Virginia, said she represented African-American girls ignored by the media and suffering from gun violence.

Last week, she co-led her elementary school’s walk-out, joining a national movement seeking stricter gun controls in the wake of 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month.

Naomi told the Guardian newspaper her school’s walkout was longer – it was also honouring 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington who died in a school shooting in Alabama on 7 March.

The elementary school’s principal was not initially “completely supportive” of Naomi and her friend Carter Anderson’s efforts, but was won round after observing their determination.

Here is what Naomi Wadler said at March for Our Lives, inspiring those in the crowds and watching from home:

“Hi [giggles]. My name is Naomi and I’m 11 years old.

Me and my friend Carter led a walk-out at our elementary school on the 14th. We walked out for 18 minutes, adding a minute for Courtlin Arrington, an African-American girl who was the victim of gun violence at her school, after the Parkland shooting.

I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington. I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here today to represent Taiyania Thompson, who at just 16 years old, was shot dead at her home here in Washington, DC.

I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper [cheering and applause], whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.

Skip Twitter post by @ShoStanback

Yes, Naomi Walder! Speak for all of the Black women who've been killed in gun violence! This sweet 11 year old is giving me LIFE! #BlackGirlMagic #saytheirnames #neveragain #MarchForOurLives

— Sho (@ShoStanback) March 24, 2018


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I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant beautiful girls full of potential [cheering and applause].

It is my privilege to be here today. I am indeed full of privilege. My voice has been heard. I’m here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names because I can. And I was asked to be.

For far too long, these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I’m here to say “Never Again!” for those girls too. I’m here to say that everyone should value those girls, too.

People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I am a tool of some nameless adult. It’s not true.

My friends and I might be still be 11 and we might still be in elementary school, but we know, we know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong.

Skip Twitter post by @jencolamonico

My white 6yo watching #NaomiWadler in awe… “that girl is going to be president some day.” #NeverAgain

— Jennifer Colamonico (@jencolamonico) March 24, 2018


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Naomi Wadler is my President.

— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) March 24, 2018


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We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol, and we know that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.

So I am here to honour the words of Toni Morrison: if there is a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told – to honour the girls, the women of colour who were murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation.

I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand so that these girls and women are never forgotten. Thank you.”

Skip Twitter post by @KrownCityKing

The single most powerful political speech of 2018…was just delivered by an ELEVEN year old girl! Her name is #NaomiWadler. You’ll hear from her again. #MarchForOurLives

— Krown City King (@KrownCityKing) March 24, 2018


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Skip Twitter post by @SymoneDSanders

Naomi Wadler is currently standing in the gap for all of the black girls and black women who are victims of gun violence. All the black girls and Black women who don’t get a hashtag and who don’t become front page news. Thank you Naomi. #MarchForOurLives

— Symone D. Sanders (@SymoneDSanders) March 24, 2018


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Uber self-driving crash: Footage shows moment before impact

Police have released two videos showing the moments leading up to a fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber car in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday.

In the 14-second video, the autonomous vehicle is seen failing to slow down before hitting Elaine Herzberg, 49, who is walking her bike across the road.

One video shows dashcam footage of the impact. The other, an Uber operator monitoring the car’s controls.

Uber has suspended self-driving tests in North America following the crash.

In footage released on Wednesday by the Tempe police department, the human Uber operator sitting inside the Volvo appears to be looking down at something while the vehicle is travelling in autonomous mode.

Moments later, the woman appears visibly shocked as she looks up to see Ms Herzberg crossing the highway in their path seconds before impact.

“The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” Uber said in a statement.

“Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can,” the statement added.

Police said the accident happened on Sunday night, adding that Ms Herzberg had not been using a pedestrian crossing.

Ms Herzberg was taken to a local hospital following the collision but died of her injuries.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board earlier said they would be investigating the incident in Tempe.

While self-driving cars have been involved in multiple accidents, it is thought to be the first time an autonomous car has been involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian.