Jon Egan lost both his father Michael and his aunt Christine in the terror attack on New York in 2001, that claimed a horrifying 2,996 lives
Michael and Christine Egan with Jonathan
The voice on the phone was a comfortingly familiar one – but the words struck like a sledgehammer.
“It was mum,” Jon Egan recalls. “I remember it like yesterday. She just said: ‘Your dad’s gone.’
“I asked her how she knew.
“‘I was on the phone with him,’ she said.
“‘He was 103 floors up.
“He said, ‘can you kiss the boys for me?’
“He told her that he loved her.”
Like millions across the world, left dumbfounded by footage of two planes veering into New York’s World Trade Centre, Jon will never forget 9/11.
The man he’d idolised since childhood – his British-born dad Michael Egan, and his beloved auntie Christine, were among the 2,996 people whose lives were lost that day.
( Image: Jonathan Egan)
Jon was an 18 year-old student at the time. Now 38, his dad is never far from his thoughts.
On his right arm is a very poignant tattoo.
Above the drawing of an unofficial family crest reads the word ‘Imagine’.
It’s a reference to his dad’s favourite band, The Beatles.
Beneath, are Michael’s initials.
Like that symbol of ever-lasting love, Jon hopes that, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the world’s worst ever terrorist atrocity next month, it will never be forgotten.
(Image: Jonathan Egan)
He says that educating future generations about extremism is the key to stamping out violent acts – like the devastating bombings at Kabul airport in Afghanistan this week.
He tells how, helping other children from 9/11 and other massacres like Sandy Hook to deal with trauma, and build a new future, has been the best therapy for dealing with his loss.
And he speaks of his joy at becoming a father himself – but wishes his dad was there to share in the happy memories.
Christine and Michael were born in Hull, East Yorkshire, and grew up on the Orchard Park Estate, to the north-west of the city.
After graduating from the Hull School of Nursing, Christine moved to Canada to work.
(Image: Jonathan Egan)
Despite his deep-rooted affection for Hull, and a desire to one day be buried there, Michael moved to America for work.
He was hugely successful, becoming managing director of insurance giant AON.
His office was on the 105th floor of Tower Two.
In a cruel twist of fate, Christine, 55 had decided to visit New York.
She had dropped by the offices to see Jon when the hijacked planes struck on September 11th, 2001.
Michael helped get many of his employees out of the office after they were told to stay inside after the first building was hit.
He rang his wife of 20 years – Anna – before dying alongside Christine when the building collapsed.
It was the early morning when Jon, studying Finance at college in Los Angeles, got woken up by a college superior.
“It still feels like yesterday,” he says.
“It was my first week of college. I was told by my resident director to come with them.
“I thought I was in trouble.
“Some of my roommates were watching the television in the living room, as I walked past them.
“One said, ‘Hey Jon, look what’s happened to your city.
“I saw the re-play of the Towers coming down.
“I immediately thought of dad.
“He used to say ‘it’s Murphy’s law’ about things – meaning anything that can happen, will happen. And here it was. Murphy’s Law. The most extreme example of it.
“I’d been to those Towers, to his office, many times.
“It all felt so surreal – to see this attack on our world and our freedom. I think perhaps it was easier for me to depersonalise it initially.”
Within the week he had flown to New York, to the site of the Twin Towers, now known the world over as Ground Zero.
The enormity of what had just happened, and the scale of the rescue operation, was overwhelming – as was the site of bodies being hauled from the rubble.
“I remember it so clearly,” he says. “It was like a war zone, down there, at the pit.
“The smell, the sight of all the first responders digging, the processing of bodies, the people still searching for families – I will remember it all to this day.
(Image: Jonathan Egan)
“I was the closest DNA match to my father and auntie so I was sat there in that little refrigerated trailer having bloods taken, just looking at these bags of body parts, stacked on top of each other.
“It took me a few days to really just let it out and say this isn’t a dream I’m going to wake up from. That this is really happening. That my father, the man I looked up to the most, was gone forever and I’d lost him.
“For a while I was angry about everything – with the terrorists, the politics, the world.
“In the early years, I tried to remove myself from the reality of what had happened. It was only afterwards that I realised, god, this really fricking matters and I have to do something.”
He transferred colleges, from LA to Boston, to be near his mother Anna, now 67, and brother Matthew, now 36, who has Down’s Syndrome.
“I felt like I was the head of the house, even though I probably wasn’t,” he jokes.
(Image: Jonathan Egan)
“The focus was on my brother. It was loving him so much, and him being a beacon of light that, helped us work through those harder times.
He buried his head in work – swapping party nights for academia. After University in America, Jon, a British citizen himself, lived in London as he studied for an MBA.
The hard graft paid off. He is now partner of Lockton – the biggest independent insurance brokerage in the world.
“I used the tragedy and pain that came out of 9/11 to help me focus on getting into a good uni and getting internships because I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps.
“I definitely used my ambitions to hide from dealing with the reality of what was happening in my life, to my family and in the world.”
After graduating, in 2005, he moved to New York, and that’s when the real therapy came into play.
It was here, in the city he now resides in with his wife Audrey, 34, that the 38 year-old became involved in two very instrumental charities.
The first was New York’s Queen Elizabeth II 9/11 memorial garden – where he commemorates the anniversary most years and goes to find comfort and meet others affected by 9/11.
The second was a charity called Tuesday’s Children, which helps young people and children effected by trauma.
He sits on the board and fundraises for both. He’s an Ambassador and volunteer for the latter.
“There are children who were ten when they lost parents or loved ones. Others have been caught up in the Sandy Hook massacre and other shootings.
“When I speak to them, as someone who has gone through something big, you can see that relief in their eyes. They know I can understand where they are coming from.”
It was through his involvement with Tuesdays Children that he was contacted by a UK education charity called SINCE 9/11.
It was set up to ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy.
“That was where the therapy came in,” he says.
“My involvement with them and SINCE 9/11 has been how I have faced the truth of what happened.
“Putting myself in the heart of the issue was, and still is, tough.