NEW YORK (AP) - On 9/11, Stephen Feuerman saw the World Trade Center aflame through the window of his Empire State Building office and watched, transfixed, as a second fireball burst from the twin towers.
He ran through the 78th floor urging everyone to get out, thinking their skyscraper could be next. With transit hubs shut down, he couldn’t get home to his family in suburban Westchester for hours. Among the dead were someone he knew from college and people he recognized from his commuter train.
Feuerman had always seen himself as a New Yorker, but “everything changed that day,” he says.
Shaken by the experience, the apparel broker and his wife put their home on the market weeks later.
Within four months, they and their two small children moved to a gracious South Florida suburb they figured would be safer than New York.
So it was until this past Valentine’s Day, when mass violence tore into Parkland, Florida, too.
“There really is no safe place,” says Feuerman, whose children survived but lost friends in the massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks prompted the Feuermans and an uncounted number of others to quietly move away from their lives near the hijacked-plane strikes that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Some sought a place where they could feel safe. Some placed a new importance on living near family. Others simply re-evaluated what they wanted from life.
As the attacks’ 17th anniversary approaches, The Associated Press caught up with several people who left and asked: Have they found what they were looking for?
About 30 weeks a year, Scott Dacey drives from his home near New Bern, North Carolina, to Washington for a few days. The 350-mile trips are a price the federal lobbyist pays for peace of mind after Sept. 11.
He and his wife, Jennifer, were rooted in Washington before the attacks. He was a former federal official lobbying on Native American and gaming issues. She’d grown up nearby, though her parents had moved to North Carolina.
Then came the strike on the Pentagon, the paralyzing feeling of not knowing what might happen next, the weeks of watching military aircraft patrol around their suburban Virginia home.
“It really made us have a wake-up call: ‘How do we want to live our lives?’” Scott says. “Do we want to be up here in this rat race of Washington, D.C.?” Or raising kids somewhere that didn’t feel so on-guard, somewhere closer to family in times of crisis?
The choice wasn’t simple, particularly for a lobbyist. The couple’s 2002 move to the New Bern suburb of Trent Woods meant extra costs, including a Washington apartment and a then-advanced phone system to make sure Scott wouldn’t miss clients’ calls to his office there. Jennifer, already a lawyer, had to take a second bar exam in North Carolina.
Friends suggested the Daceys were overreacting. But it also opened unexpected opportunities. Scott is a county commissioner and ran for Congress; a Republican, he never considered seeking office in Democratic-leaning northern Virginia. Jennifer is a community college trustee and serves on other local boards.
And their children, 17 and 15, grew up in a town repeatedly ranked among the state’s safest.
“It would not be for everybody, but for us, it’s been the right fit,” Jennifer says. “We’re outside the bubble, and this is how America really lives.”