Tunnel to Towers recently held its 21st annual 5K Run and Walk in New York City on September 25 to honor America’s fallen heroes and raise money for a great cause.
The event was dedicated to the 343 first responders who lost their lives on 9/11, as well as the 13 military members who died during the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.
Thousands turned up at the event, which also included a performance from country music star Dierks Bentley.
Tunnel to Towers is a philanthropic foundation formed in the wake of 9/11 that raises money for the families of fallen first responders, injured veterans and others.
Organization chairman and CEO Frank Siller, who started the organization on behalf of his brother Stephen Siller — an FDNY firefighter who died on 9/11 — modeled the 5k run on the route his brother took to get to ground zero on that fateful morning.
“It is so patriotic. I don’t think anything is more beautiful,” Siller said.
“In the final hours on the final day of the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in America’s history, these 13 brave men and women lost their lives. We honor their memory and want to ensure their names are not forgotten,” Siller added.
The run began at 9:30 a.m. and consisted of both joggers and first responders running in their gear to memorialize the fallen.
“The Tunnel to Towers Foundation will not rest,” Siller continued. “We only get bigger and bigger every year. We have thousands more people [who] joined us this year than on the 20th year, which gives me great encouragement and great enthusiasm — and it inspires me and everyone involved with us to work even harder.”
One special participant in the run was paralyzed NYPD detective Scot Abrams.
Abrams, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, was working a funeral procession when he was cut off on his motorcycle, causing him to lose control and run into a bus.
“Next thing I remember is waking up on life support at NYU with no explanation,” Abrams recalled. “Who, what, where, how, or why I’m here?”
“They gave him his last rights, and it was tough,” his wife Tara said.
Abrams was left paralyzed on the left side of his body after suffering a spinal cord injury and a compound fracture to his leg.
After over three months in the hospital and countless hours of rehab to learn how to speak, eat and walk again, Abrams’ wife Tara and his 16-year-old Josh celebrated his recovery by pushing him in his wheelchair from the start to the finish line.
Tunnel to Towers even paid off Abrams’ mortgage and upgraded his home to accommodate his needs.
‘I knew about Tunnel to Towers, I knew about the races and stuff,” Josh said. “But I didn’t know everything behind it. I didn’t know they were going to do this for our house.”
Now, Abrams is giving back.
“I do public speaking for the police department, for the different commands, all over to give back what the job has given to me and my family,” he said.
The Tunnels for Towers foundation supports first responders like Abrams, veterans and their families over the past two decades by providing them with mortgage-free homes.
For example, the organization honored fallen Connecticut State Police Sergeant Brian Mohl on this year’s 9/11 anniversary by paying off his family’s home mortgage.
Mohl, a 26-year CSP veteran, was killed in 2021 after his car was sept away by Hurricane Ida.
Larry Olson, senior vice president of marketing and communications with the nonprofit, said the organization aims to alleviate the financial burden on victims’ families.
“We now, as these tragedies unfold, have such close relationships with local police departments that we are reaching out to them. We always work with the liaison officer who is assigned to that family. We try to get to them as quickly as we can without being intrusive so that they know that we will be taking care of their mortgage and that financial burden will be lifted from their shoulders,” Olson said.
The families of Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley (who died last year) and Joplin Police Corporal Benjamin Cooper (who was shot and killed on March 8) also received similar donations early this September. Thanks to their loved ones’ sacrifice, the families will no longer have to worry about paying off their mortgages.
“The Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s Fallen First Responder Program pays off mortgages for the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters who are killed in the line of duty and leave behind young children, ensuring that they will always have a place to call home. In 2021, Tunnel to Towers expanded the program to support the families of first responders who have lost their lives to 9/11 illnesses,” the nonprofit said in a press release.