A Hero Named Emilio

Sunday, September 12th, 2021.

For those frequent readers of Steady, you know we usually reserve Sundays for our big weekly essay. This weekend, we adjusted our usual schedule to observe the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There is no shortage of material to commemorate, reflect, and analyze such a milestone. But for the Steady team, the question that came to our minds was this: what do we need in this moment, in the day after commemoration?

The answer: a reminder of perseverance. Light can cut through the dark, good can exist in the presence of bad, empathy and generosity can exceed tragedy.

This reminder came to us from Twitter, courtesy of Mercedes Martinez. In a series of tweets, she remembers her father, Emilio, and searches for those who met him on 9/11 — strangers struggling to get home amidst calamity who became recipients of his heroic act of kindness. It is a moving tribute and well worth your time.

Here are the tweets, reformatted for our newsletter.

Did my dad help you on September 11, 2001? If so, I'm trying to find you. (a thread)
On September 11th, 2001 my dad caught a flight in Ohio to fly home to Denver. He was there on business and was anxious to get home to see his family. (1/11)

Shortly after takeoff, the pilot announced that the flight was being grounded. There was a breach of security and they had to land at the nearest airport. That airport was in Omaha. The pilot said he was hoping to have more information for the passengers when they landed. (2/11)

My dad knew something was wrong, so as soon as he got cell service, he called one of the rental car companies and asked to rent the biggest van they had. At this point they were still in the air. (3/11)

When he deplaned and heard what was happening, he made his way to either Avis or Hertz (we aren't sure which one he called), got the van, parked, and went back to the terminal. He found a cardboard box by a trashcan and asked to borrow a sharpie from a ticket agent. (4/11)

He made a sign out of the box that said "GOING TO DENVER" on it. People started approaching him asking if he was going that way. He said yes, he rented a van and he would be able to take 7 people with him. Word started to get around. (5/11)

He found 7 strangers, all scared (so was he), that just wanted to get home to their families.The 8 of them hopped in and my dad drove them from Omaha to Denver. When they got to the metro area, he drove every single person to their home. (6/11)

If you know the Denver area, it's big. There are many suburbs in the area. But each one got front door service. They all offered to pay him for the cost of the van. He wouldn't accept it. They offered him gas money. He didn't take it. (7/11)

To him, seeing those people make it to their families when the country was being attacked was the only thing that mattered to him. Many of those people kept in touch with him for several years after 9/11/01. It warmed his heart. We were so proud of him. We still are. (8/11)

My dad died from brain cancer on July 24, 2016. I often wonder if those people still remember him. I wonder if on the 20th anniversary of that day, will they think of him for a split second when they reflect on where they were? (9/11)

I know social media is powerful and I'm really hoping this tweet finds those people. I'd love to hear about that drive. His name is Emilio. And I know there were so many heroes that day. I am grateful for each and every one. My dad has and always will be my hero. (10/11)

And I do believe my dad was a hero to 7 people that needed to get to their families in Denver on September 11th, 2001. If you were one of them, please DM me. (11/11)

We were moved by this story and wanted to help Mercedes in her search. Perhaps this will reach one of the 7 travelers her father helped shepherd home that fateful day. For the rest of us, it is a heartwarming and inspiring example of selflessness. We’re living in turbulent, unprecedented times. We could all use someone like Emilio in our lives. And we could all strive to be more like him.

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