Remembering 9/11: How it Shaped One Victim’s Son

“I have to keep looking forward.”

Twenty years ago, Kevin Hickey lost his father. Brian Hickey was one of hundreds of FDNY firefighters who died responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. 

It was devastating for Kevin, who was just 9 at the time. Katie recently sat down with Kevin to talk about how his father’s death has impacted him and his family, and recalled the days following the tragedy, when he stopped by the Today Show for a heartbreaking interview. Watch Katie’s latest interview here, or read on to learn more about Kevin’s loss.

On September 11, 2001, Kevin went to fourth grade in Bethpage, New York, a suburb outside New York City. He attended the entire school day without knowing that that morning, two jets had struck the twin towers and that nearly 3,000 people had been killed — including his father. Brian Hickey was the Captain of FDNY Rescue 4, based in Queens. He wasn’t scheduled to work that day, but still responded to the chaotic scene in downtown Manhattan. Kevin says his father’s job was more of a calling than a profession: “He loved his job,” says Kevin. “Absolutely loved being a firefighter. Running in while people were running out — that was his life. I don’t think he wanted to do anything else.”

Kevin didn’t learn his father was gone until he returned home from school. 

“I walked in the house, and I hear my mother screaming on the phone. It was screaming that I’d never heard from her before,” says Hickey. “I see my sister sitting on the couch in tears, and my mom’s screaming upstairs, ‘Where’s my husband? Where’s my husband?’” 

Friends and family swarmed the Hickey house over the next few days, consoling Kevin, his mother, and three older siblings. But for about a week and a half, Kevin said he didn’t believe his father was truly gone. “At the end of the day, I was just a kid — I was nine years old,” he says. “I didn’t really know how to process it.”

Appearing on the Today Show was a watershed moment: “That’s when [the loss] really hit,” Hickey says. During his Today interview, Hickey broke down in tears. “I remember before going on the show, telling myself, ‘Please don’t cry, please don’t cry.’ And I don’t know how it happened, but it came out,” Hickey says.

Brian Hickey’s death profoundly impacted his family: It helped motivate his son Danny to join the FDNY in his father’s old company, Rescue 4. But it also pushed his other son, Dennis, to seek out drugs as a way to cope with his grief. Dennis, who was 18 on 9/11, died of a drug overdose in 2011. “He just couldn’t cope,” says Kevin. “He couldn’t come to grips with the fact that we lost our dad. He started finding other ways to ease his pain.”

Kevin, who’s now 29 and works in digital media, says that on 9/11 each year, he tends to shut down the TV and internet and find a little peace. “I take a step back from all social media, all media outlets, I turn my phone off. I take the day off from work and I kind of just do my own thing. I live with [grief] every single day. I carry my dad in my heart every single day — that doesn’t change.”

Kevin has tried to use Brian’s death as “fuel to push me forward,” he says. “I want to do right by my family. I want to make my mom proud. I want her to know that she raised a really good man, even after the effects of 9/11.”