Tunnel to Towers Foundation pays mortgages of 50 fallen first responders, Gold Star families
Frank Siller: The outpouring of support from the foundation's Never Forget events related to the 20th anniversary 9/11 aided the historic payoff
Ann Marie Barron
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — In the largest one-day mortgage payoff in its history, Staten Island's Tunnel to Towers Foundation has paid off the home mortgages of 50 fallen first responders and Gold Star families across the country — including 20 in the New York area — many of whom died of 9/11-related illnesses.
Among the families receiving the mortgage payoffs was that of retired Police Det. Christopher Cranston, of New Dorp, who died on July 20, 2019, of cancer he developed following his months-long assignments to the search and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site and at the former Fresh Kills Landfill.
He is survived by his wife, Clare, and five children.
"My family and I are honored and humbled to be considered for such a thoughtful and much-appreciated gesture remembering my husband, Chris," said Clare Cranston.
The historic payoff was made possible by the outpouring of support of the foundation's Never Forget events as America observed the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Frank Siller, of Westerleigh, chairman and CEO of the not-for-profit organization founded in memory of his late firefighter brother, Stephen.
"This year, Americans came together to remember the incredible loss of life that occurred 20 years ago when evil struck at the heart of our great nation," said Siller, who recently completed a 537-mile "Never Forget Walk" that honored the lives lost that day. The walk aimed to encourage Americans to "never forget" the nearly 3,000 people killed on 9/11 — as well as garner $11-a-month donations to the foundation, which provides mortgage-free homes to the families of late first responders, Gold Star families and catastrophically injured veterans.
"Thanks to the generosity of this great nation, these 50 families will never have to worry about making another mortgage payment, and will always have a place to call home," Siller said. "The Tunnel to Towers Foundation promised to never forget what happened on that day, and so many people across the country have joined us on our mission of doing good by giving back to our heroes, both living and fallen."
The foundation, which thus far has spent more than $250 million to honor and support first responders and veterans and their families, was founded by the Siller family in memory of Frank Siller's brother, Stephen, an off-duty firefighter who died responding to the World Trade Center on 9/11, after running through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in his full firefighter "turnout" gear.
The ‘Never Forget Walk’: Honoring my brother’s final journey – and all our fallen heroes
Along the 500-mile trek from the Pentagon to Shanksville to New York City, I share Stephen’s story and the Tunnel to Towers message
The 50 homes are in 18 states, stretching from coast to coast, owned by families of fallen police officers, firefighters, deputies and service members in nearly every branch of military service, the Siller Foundation announcement said.
Recipients of the mortgage payoffs include:
—20 police officers, including 15 who responded to Ground Zero and lost their lives to 9/11-related illness
—12 firefighters, including five who responded to Ground Zero and lost their lives to 9/11-related illness
—1 sheriff's deputy
—1 state trooper
—1 conservation officer
—6 U.S. Army service members
—3 U.S. Navy service members
—3 U.S. Marine Corps service members
—3 U.S. Air Force service members
Twenty of the heroes are New Yorkers. They include 13 members of the city Police Department, including Cranston, who joined the NYPD in 1991 and became a detective in November 2001.
Also included were the mortgages of six members of the New York City Fire Department, and one New York Port Authority police officer, all of whom died of 9/11-related illnesses.
For these families, Tunnel to Towers' support lifts not only a financial burden, but helps keep their loved ones' memory alive, the recipients say.
"This generous act has taken a huge financial burden from us, allowing our life to stay a little more normal and stable," said John Brill, whose wife, NYPD Sgt. Nathalie Brill, died in June after battling 9/11-related cancer. "We face many challenges ahead as our personal 9/11 nightmare has just begun."
(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.