Remembering Tommy Ashton, Murdered 20 Years Ago on 9/11

My cousin Tommy Ashton was 21 years old on September 11, 2001, working his second day as an apprentice electrician at the World Trade Center. Tommy was on the 95th floor of the north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 flew into floors 93 through 99 at 8:46 AM.

From the great Portraits of Grief series in New York Times.

In the weeks after the terror attacks, the Ashton family confronted the tragedy head-on, as this October 3, 2001 post detailed.

Kathy Ashton is relieved her son was not alone when the World Trade Center collapsed. Though Thomas Ashton’s body has not been found, his family has chosen to accept that he died that day, rather than endure the continued agony of hope.

By Friday, after providing DNA samples, filing a missing person’s report and exhausting a two-week search for some sign of Thomas Ashton, his parents took on the dreaded task of applying for their 21-year-old son’s death certificate.

“We had to say, it’s over. And how do you say that about your child? How do you give up hope?” said his mother, Kathy. Ashton’s father, John, had frantically searched city hospitals after the terror attack on the World Trade Center. An uncle, who is a retired New York firefighter, and a cousin ran to the rubble that day and started digging.

Beyond that, “Ashton’s two sisters, Colleen, 25, and Mary, 18; and Jackie, his girlfriend of 6 years, gathered with his parents to try to come to grips with the reality that the introspective and athletic young man would not be found alive, if at all.” And so the family planned a “memorial wake” for October 6th.

According to published reports, out of an estimated 2974 people killed at the World Trade Center, fewer than 300 corpses were recovered.

Tommy’s was one of them – found three days before that planned memorial wake, which miraculously turned into a funeral service.

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Everyone who suffers a tragic and untimely loss of somebody dear to them has to come to grips with it in their own way. Take, for instance, the McIlvaine family, profiled in this beautifully written piece by The Atlantic’s Jennifer Senior.

Bobby McIlvaine, 26, died in the World Trade Center collapse. In the aftermath of his death, his mother, Helen, bottled up her grief for years, turning her, in her own words, “cold, distant, strange.” Bob Sr. become a celebrated 9/11 truther, preaching the Gospel of the Inside Job. Younger brother Jeff had four children so that, he said, none of them would ever lose an only sibling the way he did.

Their story, as Senior recorded it, is alternately heart-wrenching and heartwarming.

As for the Ashton family, in 2003 John and Kathy dedicated the intersection of 60th St. and 47th Ave. in Woodside as Thomas J. Ashton Way in a ceremony that Ayala Ben-Yehuda documented for

A young electrician who was killed during his second day on the job at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 was honored Saturday when the street in front of his family’s Woodside apartment was renamed in his honor.

Tommy Ashton, 21, was remembered on 47th Avenue in the Big Six Towers apartment complex by family and friends as an accomplished athlete and youth mentor at St. Sebastian’s Church and Archbishop Molloy High School, his alma maters.

“Tommy truly was a gift to us,” said his older sister, Colleen Ashton, recalling her brother’s honesty, sense of humor and devotion to family.

“He truly inspired me to be a better person,” she said.

Here’s the street map pinpointing Thomas J. Ashton Way.

And here’s the street sign.

Around the same time, Colleen and younger sister Mary established the Thomas Ashton Foundation, dedicate to “[providing] charitable donations in the name of Thomas Ashton to institutions, organizations, worthy causes and individuals, including contributions to philanthropic endeavors and to community enhancing activities.”

For 13 years Colleen and Mary hosted the annual Tommy Ashton 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, which raised over $285,000 for worthy charitable organizations and local projects in Woodside.

Truly remarkable.

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The Foundation is now gone, but Tommy’s memory lives on in numerous places. The Voices of September 11th Living Memorial Project has a page with about a dozen links to memorial sites dedicated to Tommy.

Branka Kristic, a family friend, posted a lovely tribute on the Hofstra Parents, Hofstra Pride website on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

We Remember

Peace and early morning sunshine have descended on a usually very busy Calkins Hall green at Hofstra. For the past week, students and staff have have been planting hundreds of American flags in remembrance of the heroes of 9/11, in the shape of our great country. We all know where we were on that day, on that moment.We remember the loved ones lost and the heroes who helped in recovery.

I planted a flag to honor Tommy Ashton who died under the debris of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. My daughter’s friend, this 21-year-old came to his second day on the job in the World Trade Center. I will always remember his youth, exuberance and the pride in his parents’ eyes when they watched him compete in swimming. It is an honor and pleasure to have known you, Tommy.

In a note to me back then, Branka said, “It was an honor and privilege to have known Tommy. He, Colleen and Mary swam on my daughter’s swim team, Flushing Flyers. Sweet young man, fast swimmer, leader, captain of his team.”

(I remember Tommy when he was just a tadpole, splashing around my parents’ swimming pool in Connecticut.)

Tommy’s memory also lives on at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

Rest in peace, Tommy. You are never forgotten.

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