Naming the Future for Him
A few months after the terrorist attack, Maureen Fanning realized that her 14-year-old son, Sean, was still staring out the window looking for his father to walk up the driveway.
So she bought a new minivan to break the association brought on by the car Sean's father used to drive. Still, Sean, who is autistic, didn't seem to understand that his father wasn't coming home.
"I showed him pictures of his father and the towers on fire," Mrs. Fanning recalled, her voice barely audible. "This is smoke," she told him. "Bad smoke. Daddy got hurt."
Sean screamed and hurled his body about.
Explaining to her younger son, Patrick, 5, about his father's death has been just as hard. Patrick, who is also autistic, has never spoken. One day, a firefighter friend came to their house in West Hempstead, N.Y., wearing a jacket similar to Patrick's father's and the boy began to cry inconsolably.
John J. Fanning, 54, also had three children from a previous marriage, Ryan, Jeremy and Jacqueline. A member of the New York Fire Department since 1969, and the chief of the Hazardous Materials Unit, he saved lives for a living.
He had a plan for what he'd do with the lottery jackpot if he won. "We'd buy a group home and you'd run it," he told his wife. His family hopes to open the first Jack Fanning House for autistic youths next year, financed by donations they received after Sept. 11.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 10, 2002.