(The following is my, hopefully humble, tribute to one of the victims of 9/11, a former student, undertaken as part of Project 2,996. Go to the website and use the links to learn about the real live human beings lost. )
The Keith Roma who called his father from Fire Patrol 2 in Greenwich Village on 9/11 was not the one I once knew. He was not a high school boy with a sheepish grin and an impish glint in his eye, a bright student always up for a bit of fun. The Keith Roma who picked up that phone on the last morning of his life to tell his Dad that the unthinkable had happened was a 27 year old man in the prime of life.
Responding to the World Trade Center after the first plane hit, Keith, who according to coworkers already had a reputation for being there when things got rough, was captured in a photograph as he helped evacuees to safety. According to Sgt. John Sheehan, his superior, Keith undertook another three trips into Tower 1. At one point, he is reported to have carried a woman with no shoes down glass-strewn stairs. The last time he was seen, he was with a group evacuating an overweight woman. Reports indicate that when his remains were found that Christmas, it was with those of another eight or nine people, leading to the supposition that he was assisting in yet another evacuation.
Initially, his name did not appear on the Fire Department tally of those lost because Keith worked for the Fire Patrol, an entity encharged with salvage at commercial fires. But in 2006, the New York Fire Department paid official tribute to his memory in a bronze plaque. Firefighters across the country have honored him as one of their own. Not all tributes have been that formal. His hometown paper reports that the week after the tragedy, his family was approached at the station house by a young woman bearing flowers. She explained that one afternoon, Keith had spotted her crying and learning that she was grieving the loss of her mother had ducked into a store only to reappear with a bouquet. It was a kindness she did not forget and which she sought to return. A former coworker at a second job also attests to his kindness and concern. All remember his ready smile and enthusiasm, particularly for sports.
There is a picture at a memorial website of Keith holding his daughter as an infant. There is the same expression I remember, that trademark grin. There is no indication in the photo that it is the face of a young man who would race into a burning building to rescue others, who would perish in the line of duty. In short, that it is the face of heroism. Vaya con Dios, Keith, you have not been forgotten.