Indiana State University Newsroom

9/11 survivor speaks at remembrance event, inspires younger audience

September 16, 2014

When the World Trade Center towers were attacked 13 years ago, freshmen students at Indiana State were in grade school.

Shan Antony, a freshman biology major from Mishawaka, was in kindergarten the day of the attacks.

Lydia Bredeweg, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major from Jasonville, was sitting in her first-grade class when she learned of the news.

Philip Centofante, a junior Criminology major from Zionsville, hadn't even left for his second-grade class when his mother turned on the television and became overwhelmed.

All three Indiana State students say they struggled to understand why their parents and teachers were suddenly crying over a news broadcast.

"Being in first grade, you don't really think about it," Bredeweg said. "You just know when you see your parents and see all the stuff on TV, that's when you know -- it was bad."

It wasn't until years later that the students, although understanding that it was a tragedy, would realize why. Centofante said he struggled with the permanence of death and the possibility that there were even people inside the towers.

"As a kid, I didn't think that there were people in the building and it didn't sink in until I got older that they were gone -- like, a plane hit a building and no one got hurt," he said.

Annual remembrance ceremonies have been a fixture of their school year. This year, they marked the anniversary listening to a survivor, Leeky Behrman, who urged the Sycamores to celebrate life.

Behrman was 27 years old and had everything she thought she wanted -- a job at Morgan Stanley, a World Trade Center office, a loving fiancé and a bright future. She happened to be working on the 61st floor when the first plane hit.

Despite orders for Behrman and others to remain in their offices and continue working after the first plane hit, Behrman said she knew she had to get out. She described calmly grabbing her purse, keys and wallet and did her best to preserve her composure as she descended to safety.

Her fiancé was supposed to fly out of LaGuardia that morning, but she learned after abandoning a taxi to walk to her apartment and many phone calls later, she was able to reconnect with the man who is now her husband.

Last Thursday, on the 13th anniversary of Behrman's survival, her husband supported her from the crowd as she spoke at Indiana State to an audience of varied ages and experiences to give a candid rendition of her own experience, wearing what she feared that day would be her final outfit. The event was sponsored by the criminology and criminal justice department.

One would expect Behrman to be the hero of her own story, but instead, she concluded her testament by turning the spotlight on the firefighters who sacrificed their lives.

Antony, Centofante and Bredeweg all agreed Behrman's account of the firemen climbing the burning stairs of the tower to certain death lingered with them most prominently.

The Sept.11 attacks didn't destroy Behrman's dreams, she said, but rather forced her to focus on the things that made her happiest. Instead of living and working in New York, Behrman now lives in the Midwest with her husband. Her intention was to distance herself from the scene of the tragedy, so she could heal emotionally from the ordeal.

"I just wake up happy," Behrman said, adding that she has resolved to focus on the present and be grateful every day that she is alive.

"In the last few years," Antony said, "you gain a reality and a sense of maturity about what happened, and you start to actually appreciate your life and the lives of others, and especially the lives that were lost."


Photos: - Survivor of the attack on the World Trade Center, Leeky Behrman, speaks at Indiana State on Sept. 11, 2014. - Students, faculty and staff listen to Leeky Behrman, a survivor of the attack on the World Trade Center, speak at Indiana State on Sept. 11, 2014.


Contact: Travis Behem, instructor of criminology at Indiana State University, 812-237-2196 or

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or