John J. Fanning: Naming the Future
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
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
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
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.