Her Sydney-born dad died in one of America’s darkest days, but Emily Tompsett, who lives in New York, doesn’t fear terrorism.
“After the Paris attacks last November one of my co-workers was saying, ‘Don’t go to concerts, don’t go to big gatherings of people,’” she says. “My response was, ‘That’s what terror is, dictating how you are going to live your life because someone is trying to scare you.’ I try not to let them terrify me.”
Tompsett is one of the more than 3,000 children who lost a parent on that terrible day. Her father, Stephen Tompsett, a University of Sydney graduate computer-science expert, was at a conference in the Windows of the World restaurant on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when one of four hijacked planes struck the building.
The 39-year-old from Merrylands, western Sydney, who had moved to the US for work and married an American, Dorry, had emailed his wife during the crisis telling her he was “above the problem.” His remains were never recovered.
“The biggest thing my father taught me was to cherish everything you experience, whether it’s good or bad,” says Tompsett, now 24. “It’s something to learn from, it’s life.”
He also taught her maths from the age of four, a subject Tompsett embraced. “I've always loved math,” says Tompsett, now a high-school computer-science teacher. “I think part of that is that my dad started it with me so young.”
On the last morning of his life, Stephen’s final words to his daughter before he left for work were, “I love you.”
“I was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and Dad was running out to catch a train and he kissed me on the head,” she says. “And ran out the door.”
On her return home from school that day, her mother told her the devastating news.
“My mom and my grandpa picked me up at the bus,” she says. “It dropped me off about 10 feet from my house, so to have my mom and grandpa standing there I thought, ‘Oh that’s weird.’
“When I got off the bus they said, ‘Something happened and Daddy was in an accident,’ and I was like, ‘He’ll be OK.’ And my mom burst into tears. Although people told me, ‘We don’t think Daddy’s coming home,’ it didn’t really sink in for a few days.”
Fifteen years later, Tompsett is determined to live a positive life: “I’m in a place in my life where I find hate a really useless emotion. I find it sad that hate has such a large place in so many people’s lives. I wish there was some way to heal that globally, but I know there’s not. But what I can change is being respectful and loving and appreciative of the people around me.”
For more on Emily Tompsett’s story, and the stories of other children who lost a father on 9/11, pick up a copy of WHO, on sale now.
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