Thursday, September 10, 2009

9/11 - In Memory of: Denease Conley

Note: This post was originally published on 9/11/06 and has been edited and republished for this weekend's Project 2996 blog event.

As everyone is aware, this Friday marks the 8 year anniversary of September 11, 2001.

Because of the efforts of a man named Dale Roe, thousands of bloggers are once again posting tributes to each and every unfortunate victim of that tragic day.

When I first heard about this opportunity to honor a victim back in June 2006, I instantly knew I wanted to participate. That day I signed up and was issued Denease's name. That same day I also began to learn about someone who I had no previous connection with, someone who I would later come to respect deeply.

Here then is what I learned about one very brave and special woman. One woman who gave her life to save others. One woman who deserves to be remembered on this anniversary memorial day.

Denease (Denny) Conley

Denny was only 44 years old when the World Trade Center tower she was working in collapsed, the same age I was in 2006 when I was given her name to honor.

Denny lived in New York City and worked as a security officer for Summit Security Services, a company that provides security protection services for such high profile clients as NBC, the US Tennis Open and, until 9/11, the World Trade Center.

This article, published in The New York Times on Friday, November 24 gives us a little insight as to just what a remarkable person Denny really was:

Tough, With a Studious Side

Friday, November 24, 2001

The seeds of Denease Conley's toughness could be seen early on. She once had a fight with an older sister who locked herself in the bathroom, and to get her out, Denny, as she was known, threw a cherry bomb at the bathroom door.

In high school in Kansas City, she studied karate, loved Bruce Lee and even painted a poster of him on her wall. She served in the Navy for four years, and afterward became a security guard at the World Trade Center. When a supervisor taunted her by saying she was too weak to work as a firefighter, she took up his challenge and passed the qualifying exams to become a New York City firefighter.

She also had a studious side, receiving a bachelor's degree in English and philosophy from Hunter College. "Her apartment was filled with books," said her sister, Barbara Haynes. "She had a thirst for knowledge. She read everything. I called her the professional college student. And this was a child that at one time did not want to go to school."

Ms. Haynes was surprised at how many people packed the memorial service. "Several people said my sister helped save their lives," she said. "One friend said the last time he saw Denny she was holding a door open with a fireman. Knowing my sister, she had this take-charge attitude that she had to help other people get out."

KNOX News out of Knoxville, TN also published this story on Thursday, September 27 about Denny's sister Barbara Haynes:

Families confront reality, seek death certificates

Thursday, September 27, 2001

Unlike many others, Barbara Haynes arrived yesterday certain that her sister was dead. The night before, around midnight, a few police officers knocked on the door of her hotel room and told Haynes that they had identified the remains of her sister, Denease Conley, a 44-year-old security guard helping others escape from the Twin Towers.
"Until that moment, we still had hope," Haynes said. "You never know. Miracles happen."

Barbara Haynes begins to cry as she holds a photo of her sister, Denease Conley, at the family assistance center at Pier 54 in New York on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001. Haynes had come to the pier to file an affidavit for a death certificate for Conley, a guard at the World Trade Center, who has been confirmed dead in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Laura Rauch)

Also, shortly after 9/11, friends and relatives contributed to Denny's memory on an online memorial website. Here are a few personal entries that help us understand what a special person Denny really was:

March 13, 2002
If anyone from her family reads this, please know I saw Denease directing people out of the building. She died helping others. Please know that I remember and pray for her family.
God Bless and Rest in Peace Denease.
Brian McGurn (Warren, NJ )

January 28, 2002
Denease Conley always greeted us with a smile and good morning even if you felt that it wasn't. I will miss her positive attitude and that great smile. May you rest in peace Denease. Sharon Jenkins P.A. Staff
Sharon Jenkins (Jersey, NJ )

Denny (Denease) Conley was one of my dearest friends. She worked so hard--before 9/11, she had recently finished her degree at Hunter College and worked as a security guard to support herself as she worked towards her dream of becoming a lawyer. Her post in the World Trade Center was the lobby; she was last seen helping people get out of the dark and slippery stairs. Denny was a very spiritual person and I know that she made a choice to help others even at risk to herself; she had great courage. Perhaps Denny's stint in the military helped her to focus and face danger to save lives on 9/11. But her spritual strength was a main part of her life and a great help to me when I faced difficulty. Denny was honest, outspoken, funny, and amazingly kind and helpful. I am so glad I saw her when I visited New York in March 2001 (I had moved to the Midwest). I can still see her smiling as she crossed Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on that drizzly day. Her courage still motivates me as much as I am devastated by her death. I know she is at peace and could not have lived with herself if she had left the WTC without helping as many people as possible. The firefighters, security guards, family from Missouri, and friends who came to her memorial service in Brooklyn the first week in October, 2001 (Denny had been listed as 'missing' for a few weeks) all made clear how much she meant to all of us.
Jane Davis

Many other entries can be viewed here at

So now you've met Denease Conley, a beautiful and brave woman who just happens to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time - unless you were one of the people she saved. I'll never know how painful it is to have lost a loved one to this tragic event, but I do know that she is without a doubt one of those true heroes I've been reading about since that terrible day.

* * * * *

In addition to my regular readers, I would like to invite anyone who knew Denny to leave a comment here and share a memory with all of us.

As well, please take the time to stop by this site and visit some of the other 3000+ blogs who are also honoring victims at this very moment.


mom said...

Thank you, Jeff, for a beautiful (and teary-eyed) story of that terrible day.

Heather said...

This day is forever burned in my head. I still have a hard time comprehending it all.

Denease's family must find a little comfort in having that video. It's much more than so many families have of their loved ones.

She was a beautiful person, as were all the others who died senselessly that day.

absepa said...

Thank you, Jeff. I think this is a beautiful project, to provide each victim with their own memorial. God bless Ms. Conley's family.

Bill said...

Thank you for remembering Denease and all who were victims of terrorists on 9-11. The one hundred sixty eight killed by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City should also be remembered as victims of terrorists nuts.

Mom Thumb said...

Very touching tribute to a remarkable and courageous woman, thanks.

Roger Miller said...

A very lovely tribute for a very lovely and courageous lady. Thank you for sharing her story. 9/11 should never be forgotten, nor should the thousands of people who perished. God Bless them all.

Babs-beetle said...

It seems that some people are born to serve others in this way, and what would we do without them? What a lovely heart she had, to put others before her own safety. Her family must be very proud of her.

Kathy said...

God, that video was taken just a week before. How sad. "...a beautiful and brave woman who just happens to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time - unless you were one of the people she saved."

And how grateful they must be.

Jeff, thanks for doing this. What a wonderful tribute. A person like her would be humbled. God bless her family. Hopefully memorials like this help the family through tomorrow's sad anniversary and beyond.

Cathy said...

Thank you for all the research you have done to share Denease's story. Never forget.

United Studies said...

Wow...I don't know what to say after reading about Denease. Makes my life seem insignificant to what she did. What a beautiful woman.

Michelle said...

I had no idea that this was being done, but thank you. I sadly have nothing else to say -- and I need Kleenex now.

Ed said...

Thanks's important to remember them all.

PatKG said...

Wow. Just an ordinary person on an ordinary day. Just like all of us. Until she was forced to become an extraordinary person. She could have gotten out and saved herself. No greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. Perhaps even greater for a stranger.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

mom - You're welcome. It was an honor to participate.

heather - Agreed. Every time I watch that video I feel like I get to know Denease a little better, and each time it makes me a little sadder, like I've lost a closer friend.

adsepa - Indeed. And Thanks to Dale Roe there IS such a project. :-)

bill - You're right. And thankfully they do hold vigils for McVeigh's victims every anniversary.

mom thumb - Thank YOU!

roger - I surely hope we never forget.

babs - She really was a sweetheart. I would have loved to meet her in person.

kathy - It's amazing to me that there is such a video. Max had no idea he was creating a legacy that day.

cathy - You're welcome... it was definitely my pleasure. And thank you as well for your touching contribution.

jacki - Denease had quite a resume for how young she was. I'm sure everyone was very proud of her.

michelle - I'm sure Dale will do a 10 year project as well. Feel free to sign up for a memorial. You'll be glad you did.

ve - You're right. And you're welcome. :-)

PatKG - Like I said in my tribute... she truly was one of the heroes that day.

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful tribute. I'm sitting here with tears running down my face.

Alicia said...

Wow. Thank you for this beautiful tribute.

I honor Christopher Paul Slattery.

TBG said...

Denease "Denny" Conley was my friend and neighbor. Denny is not the woman in the video.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

TBG - Thanks for letting me know. The person who submitted the video to me said it was Denease. I've removed the video from the post.

Michael from said...

So glad to see you and others take part in this project. Wish I'd known about it before Friday the 11th! Thanks for sharing...