Close to Home: The McGuinness Family’s 9/11 Story

On September 11th, 2001, America and the world were shaken. On that fateful morning, the world watched in shock and disbelief as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City crumbled to the ground. We also watched as a third plane crashed into the side of the Pentagon. A fourth plane was set on bringing about more pain and destruction, but a group of brave passengers and flight attendants sacrificed their own lives for countless others.

The loss of nearly 3,000 innocent lives and the scars left on the collective psyche of our nation are seared into our memories. But in our remembrance, we also honor the resilience of the human spirit, the bravery of first responders, and the unity that emerged in the face of adversity.

Much closer to home, our school lost a beloved PCA parent, friend, and a man of God, Tom McGuiness. Tom, an Air Force veteran, was flying that morning out of Boston as the co-pilot for American Airlines Flight 11. His aircraft, after being hijacked by al-Qaeda, was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Tom and 91 others aboard were killed. Another 1,344 souls in the North Tower also perished that day of horrific violence.

Tom McGuinness, man of Christian faith, Air Force veteran, PCA dad, and co-pilot on American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston on the morning of 9-11-2001. 

Both of Tom’s children were at PCA at the time of the attack– Jennifer was a freshman at the Upper School, and Tommy was in 8th grade. The tragedy unfolded around everyone that morning, but it took some time to determine the exact impact to those who lost loved ones. Within a few hours it became clear that Jennifer and Tommy had lost their father. Their mother, Cheryl, came to PCA and, with the help of the PCA staff, told her children of their father’s death.

In 2016, Dean of Men, Steve Foley, gave a short account of that September morning to our Upper School students at Chapel. You can listen to his account here: (2016) Dean of Men, Steve Foley, Recounts the Morning of 9/11 .

“I tell my students each year about the McGuinness Family and the events of September 11th,” said Foley. “We’re at the point now where our students weren’t even alive for that day, and it’s important that it not just be another thing they read in their textbooks.”

In the seasons and years that followed, the family continued to follow God, be a part of our school, and testify to God’s goodness. Cheryl, Tom’s wife, wrote a book about her painful journey and the hope that came about through it. PBS New Hampshire interviewed her in 2004. Both Jennifer and Tommy went on to graduate from PCA: Jennifer in 2004 and Tommy in 2005. Tommy followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pilot for American Airlines. Jennifer married another PCA alum, Seth McQueen (Class of 2003), who also became a pilot for American Airlines.

Tom McGuinness (left), and Tommy (right). 

Over the years, both Jennifer and Tommy have spoken about Tom’s faith in God and the impact that that had on their own lives. In a “Focus on the Family– Remembering 9/11” article, Jennifer spoke lovingly of her father’s faith and his trust in God and how Tom’s faith helped nurture her own. READ MORE.

Tommy provided a powerful video interview entitled “Faith and a Father’s Legacy…. The Tom McGuinness Story” where he spoke about what a strong role model his father was for him and how that influenced his own faith in God. WATCH HERE.

For those of us born in the mid-1990s or earlier, the horror and violence of 9/11/2001 are etched indelibly in our souls. At PCA, and especially for the McGuinness family, that fateful day is never forgotten,” said Head of School, Mike Runey.

“For the younger generation growing up in the shadow of 9/11, we strive to instill the best of that day in them: the courage of first responders who selflessly rushed into the towers, the heroes who carried people from the flames of the Pentagon, and the brave souls who stormed the cockpit of Flight 93. These were real people, living and sacrificing. The living God, though not the cause of this horror, moved on that day and in the days to follow. He acted to aid, heal, pursue justice, and restore. These are lessons worth passing on to the current generation of children, both at PCA and beyond. While we can’t predict tomorrow’s challenges, we can be certain that the ever-present living God stands ready to rescue, redeem, and restore. May the memory of 9/11 serve as a beacon, guiding us to share this truth with others. Psalm 46:1 (ESV): ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

PCA will always remember 9/11. We choose to focus on Tom McGuinness, his family, and their legacy as we reflect on that day. Please keep all of the families who lost loved ones, including the McGuinness family, in your prayers, as we seek to live faithfully, following God in every circumstance.