When Matt Bocchi was eight years old, he looked out onto Manhattan from the 105th floor offices of Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center.
He was 1,200 feet up with his nose pressed to glass at his father John’s work Christmas party beside his younger brother Nick when he felt the building start to sway in the wind.
Nine months later, his dad was standing in the same office in the North Tower when one of the planes hit – and he didn’t make it out.
Matt remembers when he was pulled out of his fourth-grade classroom at Harding Township Elementary in New Jersey and sent home to wait for a call from his father that never came.
Since that fateful day when 2,977 lives were lost, Matt has tracked down his father’s last moments in a stairwell, spent hours obsessing over videos of people jumping from the towers as the flames rose and reading blogs about 9/11.
He has battled drug and alcohol abuse, has been arrested for possessing narcotics and was sexually assaulted as a teenager by an uncle who joined his family through marriage and thought he trusted to share some of his darkest moments.
Now 28, and five years sober after repeated stints in rehab and detox centers, Matt has described how the terrorist attack shaped his life in his memoir Sway, the first written by a child of 9/11.
He has bounced between finance jobs to keep up his father’s legacy, has dealt with the repercussions of his uncle’s sex abuse that shattered their family and has battled to stay away cocaine, Xanax, oxycodone, pot and alcohol.
‘I look back on my story and smile, sort of shake my head, and I wonder how I survived. There were times I shouldn’t have—the copious amounts of drugs I consumed, the gun-wielding drug dealers— and yet I did,’ he writes.
He has been keeping his father’s memory alive as the city prepares to mark the 19th anniversary of 9/11. In recent weeks, New York officials have sparked uproar by questioning whether the Tribute in Light should go ahead during the coronavirus pandemic.
Matt believes it is a symbol that can unify the city in it’s time of turmoil and can help restore hope to a population that has been ravaged by months of lockdown, protests and a surge in crime.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘The city is not the best place right now. It’s sad in a sense.
‘New York has gone through so much in more than 20 years. People said after 9/11 that they would ‘never forget’, but people do start to forget.
‘It becomes an afterthought to a lot of people. The same unity, courage and bravery that was so prevalent after 9/11 in New York needs to be reinstated. All the hate that has been perpetuated around the city has made it so much worse. It’s disheartening.
‘The Tribute in Light memorial may seem unnecessary or mundane to many, but it has a significant meaning in my life.
‘It allows me to remember my father in a positive light, that his memory will forever shine as bright as the beams of light themselves.
‘It is important that we continue to hold the honorary commemoration, as it serves as a hopeful reminder of the tragedy that occurred on 9/11, the lives lost that day, and, most importantly, that we truly never forget.’
In the hours after the two planes slammed into the towers, Matt was stuck in a horrifying limbo, waiting to hear what happened to John Bocchi, Cantor Fitzgerald’s managing director of interest rate derivatives.
Details of what happened, who managed to make it out and who didn’t were slowly trickling across the Tri-State area. Many of his friends had been plucked from their classrooms the same way he had and were waiting for updates.
He returned to his suburban New Jersey family home to find it full of family members and strangers huddled around TVs watching flames rising above Manhattan that were being replayed on news networks like football highlights.
‘I’d seen the news footage but didn’t believe it. In a way, I didn’t believe any of it. I repeated to myself: the Twin Towers were too big, the airplanes too small. All those people didn’t really jump,’ he writes.
‘The towers didn’t really collapse. That our entire family and friends and a few strangers had gathered at our house comforted me. They were adults. They’d work it out. They’d find him. They’d convince him to come home.’
Only his father didn’t come home, not that night. The next day, with another stream of people inside his house, he would take turns to call his father’s cell phone with his brother Nick, hoping that he would pick up the phone and the nightmare would be over.
‘Hey Dad, it’s Matthew. Please call me when you get this message and come home soon. I love you,’ he would say when he reached voicemail.
The next couple of days saw the same flow of relatives, same tears and same rolling news coverage – but there was still no word from his dad.
During a prayer vigil a couple of days after 9/11, Matt’s mother turned to his grandpa and whispered: ‘He’s not coming home.’
But Matt still believed his dad had climbed out from the piles of rubble and would at any second burst through the front door with a take-out pizza in his hand.
‘My father looked to me like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, the early version in movies like Commando in which Arnold played a retired Delta Force operator,’ he writes.
‘Even as I dialed, I pictured my father—strong, athletic, even brawny, trapped beneath a million tons of rubble, all that splintered wood and sheet metal and asbestos and watches and wedding rings.
‘I imagined him climbing upward through the rubble, pushing chunks of concrete and rebar and bits of office furniture out of the way, so he could get up and out of the heap.
‘He’d follow the sunlight, hold his breath so he didn’t gag on the dust and smoke, and he’d reach the top of some jumble of twisted metal and take a big breath of air.
‘Then he’d make his way to West Street or Vesey Street, or one of the other streets that bordered the World Trade Center complex.
‘He’d find Greenwich Street and walk north, against traffic, and he’d keep walking, blocks and blocks, and—I don’t know—maybe he’d board the PATH train and zoom under the Hudson River to Hoboken, then onto Journal Square where he left his car.
‘He’d climb into his Porsche — a silver 911 Carrera — and race home. Any minute now, he’d walk in the door covered in dust. He’d stink of smoke. Oh, and he’d have a box in his hand from Lenny’s Pizza over in Bernardsville — half cheese, half pepperoni — like he carried into our house each Friday night for as long as I could remember.’
The reality hit on September 18 when cops showed up at their family home and told his mother they had identified John’s remains.
He remembers his mother screaming ‘no’ and sliding down the wall when they told her a toothbrush she provided matched DNA to his ‘lower half’.
She told Matt and Nick that ‘daddy’s not coming home’ – but Matt still kept calling his dad to leave a voicemail.
In the years that followed, Matt obsessed over the events of 9/11 – looking at photos, videos and blogs in a bid to find out what happened to his dad in his final moments.
He thought for a time that his father had jumped, so would scroll through images of people plummeting from the windows of the World Trade Center to see if he could be identified.
At the age of 14, he had his first drink and at high school started smoking pot, but it was recreational.
His mother and two other uncles had stopped talking about 9/11, but his uncle Phil – who was related to the family though marriage and not blood – encouraged it and wanted Matt to speak about whatever came to his mind.
Phil would pick up Matt from school and soccer practices and gained his confidence by openly talking about what the teenage boy was thinking.
But their conversations soon turned lurid. They would start talking about girls Matt liked, pubic hair and sex. Phil openly talked about masturbation and got Matt to do it alongside him.
Then, after asking Phil whether he thought his father jumped, his uncle put his hands up his soccer shorts and abused him.
They were in his truck when he told him to relax. Matt tried to shove him away, but his uncle’s response was: ‘Relax. It’s me here.
‘You and me, we’re just playing around. You know that, right? Right.’
From then on, the abuse got worse and expanded to more graphic sex acts in Matt’s bedroom, in cars and even in the shower during a family beach vacation on Long Beach Island.
It messed with his head and as he made his way to business school at Villanova. The recreational drinking and drug use deteriorated into a problem. He also started what he describes as a ‘little drug selling empire’ for himself.
‘I began experimenting with cocaine, painkillers, Xanax and other types of pills. That’s when it really started to take off for me and it spiralled really quickly. So I went through my first treatment center in junior year of college 2013,’ he told DailyMail.com.
During his battle with addiction he remembers going into Eastern Philadelphia with a drug dealer carrying a gun, being confronted by his mother and eventually getting arrested for narcotics possession.
He was gambling with his life in a way that he knew would disappoint his father.
With legal issues hanging over his head and the threat of a possible prison sentence in 2015, he failed a urine test.
‘I went home that day, proceeded to get pretty high and was drinking. I walked outside in my backyard to light up a joint and I just got hit with the scenery. It was a crystal clear day just like the morning of 9/11 and I started to cry,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘When my father passed away, my mother told me to look out for the signs from your dad.
‘Relatively quickly there was a fly that showed up and that was my mom’s indication that my father was safely in heaven.
‘This fly would show up at random times and stayed in our house six months after he died. I said: ‘Dad give me a sign, I need help’.
‘The fly landed on the railing and that was my spiritual moment. I called up a facility and said I needed a bed as soon as possible.
‘I went to a detox center two days later, followed by rehab and a sober living facility and have been sober ever since.’
When he got home from the center he met with members of his family to try and make amends for his behavior over recent years. But he also got a text message from Phil asking if he wanted to watch a movie.
Matt told the uncle who had sparked his deterioration into substance abuse to leave him alone and not contact him again.
It was after a meeting with his old guidance counsellor at Seton Hall Prep that he decided to tell his mother and Uncle Tony about Phil and seek justice for what he had done.
They met with cops and prosecutors, who decided to try and get Phil to admit to his crimes over the phone in a secretly-recorded phone conversation.
For 15 minutes, Matt discussed in horrifying, graphic detail how Phil had abused him as a teenager during family vacations and in his bedroom – many times under the guise of ‘wanting to watch a movie’.
Suspicious, Phil kept asking if the conversation was being recorded, but with the help of a detective Matt got him to admit to his sick actions.
‘It was one of the most gut-wrenching, debilitating conversations I ever had to do,’ he writes.
‘Later that day, I took a flight back to New Hampshire. On my way to the airport I got a text from my mother, no words, just a photo of a fly. I could tell from the photo where it was taken—the hallway upstairs, just outside my bedroom door. I couldn’t help smiling. My father was watching over me.’
A day later, Phil was arrested and he later pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault. Matt wouldn’t have to testify about what had happened.+7
The front cover of Matt’s book. He has been keeping his father’s memory alive as the city prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. In recent weeks, New York officials have sparked uproar by questioning whether the Tribute in Light should go ahead during the coronavirus pandemic
On the day of Phil’s sentencing in September 2016, Matt prepared a statement for the judge with the support of his mom and his uncle Tony. He realized that Phil’s stretch in jail was contingent on what he would say in the next few minutes.
He read: ‘I don’t know if you thought this day would ever come. I did not imagine it occurring at this point in my life, perhaps ever. It took me years to realize that what happened between us wasn’t normal.
Normal relationships between an uncle and a nephew, especially given the state I was in, do not consist of what happened between us. Once the truth was evident, that this wasn’t my fault, that it wasn’t normal, I lived a life of shame, embarrassment, and anger.
‘I believed I didn’t possess the traits a man should embody. Whether or not you feel any remorse today, or have felt any in the past, I want you to know what happened to me doesn’t change who I am as a person.
‘Your actions will never dictate how I live my life. I want to make sure those close to me, and hopefully others, will never endure what I have. I have nightmares about the actions you forced me to do.
‘I don’t think you realize how much you have hurt me, how I lived with the shame and embarrassment, how I never forgot. I no longer give you that power. I’ve been through a lot and I have persevered.
‘Standing in this courtroom today was just another hurdle for me to overcome.’
When he finished, and his mother, Uncle Tony and Phil’s attorney had also read their statements to the court, the judge glared at the defendant and said: ‘Not only did this young man lose his father on 9/11, but he also lost his innocence because of what you did to him.
‘I hereby sentence you to seven years in state prison. I hope that now the victim and his family can begin the healing process.’
As Phil began his stretch behind bars, Matt started to think about writing and putting his story into words.
He also stopped obsessing over the photos of jumpers after finding out that his father had spent his last moments in a stairwell after calling his mom to say goodbye.
Now he is on a different course in life, is looking to start speaking in schools to spread his message of hope and is hopeful he can carry on his father’s memory – away from drugs and alcohol.
He said: ‘My dad was filled with so much heart and love. He was selfless and he liked the simple things in life such as smoking a nice cigar or driving sports cars.
‘Family was a big part of his life and he instilled important values in my brothers and I.
‘For me, I started to realize my father would not want me to memorialize him in a way of sadness by looking at the pictures and videos and blogs.
‘He would want me to remember the good times, live his life the way he would have and not be bogged down by what happened. He wouldn’t want 9/11 to define me as a person and let it ruin my life.
‘He would say that New York needs to unite as one again. The city is filled with some much prosperity and hope. He viewed the city as a place where dreams could happen. Those types of feelings and emotions need to be brought back.’
‘My message to other children of 9/11 victims would be to come forward and talk about your experiences and what’s bothering you.
‘It gets better and you should maintain hope that it gets better. I thought it would be a life filled with drug and alcohol abuse.
‘I didn’t think I would get sober and I thought I would be constantly trying to melt away the emotions, the guilt and the shame. Now I pretty much have a life full of peace and serenity. Not every day is amazing, but it’s better than it used to be.
‘I had a lot of friends who lost dads on 9/11 and we all handled it in a different way. They didn’t look at the pictures and the videos in the same way that I did.
‘They didn’t obsess over how their fathers died the way I did. For me I just went down a deeper and deeper rabbit hole.’