It’s been 16 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 destroyed the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people and transforming life for millions of New Yorkers forever.
That’s because the tragedy hit close to home, in quite literal terms. One of the few MLS players born and raised in the city, Muyl is a lifelong resident of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, slightly more than two miles to the northeast of the twin towers. In fact, they were a prominent part of the view from his home before they fell.
“I was in first grade. I remember we had just been outside and we came back in and the teacher sat us down and tried to explain to us what had happened, and that we were all going to be going home. I live on the same block as my school so I was able to go home right away,” the Homegrown midfielder recalled in a conversation with MLSsoccer.com.
“From my living-room window you could see the World Trade Center, and I remember looking out and seeing all this smoke. I think one of the buildings was still up when I was looking and it was just surreal, because I had grown up looking out there and seeing two towers, and you could see one and it was burning. It was just crazy. … especially when you’re a young kid and you don’t know what’s going on.”
Beyond the immediate toll in human life, the attacks unleashed incalculable fear and chaos on the entire city, and the conflagration itself soon forced Muyl, his older sister Elisa and their parents to leave NYC.
“We decided to leave the city because a couple nights after, there was so much smoke coming into our building that my dad was coughing up blood,” he said. “There was still so much smoke in the air.
“I just remember really tense times – my father’s a French citizen,” he added, “and we got pulled over once in the car because someone didn’t have their seat belt on and it was really tense. We were super-scared, not knowing what was going to happen next, if this was just the beginning, or what.
“My birthday’s on the 30th, and the 11th happened and it was like, ‘is there even a birthday any more?’ It didn’t seem like anything could happen for a while – it didn’t seem like it should be allowed for me. Life kind of stopped for a while.”
Though Muyl and his immediate family didn’t lose loved ones in the tragedy, its aftermath touched them every bit as much as it did as the rest of Manhattan, both at the time and for years afterwards.
“When we got back, I remember on every corner there were all these candles, these memorials, and these signs – ‘Have you seen this person?’ ‘Do you know where this person is?’Just a lot of confusion,” Muyl recalled. “All the fire stations by our house, it was crazy just how many people each of them lost.
“One of my best friends growing up, his father was a policeman and he had serious health issues – people who went into the building and breathed those things, their lives are different now. Even if they didn’t die, even if they weren’t hurt physically, they’re dealing with things. This guy has so many medical bills, his knees fill up with fluid, he’s sick all the time, because he was in there. it’s my best friend’s father. I know they were taken care of, but not nearly well enough for what they did.
“New York is so strong. The whole process lasted so long, though, digging everything out. My mom thinks all of us our age were pretty traumatized by it and don’t even know it.”
Now 21, Muyl still lives with his family in the same building, with One World Trade Center’s “Freedom Tower” now featuring in their view. He made his first visit to the nearby memorial and museum last year alongside his Red Bulls teammates, and it brought long-submerged memories and feelings rushing to the surface.
“The most noticeable ones are the lights, those two massive floodlights,” he said. “You catch a glimpse of them and it’s like, ‘oh wow, it’s that time of year.’ Last year with the team we visited the memorial and the museum and that brought back a lot. I had a little tear … some things just stick out to you.”
Even a decade and a half down the line, a nagging sense of absence still lingers for Muyl and many other New Yorkers, especially on and around the anniversary of the attacks.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “I don’t remember when it stopped. But it was for a good few years that you would look at the skyline there and think something was wrong – something’s missing. You catch your breath real quick.”