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Class of 2011: Theresa Tobin, 9/11 First Responder

Related Photos Commencement 2011 Photo Gallery

Albany, N.Y. (May 15, 2011) -- As a first responder on 9/11, Theresa C. Tobin was literally blown out of her shoes. She suffered serious injuries, as well as a setback to her doctoral studies. Nonetheless, she persevered, and on May 14, Tobin, a deputy inspector in the New York City Police Department, graduated from the University at Albany with a doctorate in criminal justice.

Deputy Inspector Theresa C. Tobin graduates May 14 with a doctorate in criminal justice.
Deputy Inspector Theresa C. Tobin of NYPD graduates from UAlbany with a doctorate in criminal justice. (Photo, courtesy of Theresa C. Tobin) 

“I studied at UAlbany because of the School of Criminal Justice’s national standing and the quality of its faculty. I truly believe they are top-notch and they have been so supportive of me,” said Tobin, a 28-year NYPD veteran.  The School is ranked No. 2 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“They have the best faculty, bar none,” said Tobin, who speaks highly of her dissertation adviser, Distinguished Research Professor David Bayley, an expert on community policing.

“Terri is amazing. It took 20 years to attain her Ph.D. while working fulltime as a New York police officer, being steadily promoted, up to her current rank of deputy inspector.  Her dissertation was interrupted by 9/11, in which she was seriously wounded and won a medal for her bravery.  Her perseverance is off the charts,” said Bayley.

Tobin has spoken around the world about her role in 9/11 rescue efforts and effective ways to deal with terrorism.

On the day of the attacks, she was a lieutenant assigned to the public information office. She had just escorted a news photographer from the South Tower and was heading out to the car to grab her sneakers. Suddenly, the South Tower pancaked down. She was literally blown out of her shoes, up and over a concrete barrier from the force of the implosion, and carried across the street.

“I know there is no logical reason I should be alive now – given my location when the first tower imploded,” she wrote of her experience.

Buried in concrete debris up to her waist, her Kevlar helmet split in half, she had concrete embedded in her skull. Tobin managed to extricate herself, and later evacuated about 100 people from a nearby apartment building. Finally another emergency worker noticed she had a large shard of glass sticking out of her back, between her shoulder blades, and Tobin was sent by police boat to Ellis Island, and then transferred to a hospital.

Arriving at the hospital, the surgeon told her the good news was that they would operate right away. The bad news: she had blunt force trauma to her head, and they couldn’t give her anesthesia.

Tobin has written about that day in a chapter “A Terrorist Attack: Response and Reflection” in the book Perspectives on 9/11. “One of the lessons I have learned as a result of September 11 is that we are all connected,” she wrote. “Not one of us suffers without all of us suffering.” She lost a 33-year-old cousin, a firefighter, in the attack.

Since 2001, Tobin has had surgery each year and had two-thirds of her teeth replaced. At one point, she joked with her oral surgeon: “I didn’t know we were going to be in a long-term relationship.”

Tobin has a resilient attitude. “I didn’t want 9/11 to be the defining moment of my life,” she said. “It helped me appreciate that life can change on a dime.”
Her father was a police officer, and four of the five children in the family are in law enforcement, including her late brother-in-law. “The joke in my family is that my father forgave my sister for not being a police officer, because she married one,” said Tobin. Her brother-in-law survived a shooting on the job, but passed away in 2005 from complications that resulted from his injuries.

She sees herself as one of the lucky survivors of 9/11, noting that many have suffered more, especially burn victims.

Tobin is the highest ranking female ever to receive the NYPD Medal of Valor. In addition, she was honored for her heroism with a Special Congressional Recognition, the National Press Photographers Association’s Public Information Officer’s Award, and the Liberty Award from the National Organization for Women.

Tobin is committed to her career in policing, and will continue to be an adjunct instructor at Molloy College, where she has taught for a dozen years. Tobin earned a master’s degree from the School of Criminal Justice in 1988, has a master’s in social work from Fordham, and a bachelor’s in sociology from Marist. She graduated from the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Va., and the Police Management Institute at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. Tobin gave the keynote address at the School of Criminal Justice undergraduate recognition ceremony in 2002.

Reflecting on the death of Osama bin Laden, she said, “For the family and friends of those who perished on September 11, 2001, the death of Osama bin Laden has allowed them to feel that justice has prevailed. It also sends a strong message to terrorists that the United States will be unwavering in its commitment to root out those responsible for causing harm to innocent people, no matter how long it takes. As a law enforcement officer, I believe our vigilance needs to remain critical and am very proud of the NYPD’s efforts in helping to thwart 12 plots of terrorism since 9/11.”

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