A decade after Amy Toyen died in New York during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, people are still leaving roses for her beside a sculpture of her outside Avon Free Public Library.
The roses normally come on her birthday or 9/11 to honor her memory. On Monday, a library staff member left roses for her after learning of President Barack Obama's announcement that a small team of American military forces killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday. As of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, a library patron already brought another dozen roses of different colors.
"She actually worked for a company in Boston and was at the trade center Windows on the World top floor of the trade center for a trade show that she was there for that day," her sister, Heather Toyen, a Canton resident and Roaring Brook School guidance counselor, said on Monday. "She had flown in from Boston that morning, hadn't even checked into the hotel and went straight to the trade show, and was ultimately coming back the next day after the trade show was over.... She loved to visit New York, and loved the culture, the theater and the shopping."
At the time, Amy was 24, worked for a Boston financial branch of Thomson Reuters and was living in Newton, MA. Her boyfriend in 2001, Jeffrey Gonski, who she began dating at Bentley College, had proposed to her on a surprise trip to Ireland and the two were engaged to be married nine months after 9/11.
"He told her that they were going to Montreal to make sure that she had her passport and it wasn't until they were on the airplane, on their way, and he said 'surprise, we're going to Ireland,'" Heather said.
The Toyen sisters and Gonski also traveled to London together the summer before Amy died and rented a flat for a week, explored the city and saw the London version of The Lion King musical. The last photograph taken of the sisters together was in front of Stonehenge.
Amy and Gonski had been dating for a few years at that point, Heather said, and Gonski was already considered part of the family.
In fact, the wedding was the last thing that Heather talked to her sister about, the night before her business trip to New York. She would have been her maid of honor.
"It was going to be a big wedding because we have a big extended family," Heather said. "It was going to be at the Aquaturf in Southington."
Amy Toyen tried to reach Gonski on her cell phone on 9/11, and when he answered his work phone after seeing her number on the caller ID, the line was dead, Toyen said.
The sisters were close, always goofing around with each other as children. Amy Toyen was three years younger than her sister. They shared many moments, such as trying on makeup for the first time.
Amy was not a sports person, Heather said, but she always volunteered and was active in the local Jewish organization. She was particularly known for welcoming new students to Avon High School and showing them around as a friendly face they would see in town and at school, Heather said.
Amy and Heather lived in Avon all of their lives, until they graduated from college. Heather, who went to college in Springfield, visited her sister often.
Heather described 9/11 as surreal. She was in a workshop for a former school she worked at and no one at the workshop stopped the session with any information about the terrorist attack, Heather said, though one workshop member heard about the first plane hitting when she called her school. Heather did not have the radio on during the ride back to work, so she did not hear the 9/11 coverage, and it wasn't until her father arrived at the school soonafter that she knew that her sister might be in danger. Prior to his arrival, Martin and his wife, Dorine Toyen had been communicating back and forth to figure out where Amy was, and it took Heather a few hours to learn about the terrorist attack and that her sister was in New York.
A few days after discovering that Amy had died in the World Trade Center, the Avon Volunteer Fire Department organized a vigil in honor of her, other families in Avon with loved ones who died and the victims of 9/11. They handed out 9/11 t-shirts, American flags and candles. Amy was the only documented victim who grew up in Avon. Heather said that the support for her and her family was strong.
Terri Wilson, Avon Historical Society president, remembered the community atmosphere.
"Some other communities have a lot more [victims of 9/11]," Wilson said. "It was a very sad and shocking time.... Boy, did we come together as a group. The green was mobbed."
On Wilson's street in town, Mountain View Avenue, all of her neighbors put American flags on their mailboxes, mourning 9/11.
Moving on was hard, and Heather still thinks about her younger sister every day.
"It was difficult on my parents because it sort of defies the laws of nature, in terms of you're not supposed to bury your child," Heather said. "It was tough, it really was. Ten years later, it's a little easier, but it's still hard.... Life goes on."
Ten years later, Goski married and now has a son, Heather said. Goski began a project in April called The View from Ten that combines his photography and video logs about the trauma of losing Amy and how he is working toward new kind of normal. He also invites readers to ask him questions and send him feedback and notes as part of the multimedia project.
Artist Marilyn Thrall worked off of a photo of Amy as a child that Amy's parents provided her. The 2001-02 Avon High School student government funded the project in honor of Amy and all victims of the terrorist attacks.
Amy Toyen loved to read and was a supporter of children's programming at the library, Wilson said.
Hearing the reports of Osama bin Laden's death were a relief to Wilson, but she is concerned that terrorism still lives.
"It signals an end, but do we really know that terrorism will ever be over?" Wilson said. "I hope that it signals something across this world to say that people like this cannot live forever and do what they're doing."
Heather remains slightly skeptical of the news, but trusts Obama, the Navy and the soldiers overseas who reported bin Laden's death.
"I said to one of my coworkers, really nothing changes, and I'm still skeptical. Are we sure it's really him? What if he had a twin brother and their DNA's the same...?" Heather said. "But...we trust our government and everyone who was overseas and fighting and helping America and trying to fix what went wrong. But it doesn't bring anyone back. It doesn't change anything. I guess it sort of makes the future feel a little safer hopefully, that their leader is no more. Hopefully all of that will die out with him."