|John Keohane, who died in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, was 'everything' to his partner Mike Lyons. Lyons committed suicide on March 1.|
By KARA FOX
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Mike Lyons, whose partner of 17 years was killed in the World Trade Center attack, committed suicide Friday, March 1, after struggling with his partner's death, according to those who helped Lyons after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. This is the first suicide by a gay partner of a Sept. 11 victim, according to gay activists.
"He was very spiritual. He truly believed he was taking a step to be with his partner," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay political organization. HRC was one of several organizations that helped Lyons apply for benefits through relief funds and gave him support.
John "Jack" Keohane, 41, worked at One Liberty Plaza near the World Trade Center and died when the towers collapsed. After the two planes hit the Trade Center towers, Keohane met Lyons, his partner of 17 years, on the street, and helped Lyons call his mother.
"They were in the street like everybody else," Keohane's sister, Darlene Keohane, told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. "As he was talking, he had thought a third plane crashed into the building."
What Keohane thought was a third crash was actually the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He was killed by falling debris.
"They were running together, but because of [Lyons' multiple sclerosis], he said, 'Go ahead and I'll catch up,'" said Matt Foreman, former executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York gay rights organization that formed a relief fund for partners of gay victims.
Foreman said that although Lyons suffered from MS and
depended on Keohane for support, he was employed as a certified New York City
social worker. Lyons and Keohane lived together in Jersey City, N.J.
A precarious place
A precarious place
Lyons had a difficult time coping with Keohane's death and did not have a strong support system, according to several people who knew him.
"Mike's psyche was severely damaged because of the drama of seeing John die and being in the proximity of his death and being separated by him," Birch said. "When he called me, literally just a minute after speaking with him, I understood that he was in a very delicate and precarious place."
Joe Tarver, communications director for ESPA, agreed.
"Mike at that time was very emotional and fragile -- even more so than the other people we dealt with," Tarver said. "It was apparent that John Keohane was the rudder in his life. John was everything to him."
Tarver said Lyons went to Europe to "get away" and when he came back, he began the process of applying for relief funds. Out of the 22 partners of gay victims that ESPA dealt with, Lyons was the last to go through the process, Tarver said. Tarver added that Lyons had indicated that he was going to be run short of funds by the end of March.
"I worked with him on a day-to-day basis," Tarver said. "Red Cross did tell me three weeks ago that he had been approved. I checked on his status last Friday and I was e-mailing him. He would disappear and reappear, and I thought it was one of those times when he was disappearing emotionally."
Lyons took his life on March 1, on his 41st birthday and just days before he was to receive a check from the American Red Cross for relief, Tarver said. An exact cause of death could not be confirmed through the Newark, N.J., medical examiner's office or other New Jersey authorities.
Tarver said when the Red Cross called the funeral home that handled Keohane to verify some information, the funeral home told the relief organization that Lyons had also died.
Birch said she had seen Lyons recently and thought he was doing much better.
"Clearly, I was wrong," Birch said. "The people who were
trying to help him didn't know or understand that this was coming. … He needed
so much help and I'm so sad that we couldn't do more to save this life."
Families at risk
Families at risk
Birch said that this situation has "revealed more starkly how at-risk our families are" and implored gay couples to get a will in place.
"He was a wonderful, sweet man," Foreman agreed. "Like so many of those gay and lesbian partners of those who died, they had their lives devastated."
Tarver added that the tragedy of Sept. 11 "has not ended for the families."
"Life is very short and it's obvious Mike didn't think it was worth living anymore without John," Tarver said. "This is a situation where he didn't have the support network that many married couples had. It was obvious that he was trying to go searching got support. … He didn't have the support like some of the other [gay partners]."
A funeral service was held Wednesday, March 6, at Lyon's childhood parish, Immaculate Conception, in Philadelphia.
Gay activists say this is the first post-Sept. 11 suicide
committed by a gay partner. The Washington Post reported Dec. 19 that Pat
Flounders, whose husband died in the collapse of the second Trade Center tower,
also committed suicide. Flounders was a breast cancer survivor who had recently
had a pacemaker implanted.