Never Forget

Local 5K keeps memory of fallen first responders alive

By Jessica Laskey
September 2023

As the 9/11 anniversary approaches, the third annual Sacramento Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk supports local first responders and helps remind us of brave acts 22 years ago.

“9/11 is a very personal day, in my opinion. It means something different to everybody,” says Mary Parra, volunteer race director. “What really makes this event unique is we have replica badges of all 343 firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11.”

The local run/walk is Nov. 4 at William Land Park.

“To me, New York feels so far away, but the very first year, a woman came up and found her boyfriend’s best friend’s badge,” Parra says. “She started crying and said it was so special. It’s a way for people to embrace someone who was special to them.”

The local 5K is among more than 80 events nationally by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, an organization founded by six siblings who lost their brother, firefighter Stephen Siller, on 9/11.

Siller was off duty when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He raced to his firehouse in Brooklyn and, finding the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel blocked, ran about 3 miles with more than 60 pounds of gear to the towers, where he was killed.

While keeping the memory of Siller and others alive is the main goal, the foundation created a way to make a difference in local communities through three programs.

The Fallen First Responder Program provides mortgage payoffs for fallen first responders who leave behind young families.

The Gold Star Family Home Program provides mortgage-free homes to Gold Star Families with small children.
The Smart Home Program builds adaptive homes for the military’s most catastrophically injured service members.

Over the past three years, the foundation paid off mortgages for the families of fallen Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Gibson, Stockton Police Officer Jimmy Inn, Newman Police Corporal Ronil Singh, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Ishmael, U.S. Marine Captain John Sax of Placer County and Cal Fire Captain Matt Brabo of Roseville.

“At our first race, Adam Gibson’s widow spoke,” Parra says. “She had just had a baby and talked about how the (foundation’s donation) allowed her time to get her life together and think about next steps instead of paying her mortgage. The crowd really rallied around her.”

Parra spent the last three years making connections for the 5K. She and her husband visited local fire stations to encourage participation.

At Station 5 in Natomas, they met city fire Captain Matt Schroeder, whose father was involved in 9/11 search and rescue. Schroeder and his wife, Michele, became the Sacramento 5K’s main volunteers and helped Parra reach more first responders. Their involvement made “a world of difference,” Parra says.

The Sacramento run includes speeches by family members of lost heroes, ladder trucks decorated with flags, the national anthem and honor guard duties performed by ROTC cadets from McClatchy High School.

“The event is a perfect pre-training ground for the California International Marathon and the Run to Feed the Hungry,” Parra says. “We also welcome people to line the route. It’s always nice to have the community come out to cheer on the (first responders) who are running and thank them for what they do.

“I have four kids,” she adds. “You never know when you’re going to be the one to call for help. We owe it to them because they make sacrifices every day for us.”

To register or for information, visit

Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

Stay up-to-date with our always 100% local newsletter!

* indicates required
Type of Newsletter
Share via
Copy link