Remembering 9/11: Retired NYC firefighter finds peace rescuing goats in Pennsylvania

9/11 Anniversary

PERRY COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — You could say Lenny and Michelle Yourth have their hands full. The couple has 30 chickens, 30 goats, two dogs, and seven cats on their farm in Millerstown.

“Thankfully he’s retired,” Michelle said. “That’s funny,” replied Lenny, laughing.

So how did a couple from Staten Island end up on a farm in Central Pennsylvania? Their journey here actually began in the wake of 9/11.

Lenny, a career firefighter in New York City, was on the job that day. He joined the rescue mission at the World Trade Center after the collapse of Building 7, knowing that he had already lost so much.

“It was 10 out of my firehouse,” he said. “All in, it was about 75 guys I had worked with (died) that day.”

Lenny stayed at Ground Zero searching for signs of life that never came.

“You had three buckets,” he said. “One was for plane parts. One was for general debris. And one was for what we believed was people.”

Michelle remembers not hearing from her husband for four terrifying days. She was at home with their four young children, glued to the TV. She remembers the moment her oldest daughter realized where her father was.

“She said, ‘I don’t want him to be there,” Michelle said. “That was the first time she realized he could actually die on his job and she was 6.”

Lenny worked at Ground Zero for months with his name and badge number written in Sharpie on one arm, his social security number on the other.

“In case you fell down the pit or in case the rubble shifted and you got buried, it would make it easier to identify your body,” Lenny said. “Regardless of the anniversary, it’s always this time of year. People are like ‘oh, it’s the 20th anniversary.’ The 19th wasn’t easy. The 18th wasn’t easy. The 35th won’t be easy. It’s this time of year. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for anybody that lives with me.”

That ongoing pain is what led Lenny and Michelle to leave New York after his retirement, which happened 10 years and one day post-9/11.

“I said ‘hand me that box of tissues and put me on the September 12 retirement date,” Lenny said.

Both of Lenny and Michelle’s sons attended Carson Long Military Academy in New Bloomfield, so their search for a new home started – and ended – here in Central Pennsylvania.

“We found a nice farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with 12 acres of farmland that we had no idea what to do with,” Lenny said.

Nearly 10 years later, that 12 acres is now their passion: the Capra Goat Rescue. They care for animals in need of healing, while at the same time, healing themselves.

“We are absolutely a sanctuary for them and will be as long as they live,” Michelle said.

The work has helped them to literally distance themselves from painful memories.

“I wouldn’t change a thing that I’m doing right now,” Lenny said. The couple is finally finding their version of peace in Perry County. “Every year gets a little bit more peaceful,” he said.

Today, Lenny also trains junior firefighters in Ickesburg, acts as the local emergency management coordinator for Tuscarora Township, and teaches at HACC’s Public Safety Center.

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