NYPD Sgt. John G. Coughlin, who died while trying to rescue people in the World Trade Center, left behind a big family legacy.
Daughter Erin Coughlin, who was 16 on 9/11, joined the Finest in 2012, and wears her dad’s badge No. 2275.
Kid sister Kayla, only 6 when their dad died, is now an NYPD video producer. She led the creation of a documentary on illnesses that cops suffered after working at Ground Zero.
Erin married a Police Academy classmate, David Harris, a K-9 officer. His German and Dutch Shepherd partner, “Coughlin” — named for their family’s 9/11 hero — lives with the couple.
And widow Patty Coughlin, who lost her husband, pitches in by taking care of Erin and David’s two daughters Catherine, 7, and Emma, 2, while they protect the city.
“I went in not really trying to make history,” said Erin. But she did just that.
Erin is the first female NYPD member to become a police officer after a parent’s death in the line of duty. “Following his path was always on the back of my mind,” she said.
John Coughlin, a 6-foot-2 member of the NYPD’s elite Emergency Service Unit, Truck 4, in the Bronx, ran into the blazing South Tower to lead rappelling rescues with a rope and harness. The collapse of the tower killed him at age 43.
John delighted in his young family. “People would joke sometimes that our father was obsessed with us,” Erin said.
After 9/11, Patty kept the clan close, intent on raising Erin, Kayla, and middle sister Tara “the way he would have wanted — to make him proud,” Erin said.
Erin, who was named deputy commissioner for community partnerships in February 2020, started out patrolling two action-filled precincts: Bronx’s 44th, then the 33rd in Washington Heights. Running to help another officer, shots rang out and she had to dive for cover, leading to an elbow injury. Early in her first pregnancy, she helped chase and wrestle an armed suspect.
“Dad is my guardian angel,” she said. “I always wish I could bounce things off him and get his take.”
Erin, now 36, married fellow NYPD rookie David, 37, in 2015. Her dad’s best friend, retired cop Franco Berarducci, walked her down the aisle, and became godfather to her second child.
Erin hasn’t yet told the whole story of 9/11 to her children.
“At some point, we’re going to have to explain why this dog is named after grandpa,” she said.
Kayla, now 26, studied communications at Iona College and started out at a small TV news station in Westchester. But when Erin mentioned the NYPD’s use of videos for training and social media, Kayla jumped at an opening. Tara, 33, serves people with disabilities.
“I want the world to know that we grew up, came out successful, and are happy,” Erin said.
United they serve
The Coughlin sisters share a close bond with four others who joined the NYPD after their dads made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11:
- Sgt. Barry Driscoll, the son of officer Stephen Driscoll — John Coughlin’s daring ESU search-and-rescue partner who was killed at the WTC at age 38. Barry attended Boston University to study international relations, but switched gears after 9/11.
- Officer Jillian Suarez, who was 9 when her father, NYPD transit cop Ramon Suarez, 45, was killed on 9/11. Her father saved an asthmatic woman and then a seven-months-pregnant woman from the North Tower before dying in the collapse. He was posthumously awarded the NYPD’s Medal of Honor for his heroism.
- Joseph Vigiano Jr. and his brothers James and John were 8 years, 6 years, and 3 months old, respectively, when their father, NYPD detective Joseph Vigiano Sr., died on 9/11. Their grandfather, the late FDNY Capt. John Vigiano, helped Joseph’s widow Kathy, now a retired officer, raise the boys, but so did cops who had worked with their father and mother. “The NYPD became a second family to us,” Joseph said.