(Autumn 2001) Sean Hughes became extremely concerned when he heard that there had been an explosion and fire at the World Trade Center on September 11. He immediately checked his answering machine for word from his wife Melissa. What he heard would forever change his life, a simple and heartbreaking message from his wife, who was trapped on the 101st floor of the North Tower.
"Sean, it's me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I'm stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit the building, or a bomb went off. We don't know, but there's a lot of smoke and we just wanted you to know that I love you always."
That was the end of the message. Sean Hughes has not heard from Melissa since. Because commercial air traffic had been stopped following the attack, he was unable to get to the disaster scene from his San Francisco Bay Area home. He told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America: "The toughest thing for me right now is that I can't be there."
A Heroic Flight
Thomas Burnett phoned his wife from hijacked United Airlines Flight 93. He told her that he was going to die, but he wasn't going quietly. "His adrenaline was going. He was talking quickly, and he was ready to do something," Deena Burnett said.
Using his portable cell phone, Burnett called his wife Deena three times before the plane crashed 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The aircraft had been scheduled to fly from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco. From there he was to go home with his wife to San Ramon.
|Thomas E. Burnett, 38, United Flight 93 - crashed in Pennsylvania.|
"He was fighting to come home. He had every intention of being here that night," said Mrs. Burnett. "I pleaded with him to please sit down and not draw any attention to himself, and he said 'No, no, they're going to run us into the ground. We're going to have to do something,'" she said.
At St. Isadore's Catholic Church in Danville, Calif., family and friends gathered in Burnett's memory after news of the disaster spread. "I draw comfort in the fact that I know he didn't go down by giving up," his wife said. "He certainly went down fighting."
A Terrifying Wait
In lower Manhattan, there was a long line of human grief — many hundreds of people, clutching photos and fliers, waiting to report their loved ones missing. With little information and diminishing hope, they assembled at a National Guard Armory, anxious for any news about survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers.
Fliers on walls and lamp posts around them plead for information about one young missing man. "Sean Lugano, 28 years old, 2 WTC. KBW 88th Fl.," it reads, referring to the missing man's employer and office location.
|Christopher Robert Clarke, 39.|
Brian Murphy, 41, was on the 105th floor. His wife received an e-mail from him only 20 minutes before the first plane hit, she has heard nothing since: "He has two beautiful little children, 4 and 5, waiting to hear something about Daddy," his sister Cynthia said. "They are so scared."
Elizabeth Rothstein, Murphy's sister-in-law, said: "We hope that we find him and we love him and we miss him — and my sister wants her husband back."
Thomas Dunbar was waiting for news of his 31-year-old daughter, Lorisa Taylor. She worked on the 94th floor. "I just hope somebody finds her," he said simply. "She has three daughters at home and they miss her."
Sean Bitner held a flier with a picture of his wife, Angela Susan Perez, 35, of New York. She worked on the 103rd floor. Even bad news would be better than not knowing, the father of three said. "It's better than making the kids wonder and everyone else not knowing — not knowing is driving us insane." As he waited and cried, Bitner urged those around the nation watching the disaster not to take their loved ones for granted. "Appreciate them — what else can you say? Appreciate them. Appreciate what you have."
Paul Biatini had wanted to take one of his two daughters to her first day of preschool, but he had to go to a meeting on the 102nd floor. "He would help anybody," his brother Mark said, with tears from his eyes as he waited in line. "I hope he thought about getting out, but he wouldn't leave anybody there if he could help somebody."
Holding Out Hope
They were young and in love. They had planned to be married this year. Their happiness turned to terror after 24-year-old Kevin Williams, an employee with investment firm Sandler O'Neill on the 104th floor of one of the towers, went missing in the horror of 11 September.
With tears streaming down her face, 24-year-old Jillian Volk spent two desperate days searching hospitals, shelters and grievance centers. Volk, her friends and her parents put up hundreds of posters with Williams' picture and information.
"He called me after the first blast to tell me they were being evacuated, but I haven't heard from him since," she said. "I know he's going to come back to me," she said. "I'm not going to lose hope."
The last 24 hours "have been a living nightmare that I just want to wake up and come out of," Volk said. "I just wish I could reverse and tell him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me."
‘I Knew Instantly’
Blake Allison drove his wife Anna to Boston's Logan International Airport on Tuesday morning. He was nervous about a big business meeting he had coming up later in the week. She called him from the plane to reassure him, as she always did, he said today.
|Anna Williams Allison, 48.|
Later in the day, a colleague told him the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center had been hijacked and that it had been bound for Los Angeles from Boston. "I knew instantly that was the worst for me, that was her plane."
Blake Allison said he wanted people to remember his wife's laugh. "It was infectious," he said. "If she got going it just consumed her body and her being. She convulsed with laughter. You couldn't help but hear that and feel a lift of spirit."
At That Moment, My Heart Broke’
Abigail Ross was driving back to her gallery in Boston on that Tuesday morning, worried about a friend who worked at the World Trade Center, when she learned that one of the hijacked planes originated in her hometown. She knew that her father, Richard Ross, had left that morning for Los Angeles. "Then I heard that it was bound for L.A., and I think it was at that moment I knew, and my heart broke," she said.
|Richard Ross, 58, Flight 11.|
Both remembered their father as a kind and energetic man who loved life. "Love, honesty, integrity, family, caring for others. That's what he stood for," Franklin Ross said. "Me and Abigail and my mother are going to make it through this."
Like Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the day of September 11, 2001 will remain forever in our collective minds as a day of infamy. The hatreds of the world knows no borders. A vast international terror network is in place and will, in the coming months and years, be brought to justice.
Harry Hayes for International Review