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- October 01, 2001
- Vol. 56
- No. 14
Those They Lost
Devastated Families Gain Comfort by Honoring Their Courageous Loved Ones
Ruth McCourt, 45, Juliana McCourt, 4, Paige Hackel, 46
A mother, her daughter and her best friend perish in two jets that crashed into the World Trade Center, while in a building below her brother survives
Computer software sales director Ron Clifford had just arrived for a business meeting in the Marriott Hotel at the base of the World Trade towers when he heard the explosion. Stumbling through the haze, he saw a woman emerge from a revolving door, her skin charred. "She said, 'Holy Virgin, Mother of God, help me,' " says Clifford, 46, a native of Ireland who emigrated in 1984. As he led the injured woman through the chaos to an ambulance, Clifford says he was guided by a single thought: "What would Ruth do?"
Sadly he'll never have the chance to ask. In the course of phone calls with friends and family to tell them he had escaped unharmed, Clifford gradually came to a devastating realization: His sister Ruth and her daughter Juliana had been on Flight 175 when it crashed into 2 World Trade, ending their lives just floors away from where his own was spared. In another cruel coincidence, Ruth's best friend and Juliana's godmother, Paige Hackel, had been traveling on Flight 11, the plane that plowed into Tower 1.
On the day of the crash, the two friends left from Logan Airport bound for a conference on spirituality at the [Deepak] Chopra Center for Well-Being in La Jolla, Calif., taking separate flights 15 minutes apart: Hackel flew first class on American; Ruth wanted to use her United Airlines frequent flier miles. "I kissed them all goodbye at 6 a.m., and off they went," says Paige's husband, Allan Hackel, "to their doom, their assassination, their murder."
Friends say Ruth, a former model who emigrated to the U.S. from her native County Cork in 1973, loved fashion and decorating her home. She was also a spiritual woman to whom they often turned for advice. "She was magnetic, she was beautiful, and everybody loved to be around her," says her husband, David McCourt, 58. On Sept. 15 a thousand people gathered for a memorial service at St. Matthias Catholic Church in East Lyme near the McCourt's Connecticut home.
But Ruth's family insists that the gathering will not stand as her final remembrance. David has already announced plans to begin a fund dedicated to the memory of his wife and daughter, the Juliana Valentine McCourt Children's Education Fund, to teach children to live without hate. "Juliana was taught love," he says. "We want to teach others how to resolve conflict peacefully."
Clifford, too, believes his sister's legacy will live on. He has since learned that the woman he helped rescue, Jennie Maffeo, while in critical condition, is still alive. "I totally believe in fate," he says. "There's an extraordinary force between siblings, and I feel my sister had some part in keeping me alive. I feel she led the way out for me."
Louis Neil Mariani, 59
The bride's stepfather dies on a hijacked plane, but the wedding—a defiant celebration of life—goes on
Like countless mothers of brides, Ellen Mariani smiled until her cheeks ached as she posed for wedding pictures with her daughter Gina, 25, and newly minted son-in-law Christopher Bronley, 22, on Saturday, Sept. 15.
But for Mariani, 63, the smiles were particularly difficult to conjure and the picture incomplete. Four days earlier her husband had died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the World Trade Center's Tower 2. Originally, Louis Neil Mariani, who retired from his job as a sales coordinator at a Charlestown, Mass., milk company last year, didn't think he could afford to go to his stepdaughter's wedding. It was only after Ellen raised $400 through yard sales that he booked a last-minute fare, gloating that it was cheaper than her ticket on a different airline. On Sept. 11 the couple—who were introduced by a mutual friend in 1987 and wed the following year—left their Derry, N.H., home together and parted at Boston's Logan Airport. "He looked so cute," Ellen recalls. "He said, 'I'll see you when I get there,' and he gave me a kiss."
She heard about the crash while awaiting a connecting flight in Chicago. "The clocks stopped in my head," she says. Yet it was Ellen who convinced her daughter that the wedding should go on. (She managed to get on a flight to Los Angeles the day before the ceremony.) "I want to show people: Don't be scared," she says. "I think I've done enough crying. No one is going to stop me from living and being free."
Howard Lutnick, 40
His life spared, the Cantor Fitzgerald CEO resolves to care for the families of the 700 employees he lost
"With both of his parents deceased by the time he was 18, Howard Lutnick became the man of the house, helping raise his brother Gary, then 14, with his sister Edie, 20. Now, as head of a company that lost 700 of its 1,000 New York City-based employees—including Gary—in Tower 1, Lutnick is again struggling to support those close to him after a tragedy. "We have a new class of partners here," he tearfully told The New York Times. "These families."
Immediately Lutnick—who was late to work Tuesday morning after taking his 5-year-old son to school—set up a help center at a Midtown hotel for the families and friends of staffers. He also gave the phone number of the Manhattan home he shares with wife Allison to every one of them. He then set up a Cantor Fitzgerald relief fund for families of all World Trade Center victims and personally donated $1 million. "He expects loyalty and he gives loyalty," says Cantor Fitzgerald partner David Kravette, who was in the lobby when the plane hit. "We were all young people with new families, starting out, buying new houses. We know each other's lives."
Two days after the disaster, at the urging of his remaining staff, Lutnick reopened his company's bond-trading systems at a temporary office. Once he was known as one of Wall Street's more ruthless CEOs. At age 34, he gained control of Cantor Fitzgerald only after a bruising legal battle with the wife of his former mentor, who was then in declining health. But now Lutnick says he has found a new sense of purpose. "My view of business is different," he told ABC's Good Morning America. "We've got to make our company able to take care of my 700 families."
Bernard Brown Jr., 11
The family and schoolmates of a D.C. sixth grader mourn an honor student and seek inspiration from his dreams
After the attack on the Pentagon, Sinita Brown's phone started ringing with calls from family and friends asking if her husband was safe. She reassured them that Chief Petty Officer Bernard Brown, a 17-year Navy veteran and information systems technician at the Pentagon, had been on a golf outing that morning and was out of harm's way.
Then, as TV news identified the American Airlines jet that had struck the building, Sinita, 38, learned the awful truth. "It wasn't big Bernard," she says. "It was little Bernard." Earlier Sinita had dropped off Bernard Jr. and his teacher Hilda Taylor, 62, at Dulles International Airport for a National Geographic Society-sponsored educational trip to a marine sanctuary off Santa Barbara, Calif. Along with two other top-performing sixth graders and their teachers from inner-city Washington, D.C., public schools, Bernard Jr. was on Flight 77. By the time Sinita reached her husband at a friend's home, both knew their son was lost. "He was my man," says Bernard Sr., 36, holding his wife's hand in the townhouse they share with daughter Courtney, 7, on D.C.'s Boiling Air Force Base. "He was a strong kid."
The next day tested Bernard Sr.'s endurance even further. At the military's family center in Crystal City, Va., he insisted on notifying the families of victims on his staff. "I had to call the parents of a young man," he says. "I was his supervisor, and he used to tell his parents about me." Only then could he really begin to mourn Bernard Jr., an avid basketball player whose newfound maturity had made his parents proud. "He used to think he was too smart to study," says his dad. Leckie Elementary School principal Clementine Homesley saw in Bernard Jr. a reflection of his father's military bearing. "He had to have every strand of hair in place and his shirt tucked in," she says. "The girls all loved him."
Outside, the school's marquee lauds Bernard Jr. and teacher Taylor, a Sierra Leone-born grandmother, as "Our Angelic Heroes." Homesley has been heartened by support from schools as far away as St. Louis, where pupils asked to be matched with pen pals from Leckie. The D.C. school system has created a memorial fund, with donations earmarked for academic and extracurricular programs like the ones the six victims enjoyed. The family of Asia Cottom, another student on the flight, has started a fund to buy computer equipment for her school. Taylor and Bernard Jr., says Homesley, "wanted the future to be bright and knowledge-filled. The best way we can honor them is to carry on and keep their dreams alive."
Honoring the Fallen, Comforting Their Friends
Brooklyn's Squad One
A neighborhood outpouring helps comfort the families of missing firefighters
The World Trade Center was not even visible from the streets of Park Slope in Brooklyn, but the tragedy of the fallen towers has deeply touched this tree-shaded neighborhood four miles away. Eleven of the 30 firefighters stationed at the Squad One firehouse on Union Street are missing, and one has been confirmed dead. But none of the firefighters will be forgotten—not if the people of Park Slope can help it.
In a scene repeated at fire stations throughout the city, well-wishers have inundated the squad's headquarters with cards, candles and flowers. In Park Slope the tributes reflect an especially deep bond. An estimated 5,000 supporters turned out for a Friday-night vigil and donations of everything from Band-Aids and bagels to clothing and cell phones are pouring in. "Over the weekend people were bringing in trays of lasagna, cold cuts, fruit baskets, buckets of soup. We've got a whole turkey back there that no one has touched yet," says fireman Bob West, 45, who works in Park Slope but lives in Massapequa on Long Island. "It's an incredible feeling."
Even neighborhood schoolkids pitched in, organizing a sale of toys, CDs and dolls that netted $253.08 for the firefighters fund. Says Kathy Spiess, 42, whose fireman husband, Billy, 43, is among the Squad One survivors: "I know I'm speaking for all of the wives. We are overwhelmed by the support."
For gymnastics teacher Marian Fontana, 35, whose husband, Dave, 37, is still missing, the experience has been particularly moving. Dave was a community stalwart known for bringing his squad's ladder truck to neighborhood block parties. "Complete strangers have been coming up to me and saying, 'I don't know you,' and hugging me," says Marian from the small apartment the Fontanas rent a few blocks from the firehouse. Recently she and Dave (they have one son, Aidan, 5) contemplated moving out and buying a home in a less expensive neighborhood. "Boy, am I glad I didn't move," Marian now says. "These people have really been keeping me going."
Ray Downey, 63
Fellow firefighters gave him the nickname God
Battalion Chief of Special Operations Ray Downey was due to retire next September. But he nixed that idea after learning that his son Joe, 39, a captain in the department, might be made a chief. "They would have been the first father and son chiefs in the department's history," says his daughter Marie Tortorici, 37. Instead, each day after the disaster, Joe worked on the site with his brothers Chuck, 35, a lieutenant in the department, and Ray, 33, a physical education teacher, clinging to a fading hope of finding their father alive. "I picture him in some void below, barking out orders," says Chuck. "The possibilities are endless with him."
Indeed, Downey was New York City's most decorated firefighter, earning him the nickname God among his troops. In 1995 he led a team of New York's Bravest to assist in the rescue effort in Oklahoma City. And as recently as July Mayor Giuliani presented him with a glass apple from Tiffany to celebrate 40 years of service. After the first plane crashed, Downey met with the mayor and other top fire officials to orchestrate an evacuation. He was last seen in the lobby of the north tower before it collapsed. "If my father was to go, this is the way he would go," says Tortorici. "I think this was his destiny. He lived and breathed the fire department."
Thomas Foley, 32
One of People's Most Eligible Bachelors, he gave his heart to firefighting
He loved motorcycles and bull-riding. "Anything that gives you a test here on earth, that makes you feel alive," Thomas Foley told PEOPLE when he appeared in our inaugural issue of eligible bachelors in July 2000. Though his looks led to stints as an extra on Third Watch and The Sopranos, the country music fan and power-lifting champ from Nyack, N.Y., had no intention of abandoning the career he'd dreamed of since he was 13. "It's the best job in the world," he said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Foley's shift at his Bronx stationhouse ended at 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, but when the call came, he put his boots back on and headed south. The unflinching response was typical of Foley: Last year Mayor Giuliani presented him with a medal for saving a man from a burning building; he was also honored for his daring rescue of two construction workers when a scaffold collapsed in 1999. After that incident Foley called his mom to say he was safe. A week after the World Trade tragedy, his family was still waiting and praying. Says his sister Joanne, 34: "We're trying to do what Tom would want us to do."
Peter J. Ganci Jr., 54
A general in the trenches, he put his team's safety first
Coaching his sons' Little League team, Peter Ganci Jr. never showed favoritism. "Coaches' kids always get the best positions," says Chris Ganci, 25. "Not us." Nor was the father of Chris, a pharmaceutical sales rep, Peter, 27, a firefighter, and Danielle, 22, a student, comfortable with the rank and power that came with being New York City Fire Chief. "He wouldn't tell you he was a five-star chief of department," says Chris. "He would say, 'I'm a New York City fireman.' "
Yet no one was surprised when the easygoing Ganci, who loved golf and hanging out at firehouses telling war stories, arrived at the scene and quickly took charge. He led people to cover after the first tower fell, then, in choking dust, hustled firefighters north to safety. "His decision saved so many lives," says Rev. John Delendick, 52, a fire chaplain. Later a witness told Chris that his father was still rescuing people when the second tower collapsed. "He had a person in his hand," says Chris. "Even at the very end he was helping someone."
Father Mychal Judge, 68
The beloved fire department chaplain died as he lived, tending to his flock
On the morning of Sept. 11, a friar ran into Father Mychal Judge's room at the St. Francis of Assisi friary on Manhattan's 31st St. "I think they need you," was all he said. Judge "put his uniform on, but he did take time to comb and spray his hair," said his friend, the Rev. Michael Duffy, provoking affectionate laughter among the congregation of some 3,000 who gathered for Judge's funeral on Sept. 15.
As the New York fire department chaplain since 1992, the 68-year-old Franciscan priest had heeded many such calls, from helping Chinese immigrants whose ship washed up on the shores of Rockaway Beach in 1993 to comforting relatives of those who died in the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800. To many city firefighters he was as familiar as their uniforms. "He loved New York," says a friend. And New Yorkers loved Judge, who seemed to be everywhere in the city, helping run a bread line and officiating at countless baptisms, weddings and funerals. "He was a priest for all people," says Father Brian Jordan. "He worked with the poor and the police and AIDS patients and the firemen."
Judge found his calling growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, the second of three children of Michael Judge and Mary Fallon. After joining the Franciscan order in 1956, he worked as assistant to the president of Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., and ministered at three churches in New Jersey before making his home at St. Francis of Assisi. He was administering last rites to a fireman when he was struck and killed by falling debris. As many as 300 rescue workers may have died in the disaster. Says firefighter David Fullam, 38: "I just think God wanted somebody to lead the guys to heaven."
Daniel Lee, 34
A new daughter, born two days after his death, brings his widow strength
Kellie Lee spent Tuesday praying that "her husband, Dan—never a morning person—had missed American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to L.A. A carpenter for the Backstreet Boys, he was determined to get home to his wife, who was scheduled to give birth to their second child by cesarean section two days later. When Dan called at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, "he said, I love you, I'll be home soon,' " recalls Kellie, 32.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, her fears were confirmed: An airline representative called to tell her Dan had died aboard the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. "I begged her to defer the birth, but she insisted on going forward," says Dr. Peter Rubenstein, 57, who delivered 8-lb. 11-oz. Allison Danielle, named for her father, at 8:10 a.m. Sept. 13. "I think the impact of having a child and strong family support has helped her hold up." Says Kellie: "Dan would have been holding my hand with an ear-to-ear grin."
The couple met in 1992 in an Encino, Calif., bar, where Kellie was a cocktail waitress and Dan was a struggling musician. They wed in 1995 and baby Amanda arrived four years later. Though hardworking, Dan, who had traveled as a carpenter with bands since the mid-1990s, left no life insurance and little savings, so the Backstreet Boys are "raising money for his wife and family," says Leighanne Wallace, the wife of band member Brian Littrell. Meanwhile, Kellie, who plans to move to Erie, Pa., where her family lives, struggles with what to tell Amanda, who insists "Daddy will be back in five minutes." She says she'll build her life on one thought: "I know Dan would want me to be strong and raise his daughters well."
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