NPR : Tell Me More

A Tribute To Her Brother's Passing On 9/11

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All week, Tell Me More is observing the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks with the series "Where Were You?"

On September 11th, 2001, a small group of Muslim extremists struck fear in our nation after they hijacked passenger jets from major U.S. airports and flew them into landmarks. In New York City it was the World Trade Center, and in Washington, D.C., it was the Pentagon. Another hijacked plane was forced down in a field in Shanksville, Pa., a tiny village now standing for the enormous sacrifice brave passengers made to wrest the plane from the hijackers.

Colleagues and listeners are recalling that day. Some were among key responders who had a critical role in the aftermath of the attacks; others were bystanders left to mourn in the wake of the attacks.

Sharing her story today is Suzanne McCabe, editor of Junior Scholastic magazine in New York City.


On September 11, 2001, I was on a commuter ferry to New York City when the first plane struck the World Trade Center's north tower. It was 8:46 a.m.

"As you can see," the ferry captain said over his bullhorn, "a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

The day was crisp and cloudless, giving us a clear view of the N.Y. skyline, even though we were still 40 minutes away.

As the ferry continued across the Hudson River from N.J. to N.Y, we watched smoke spewing from the north tower. At first, it seemed as if the crash had been some terrible accident. Then, just 17 minutes later, a second plane sliced through the top of the south tower. Everyone gasped. America, we realized, was under attack.

Still, we sailed on. We passed the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, all eyes glued to the two towers. While smoke billowed from one, huge orange fireballs ringed the other, and thick black soot coated much of the sky.

My brother Mike had joined his best friend, Michael Tucker, or Tuck, as an equities trader at Cantor Fitzgerald a week earlier. It soon dawned on me that their office was in one of those buildings. I tried Mike on his cell phone several times but couldn't get through. Service had already become sporadic, so I couldn't reach his wife Lynn or any other family members either.

When our ferry pulled into the pier in lower Manhattan, we were instructed not to get off. Instead, we would take on people able to get out of the Trade Center and nearby office buildings, and head back to New Jersey. I looked for Mike and Tuck in the crowd. If anyone could escape that building, I thought, it was those two guys — big, strong, athletic.

As we sailed back to New Jersey, nothing could prepare us for what happened next: the south tower collapsed in a massive swirl of ash. We watched in stunned silence. It was 10:05 a.m. Less than a half hour later, the north tower fell.

When our ferry finally returned to New Jersey that morning, I raced over to Mike's house to see his wife and their three young children — Cassidy, Regan, and Liam — who had been called from their classrooms like thousands of other kids along the East Coast. There had been no word yet about Mike, but we all feared the worst.

Mike had been on the 104th floor of the north tower where no one escaped. He and Tuck were among more than 2700 people killed at the Trade Center. Mike's body was found two days later.

The kids and I have since recalled funny stories about Mike, but it wasn't until this year that Regan and I talked about that day, when she was just eight. Now, as she was writing her college essays, she wanted to know everything about the attacks.

"It's a lot to take in all at once," I said.

"Sue," she responded, "there's Internet."

We poured over the boxes of magazines, newspapers and documents that we started saving nearly a decade ago. First, Regan wanted to see the Mass card from her dad's wake. Then we dug out articles from the local newspaper. Then we got to the death certificate.

"Blunt trauma to the brain," it read.

Regan didn't flinch. But the words were as chilling to me as when I'd first read them at the funeral home days after 9/11. It was what all of us would experience in the years to come — blunt trauma to the brain.

Regan and her siblings have lived with constant reminders of 9/11: images of the burning towers, ghostly footage of Osama bin Laden, the wars following the attacks, and the fights over the wars.

They have borne a nearly unbearable sorrow. And yet, like their dad, they're just about the coolest people I know.

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