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The Story of Two Victims - 2001-09-16


The terrorist attacks on the United States Tuesday resulted in thousands of casualties. This is the story of two victims, one at the Pentagon and one in New York. One alive. And one probably not.

Melissa Hughes of San Francisco, California was on a business trip to Manhattan. An employee of Slam Dunk Networks, she was attending a conference high atop one of the two towers of the World Trade Center. At a little after 9am Eastern Standard Time she attempted to call her husband. Because of the three hour time difference Sean Hughes was still asleep.

When he awoke he heard this message left on his answering machine. "Sean, it's me. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and that I'm stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit the building, or a bomb went off. There's lots of smoke. I just wanted you to know I love you, always," the message said.

Mr. Hughes said of the message, "It is a blessing in a sense that my wife reached out in such a desperate moment. Just to tell me that she loved me."

Sean Hughes and Melissa celebrated their first wedding anniversary on August 19. Sean is now in New York searching for his wife. "There is, without a doubt, there is hope," he said. "Melissa is out there. We will find her. We have a network here. My company sponsored a technology center, a web site. We have an infrastructure that is going to find Melissa."

The odds are not good. On Tuesday morning Michael Kurtz, another husband married to his wife for 31 years, was watching events unfold on his television set. His wife was at her new job at the Pentagon. "I first thought an airplane had a problem and accidentally crashed into the building," he said. "Then, to my surprise, I watched the second airline situation happen and unfold. Then, I heard on the news that something had happened at the Pentagon."

"Of course, thinking of my wife's second day, I was in a sheer panic. I had worked at the Pentagon a few years ago. I was familiar with the set up of the building. When I saw where the impact was, I immediately knew she was there. I looked at my daughter who I had brought home because of things I had heard and I immediately started to cry. Of course, my daughter, seeing me, started to cry. It just started a whole wall of crying. I'm hoping the phone will ring, that I'm okay."

The phone did ring. It was about one o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. And, everything was not okay. Someone from an area hospital called to tell Michael Kurtz that his wife was in serious condition.

"When I got to the hospital the staff was tremendous. They helped me walk up the stairs. Later, I found out that my wife had burns over 70% of her body, proportional third degree, second degree, etc. I stood there numb. I didn't recognize my wife," he said.

Since Tuesday, Mr. Kurtz says that his wife's condition has improved. She recognizes him, can make gestures, and the swelling is down. He is encouraged. "We'll start therapy, skin grafting. I'm hoping three, four months max. We're going through this day by day. She's my soul mate. We're going to make it. That's the bottom line."

Two victims in two different cities. Two husbands with two different stories to tell.

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