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9/11 Hearings will Bring Back Painful Memories for Victims' Families - 2004-05-17


Hearings in New York this week are expected to provide an emotional reconstruction of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center disaster.

Washington security advisors and counter-terrorism officials have given detailed testimony to the 9/11 Commission. But now the hearings are expected to take a more personal turn, as top New York City government, fire and police officials and eyewitnesses tell the Commission where they were on September 11 and what they remember of that morning.

Officials say video of firefighters rushing to save people from the burning buildings will also be shown, in an attempt to reconstruct the disaster.

Some of the footage was already broadcast in the United States in the months after the attacks. It includes the crashing sound of bodies hitting the pavement after people jumped from the top floors of the towers, as well as fire chiefs struggling to communicate on malfunctioning radios.

A special seating area has been arranged for the families of those killed. Among them will be retired firefighter Jimmy Boyle, a former head of the firefighters' union. His son, Michael, was a firefighter who was killed when the north tower collapsed. Mr. Boyle expects to see footage of the last minutes of his son's life, and he says it will be difficult to watch.

"I spoke to him at 8:35, he was off-duty because he had been relieved of duty," he recalled. "And then I saw him on that film, he is on that film in the lobby, in his last moments as he reports in and goes up into the building. So it is tough. My wife prefers not to talk about it. She keeps it very close to her heart, and I like to talk about it. I think that's my therapy."

Many victims' families have called on the 9/11 Commission to identify what went wrong and solve communications and safety issues in case of a future attack. But not all are prepared to relive the emotional details surrounding September 11.

Nina Barnes lost her cousin, a 34-year-old firefighter. "I know for me that in my heart everyday I live 9/11 over and over again," she said. "I can not speak for other families, but for me, I feel that there is no closure, and I do not know if being there is going to make it any better."

Even though Mr. Boyle expects that going over the events of September 11 will be hard, he says it is important for the nation to examine what led to the terror attacks and to recall how the nation coped in the aftermath.

"I remember the country right after it happened, how we all rallied together and we went to war on terrorism and people seem to be forgetting that now," he said. "That sort of claws at me. I am not a Republican or a Democrat, I am just saying that [Bush] did declare war on terrorism. On Sept. 11 enough people hated us in the Arab world to kill 3,000 of us. How the heck can we stop? How can we back off it now? So I want the public to realize what happens, that is why I want to keep 9/11 in the front pages."

The 9/11 Commission is a bipartisan panel set up by the Bush Administration, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the September 11 attacks and provide recommendations on how to prevent future threats.

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