News / USA

September 11th Loss Struck One Community Especially Hard

Death changes life for those who survive. And everyone has survived their September 11 losses differently.

For many, their safe and comfortable lifestyle here represents a fulfillment of their dreams. But that sense of security was shattered on 9/11, when 137 Middletown residents died in the terror attacks.  In this feature, we hear from some of those left behind that day.

Gwendolyn Briley-Strand, Elisabeth Torres and Mel Esdaile

The Falling Man

“His death took away the fear of death for me,” said Gwendolyn Briley-Strand. Her brother is believed to be the the man photographed falling head first out of the north tower after a hijacked plane smashed into the World Trade Center.  But she's unsure.

“The Falling Man” in Richard Drew’s famous Associated Press photograph has never been positively identified. Some say it was Jonathan Briley because of his clothes, shoes and height.

Briley-Strand still has her doubts, but says maybe it’s not necessary to know. “It didn’t matter who they were,” she says. For those who chose not to live through that day, “The decision they made was between them and their God.”

The Briley family is conflicted over the identity of “The Falling Man.” Their father, Alexander Briley, Jr., is the pastor of a Baptist church. Because of their beliefs, the family is divided as to whether to accept that this could be Jonathan.

Briley-Strand says her father called their brothers and sisters together in their family living room that day to pray for Jonathan.  “He demanded God give him his miracle, which he knew God could do. He asked that God return his son.” The next day, Briley-Strand says, officials called. They had found Jonathan’s body.

Thousands more died that day.

Muslim Convert

Elisabeth Torres lost eight relatives that day. Then she converted to Islam, married an Egyptian and changed her name to Safia el-Kasaby. Sitting with her youngest daughter and two cats in her quiet Florida home, lit only by candles, el-Kasaby explains that the terrorists, not Islam, were behind the attacks.

“The religion doesn’t tell you go destroy anything. These people who did this were manipulated, were brain-washed,” she says.

But el-Kasaby’s family did not support her conversion. They didn’t understand why she would embrace the religion they blamed for the September 11 attacks, or why she would marry outside her culture, to an Egyptian man 22 years her junior.

Her oldest daughter, Sylvia would not talk to her after her own husband, a navy pilot, died in training during America’s war on terror.

El-Kasaby is a dedicated student of Islam. It is not unusual for her to correct Muslims when they confuse cultural practices with religious teachings, “because I know,” she says. “If a person, a Muslim, an Arab tells you, this is how we do things, I can say to them, ‘No, that’s your culture, that’s not Islam.’ I just didn’t see it, I read it, I study it.”

If You Could Walk in My Shoes

For one survivor, the entire horror of 9/11 is held in a dusty pair of brown leather shoes. For Mel Esdaile they are a symbol of risk and survival.

Esdaile was working at a securities firm on the 22nd floor of the world trade center when he heard a loud boom. Then the floor beneath him started moving. “We thought it was an earthquake.”

It was in those brown shoes that he ran down 22 flights of stairs to safety. Once on the ground, he could hear the flames crackling above him. “It just was unbelievable that this tower was on fire,” he recalls.

He kept on walking another 40 city blocks towards home - past crying men and women with blank faces, still in shock at what had happened. Ten years later, he still scans the New York City skyline. “I always look back, looking for the tower. I know it’s not there, but in my mind, it’s almost - it’s like the moon is gone.”

Esdaile keeps his shoes on a bookshelf at work, close to his desk. As the president of an investment management firm, he uses the shoes when he meets with clients to illustrate risk - in life and in financial investments. “They sort of bring it to life that anything can happen. That life is not, there’s no certainty, and our job is to help you to prepare,” he says.

For him, the shoes are a reminder to enjoy life and to be ready for anything that might happen.


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid