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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid