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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs