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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More