'We are going to do something'
Flight 93 hero's words, deeds spur family to take action
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "We are going to do something."
At home in Bloomington, Minnesota, Burnett's mother Beverly clung to the hope that her son would find a way out of the hijacked plane and back to his family.
"All of us thought he would be able to take over the plane," she said. "I think we have always felt that he could do anything."
She will never know exactly what Tom did next. But piecing together information from phone calls and cockpit voice recordings, investigators say that he and several other passengers rushed the cockpit to wrest control from the hijackers.
The Boeing 757 crashed in a rural Pennsylvania field, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, killing 44 people aboard, including the four hijackers. But it did not hit a landmark or heavily populated site. U.S. authorities believe the plane's target was the White House as it was heading toward Washington, D.C., when the passengers launched their counterattack.
Since September 11, Tom Burnett's friends and family have tried to be true to his word -- to "do something" in the face of terror. His wife Deena, parents and boss have been among the loudest voices since the attacks in promoting charities, celebrating and evoking Tom's memory, and targeting terrorists and their supporters.
"Nothing will help, nothing for me," Beverly Burnett, wearing a pendant with her son's final words to Deena, said this month. "But these are things ... we are going to do [because] they would be important to Tommy."
D. Keith Grossman, president and CEO of the medical device company Thoratec, has no shortage of superlatives for Burnett, whom he hired nine years ago. Burnett was Thoratec's chief operating officer.
Bright, competitive, proud, funny, focused, decisive, "all the things you want in somebody to help you lead an organization," Grossman said from the firm's Pleasanton, California, headquarters. "I knew I could always count on Tom, but it was also fun because Tom was a friend."
His parents paint a similar picture, of a dedicated family man with a great sense of humor, true leadership ability and a sense of drive and purpose. They say they were not surprised when reports grouped Burnett with Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick and Mark Bingham as some of the passengers who decided to fight back.
"Nothing surprised me," said Thomas Burnett Sr., his father, his eyes welling up with tears. "Perfectly in character, absolutely perfect. He was quite a guy."
The Burnetts have talked with other relatives of Flight 93 victims. While other victims' families chose to abstain, the Burnetts made a point to hear the cockpit recordings when given the opportunity in April.
Deena said she heard the frenzied voices of the hijackers and the clear effort by the passengers to overtake them in the cockpit.
"I found more peace and comfort than I expected," she told CNN last spring.
Her mother-in-law, Beverly, said listening to the tapes is part of the healing process as well as providing more motivation to avenge Tom's death.
"We had to picture what went on with him and how horrible it was," she said. "I hope no one ever forgets, because if they forget, we won't get all the terrorists."
That was the Burnetts' aim several weeks ago when they, along with more than 600 other relatives of September 11 victims, announced a 15-count, $116 trillion lawsuit against the people and organizations they say funded, planned and carried out the terrorist attacks.
Calling themselves Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, the plaintiffs sued eight Islamic foundations, charities and their subsidiaries; seven international banks; individual terrorist financiers; the bin Laden Group; three Saudi princes; and the government of Sudan for allegedly bankrolling the al Qaeda terrorist network, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The Saudi bin Laden Group is the construction company operated in Saudi Arabia by Osama bin Laden's brothers.
"Nothing could be a greater tribute to Tom's memory," said his father. "In taking this action, we will move the terrorists financing schemes out of the shadows and into the light of day, exposing for the world the under belly behind the atrocities of 9/11 and leaving those with evil intentions with ... no place to escape accountability."
The Burnetts and Thoratec also established a fund to create free camps for children of September 11 victims, scholarships that Beverly says "are very important to us [because] they would be important to Tommy."
The public, in turn, has showered the family with attention. Pepperdine University and the University of Minnesota established scholarships in Tom's honor, with Pepperdine offering free tuition to his three young daughters. Pleasantown, California, where Thoratec is headquartered, named a street after Burnett.
U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minnesota, introduced legislation to name a Bloomington post office after him, and the state of California plans to rededicate part of a freeway in his honor, according to Beverly Burnett.
Deena Burnett has become a celebrity of sorts since September 11. She has visited the White House, carried the Olympic torch and spoken at ESPN's annual awards show, among other places.
All of it, the family says, is being done to tout the ideals and character that Tom represented and causes he would believe in. Beverly says that taking action gives her a sense of purpose, while her husband calls the activity "therapeutic."
"What he did, we feel, is right up there with the Congressional Medal of Honor winners," Tom Burnett Sr. said. "We are proud of that."
-- CNN correspondent Candy Crowley contributed to this report.
Back to top