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Families of Victims Wait in Line to Give Information

Aired September 13, 2001 - 18:44   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lou's last comments there about his colleague and her husband who is still missing at that point really brings to mind a lot of people have asked us over the years as journalist, doesn't it ever bother you to see the horrible things you have to cover and it does.

I think people forget that we are human too and sometimes our pain, too, enters into the story as it did this afternoon. Our colleague Elizabeth Cohen out at the New York Armory in New York, joins us now and Elizabeth, we see so many of those people behind you desperately holding up pictures of their loved ones.

Any chance that somebody might have seen them or know anything about them, it is just heartbreaking?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I have spoken to countless people today and yesterday. And all of them -- every single one have hope -- that their brother, their sister, their wife, their husband, their best friend will be found. No one I've spoken to has given up hope. I want to give you sort of a flavor for what's happening here.

Behind me at the Armory, hundreds, if not thousands of people have stood in line to give authorities information to file reports. The authorities are taking it all down, they are telling people to bring in dental records. They are telling people to bring in blood samples of close relatives so that there could be a DNA match if a body is found.

What you hear behind me, that noise is a generator. It is generating lights for the police, because they are going to be doing this into the night and they need lights to help people figure out where to go.

I want to show you sort of what is going on here. This woman right here is looking for her sister, Bridget. She works on the 94th floor of Tower One. She worked for American Express. This woman here is looking for Yvonne Benomo (ph). She worked on the 94th floor also for American Express. She's 30-year-old.

This woman here is looking for her son and her daughter. They are both missing. They both work for windows on the world in the 106th floor of the first tower. Her son is Rasean Sing (ph) and her daughter is Kamini (ph). They're 21 and 25-year-old. And she's looking for both of them.

People are putting signs also all over the city. You can see these flyers. They're pasted on restaurants, on the sides of trucks, on walls, everywhere, advertising, saying please, if you have heard anything about this person, please call this number. You can see for example, just right over here, on this police barricade, people have posted up these signs saying missing, please call.

People, here you see them with their children. We've seen a lot of weddings photographs, I guess that's what people have handy. And people are just looking for some sign really, for any sign, about what's happened. I'm going to talk now to the Bustillo (ph) family. They've been searching, two brothers and a sister, Henry and Gilbert Bustillo, and their sister Desa (ph) are searching for their brother, Melton.

What was the last anyone heard from your brother?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last we heard it was my sister. She spoke to him on Monday, and he was so happy that he just purchased this new house. And he was just really glad and then he went into work on Tuesday and we haven't heard since. And it's such a tragedy. We have been looking for him for three days already, and we haven't found anything.

We stand in line, changing, swapping information -- swap information with, you know, other people that are missing their loved ones.

COHEN: And many people from his company are missing, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cantor Fitzgerald (ph) was located between 101 and 104. And that's where the impact hit the most. And it's -- we're waiting. I mean, we're waiting for some results. For the company even to come up and step up and look for us, and say, give us some little comfort. You know, because we need their support as well. And we have not seen them yet.

Please, if anybody has seen my brother, please give us a call. You could reach us at 201-346-9018, or you can reach his wife at 1- 718-698-6982. She is desperately, desperately looking for him or to hear about him. He just -- he has a daughter, seven month old, and he's really...

COHEN: You could hear that people in the background are yelling the names of their loved ones, yelling out phone numbers. People are doing anything to add -- to let everyone know that they're still looking for their loved ones. No one here is given up hope -- Joie.

CHEN: Elizabeth, I want you to take a deep breath, because I know that you're as moved as we all are about the Bustillos (ph) and their story, and those of so many people around you.

It is hard for me to believe that there is no other, more structured way that these people could get some information. I mean, here we are in the 21st century. Shouldn't there be some way they should be able to find out more than just standing out on the street corner?

COHEN: Well, there is a more structured way, Joie. I mean, what you see behind me is the armory, where the people have been in line for, you know, hours and hours. There was a line also at NYU Medical Center yesterday, and so there is a more structured way. You go in, you tell the authorities the name, you fill out this report, it had, you know, I think almost 10 pages. The color of their eyes, exactly what they were wearing. The descriptions to a tee. And so that they can know if they see that person, they can link them up.

So people have actually been very complimentary of how the authorities have handled this. One thing the people have not been complimentary of, the families I've spoken to, is the Internet sites. There are several Internet sites, but it's not -- several of them listed people as being OK and found who weren't found and who may not be OK. So, the Internet sites, I think people are -- although the Internet should be a tool in this situation, apparently these sites aren't secure and they are not completely factual.

CHEN: Elizabeth, there are others, so many other people around you. We want to give some of them a chance. Can you talk to some of those other folks around you about the people they're looking for? There's a woman there to your right. She's really been trying very hard to bring her loved ones.

COHEN: OK, OK, let's talk to her. Hi there, tell me who you are looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking for my older nephew. He's 28 years old. He was on the top floor on the first hitting, in the North Tower. He worked for Genuity company, was only nine people in the company. We heard people up to floor 106. Somebody at least heard from one person on the floor 107, to let me know he was on the phone with his boss a couple of minutes before the first hitting of the towers. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COHEN: He was on the 107th floor of which tower?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the North Tower, the first one to be hit.

COHEN: And he was on the phone with his boss, and what did he say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, that was just technical conversation. He hung up, and two seconds after that the first airplane hit at the tower. We heard people up to the 106 floor, OK? If somebody heard from 107 floor, that's all that we need to know.

COHEN: OK, thank you, ma'am. Let me talk to the gentleman behind you. Hold on. Sir, could you tell me who you're looking for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is my cousin, her name is Tanial McDay (ph). She works for Marsh, I believe in Tower One, 97th floor. And if anybody has seen her or anybody heard of anything, please contact. We have the number here, 732-499-7118. If anybody seen her, please contact us. And we really do miss her, and God bless everybody.

COHEN: Can you tell me when was the last time anyone heard from her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last time was -- it was approximately 8:30. She spoke to one of our relatives, stating that she was OK. She was at work. And that's the last time we heard from her.

COHEN: She said she was OK after one of the explosions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. This was approximately when she got to work. It was approximately 8:30. She was telling us that she got to work OK. So, that's the last time we have seen her.

COHEN: Now, have you gone and spoken to the authorities in the armory, have they been helpful?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they have. My family and everybody, staffs and police department, fire department, everybody has been very helpful. We filled out the claim and everything, you know, to try to find -- to try to find her. So everybody has been doing a great job.

COHEN: OK, thank you, sir. Let me -- sir, can you move forward a little bit? Can you tell me who you are looking for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking for my cousin Nino Gargano.

COHEN: And where -- what floor was he on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think 104, 103, in the North Tower, tower number one.

COHEN: When was the last anyone heard from him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tuesday morning. His mom and -- he went to work, his mom said good-bye, gave him a big kiss and never saw him again. So, we are still looking. Entire family looking for him. Got posters all over the place.

COHEN: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm the wife of Peter Mutos (ph), and we just want to let all his relatives know and Peter as well that we're not going to give up until we find you. We love you.

COHEN: Where was he in the World Trade Center?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was on the 100th floor, in building number one.

COHEN: And did anyone hear from him just before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only lead I have is that there's a William Mutos (ph) in the World Trade Center, and that -- so right now what I need is the master list of people that were in the World Trade Center, because Mutos (ph) is not a common name, and my thought is that there might be a cross in the first name when they were retyping the list.

COHEN: Now, what have you done -- I'm sure you spent the past two days now trying to find him. Tell me what you have done in your search.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basically, I have gone to the sites, I have gone to St. Vincent's, where they have a master list, and I've checked upon the list that they have of people there. I went to Bellevue, because there they also print out an hourly list of updating. I went to the Red Cross yesterday, on 29th -- 29th Street and First Avenue.

I've also been getting information, which is important, is the recent medical history, any other dental records or anything, as well as to help them find him. And presently, also going to just the individual hospitals and giving him a picture, as well as posting this picture around so that if per chance is -- he is -- he doesn't know what happened to him, he will be able to read this himself and be able to call this Marsh number. Marsh, for their employees, they have a crisis center set up, in which they're also helping us. In fact, this is what they printed for us.

COHEN: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you. There is another family who we want to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same floor. Same floor.

COHEN: He was on the same floor...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same floor, same building.

COHEN: He was on the same floor. Tell me about the person you're looking for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for Salvatore Zize (ph), my brother-in-law, who has two children at home and a very large family. The pain that we feel, we express the same sentimentality to the thousands of people that are out in the street. As much pain as we feel, we wish everyone else here our best.

The experience that we've had from all the authorities that we've dealt with, including everything that the girl before me mentioned, the same process, the same sources, everybody is doing their best to help. There are thousands of people on the street from every organization and then some trying to help us all.

COHEN: Tell me, there seems to be some sort of the brotherhood, a sisterhood that's going on in this street corner?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't seen the American karma come together like this since the Vietnam War. Everybody feels the same way. Everybody has anger, but everybody has compassion. There's no script to what to say and there's no script for how to feel. I've run into probably 10 people that have Marsh McLennan signs on their pictures. I don't know their names and I don't know where they're from, but they have hugged me and they've cried with me together. Everybody's feeling the same thing. There is no script, however we're reading off of the same lines.

COHEN: And do you think, do people still have hope?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody has hope, but I think everybody is prepared to face what they have to face. I think they're facing it the best they can. Like I say, there's no script.

COHEN: When was the last time you heard from Sal, or anyone heard from Sal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sal's wife, who is home right now with his two children, spoke to him 10 minutes before the plane hit the building. We have absolutely no contact from anyone other than the Red Cross.

COHEN: OK. Thank you, sir. Let me move to some people who are behind you. Thank you, sir.


COHEN: Ma'am, tell me, you are Yvonne's (ph) best friend, tell me about Yvonne (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're looking for Yvonne (ph). She was on the 94th floor. She was an AmEx employee who worked at Marsh McLennan. Please, somebody from any floors, from 88 and up, please call our number, 917-364-4906. and tell us what happened. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if anybody got out and if anyone made it, please call us. We're looking for her.

Please, 917-364-4906.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she is a great girl and we have hope we're going to find her.

COHEN: Tell me what you've done. Have you searched through the city?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were everywhere. We went to the hospital. We've registered her. We've called the hospitals.

Please, if anyone on the 94th floor got out, please call us and let us know. Our parents are besides themselves at home. We're waiting to hear anything, please.

COHEN: Thank you. Thank you.

Tell me, your sister, you're looking for your sister.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My sister, Brigid Esposito (ph), She works right next to Yvonne Bonono on the 94 floor at One World Trade Center. The last time I spoke to her was at 20 to 8:00 before the blast, just like a regular day. And I haven't heard from her since then.

COHEN: And did you -- tell me what you've done to search for her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been to every hospital in the city. We went to 28th and 1st Avenue yesterday and registered her. We've been on several TV channels begging people that if they see her, to find her for me.

If anyone finds her, please call 718-436-9177 for Michael Esposito or Yvette at 718-339-6380.

COHEN: Ma'am, do you still have hope?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a lot of hope. She's also with her best friend, Ben Valentine. He sits right next to Brigid and Yvonne as well. So if anybody sees him, call our families. We're looking desperately for them.

COHEN: OK. Thank you, ma'am.

And ma'am, you are looking for Sal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking for my son, Sal. He left home that morning and he hasn't called back since then. He's a cadet. He's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- most probably, as soon as he came into Manhattan, he just flagged someone down to go down and help the people in the World Trade Center bombing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just to help -- to help people, take them out. He's a trained EMT. If anybody has seen, most probably he's helping people.

COHEN: So he was near the building at the time of the explosion and went in to help people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what I think. He usually, he comes into Manhattan like about 9:15, 9:20, and then he has to take the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) train to go uptown. So most probably, he flagged someone to go downtown to help assist in the rescue.

If anybody has seen, if they would just help. Call us at 718- 225-7883. And if anybody has seen him (UNINTELLIGIBLE) over there.

COHEN: Tell me how old Sal is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's 23 years old. He just graduated from college and he just found a job at Rockefeller University.

COHEN: Thank you, ma'am.

Sir, tell me -- tell me who you're looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for Pablo Ortiz. He works at the World Trade Center on the 88th floor. He called his wife early in the morning on Tuesday, told her the 88th floor was being evacuated, he was leaving. He left and they never found him again. They haven't seen him. COHEN: So it's this gentleman right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the gentleman right there with my mother, and we've been looking for him. And my sister has been doing all the work, and I finally (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's hard. And it's -- if anybody has seen him, just call the number here: 1-212-673-1292. Anybody.

COHEN: Do you still have hope, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I have hopes? Yes, I have hopes. And I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took two days to get out of my house to do this, so it's hard. I can understand why these people are suffering and crying. This is -- it's hard -- it's hard for me. I don't know. I shake.

COHEN: It took you two days, meaning you just emotionally could not get out of your house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I made it to my mother's house down on the Lower East Side and I just made it -- started walking today. I just started walking today. My sister has been doing it for two days. And she's got a lot of hope. And I'm just picking up where she left off.

COHEN: Thank you. Thank you, sir.

Joie, as you can tell it is just an endless sea of people who are looking for their loved-ones, who are doing anything they can to find some sign, any sign -- Joie.

CHEN: Elizabeth Cohen at the Armory. Elizabeth, stand by there. We see so much emotion in those people around you. It is just -- it...

HEMMER: You can see -- you can see the desperation and you can hear the hope in their voices. And sometimes when they don't talk...

CHEN: And they're putting up their pictures.

HEMMER: And sometimes when they don't talk, they just stair and you can see their faces being so empty. But this is clearly a human side to this story, Elizabeth.

It was about 2 1/2 hours ago when we first saw your initial interview. We were quite struck by not only your interview but also the reaction. And to give the folks at home a better indication of what quite honestly we go through covering a story like this, we want to take you back 2 1/2 hours ago.


VINNY COMAGE (ph), SEARCHING FOR FATHER: ... my father knew how to operate the rig. So he brought down all the workers to inspect the building.

COHEN: If you think your father might be out there somewhere, what would you want to say to him?

COMAGE: I want to tell him that we all miss him. His little nephew Luke misses him, and that we're strong. We've got hope.

COHEN: Thank you.

COMAGE: Thank you.

COHEN: Aaron, I've been talking to these families for two days now and all of these stories are very much like this. People are just hoping that their relatives are out there somewhere. And they're begging us to talk about them, to show their pictures, hoping that if someone has seen them, that they might be able to identify them and give some information -- Aaron.


HEMMER: Elizabeth, that was 2 1/2 hours ago, as we mentioned, and I know it must be extremely difficult for you having a family back here in Atlanta to hear those stories. But you're serving a purpose there and you're giving them hope to get their message out. And the thing that strikes me is the number of people who stick their pictures inside the camera frame in order to see, hey, maybe there's someone watching somewhere who may recognize their loved-one.

CHEN: And I see so much politeness in what they're doing. I mean, everybody knows that other people is suffering, too. Nobody is shoving anyone else out of the way. They all have a story to tell, but they seem to be giving each other a chance.

COHEN: I can't hear anything. You can tell Miriam what you'd like me to talk about.

HEMMER: I appreciate it, OK. All right, Elizabeth, we're going to let you go there. We apologize for that. But indeed, that's the human element that we're seeing throughout this. And believe me, it's just begun at this point...

CHEN: Yeah.

HEMMER: ... because these stories will continue to trickle out by the thousands at some point.

CHEN: Well, we want to give our viewers another opportunity. If there is a chance that your picture has not been seen of those, those relatives that are still missing, we're quite concerned. CNN is trying to open up an opportunity for our viewers to be able to get those pictures out on the Internet.

We know that there are some Internet services that have not been quite credible. This is the service. If you can e-mail us the picture of your missing loved-one at, -- that's the address, send in your picture. If you a missing person that you're looking for. And please, we do ask that people try to use the system judiciously and honestly. There are so many people who have suffered so much loss, please do not use this unless you really have a need to.

Also, There's a link there to get your picture used on the Web if there's any chance...

HEMMER: Yes. Quite likely, also, as we look at the quick vote online, we're just taking the pulse in a very unscientific fashion here at about what Americans feel about what they're seeing and hearing and watching throughout the week. This is a question: What are your feelings about Tuesday's terrorist attacks? And you can see the options there: shock, sorrow or anger. And clearly, nearly half are saying at this point they feel anger.

And Joie, just from knowing this quick vote over the past year, typically we might have 30,000 to 40,000 votes there, but this is well over half-a-million. And what we saw earlier was, you know, initially a feeling of disillusionment on Tuesday into Wednesday, but clearly it's in to anger at this point.



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