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Remembering the Victims of September 11

Aired January 1, 2002 - 12:41   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, as we spend the balance of this half hour with our attention on the victims of September 11, and the countless other victims of those who were left behind.

CNN's Brian Palmer touched base with one Connecticut family, a mother, a son and the unborn child he will never know as father.



BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixteen-month-old Tyler is more than a handful for Kim Statkevicus, a young Norwalk, Connecticut mother, who is eight months pregnant with her second child. Kim's husband, Derek, was with her in the delivery room when she gave birth to Tyler.

This time, he won't be there. He was in the World Trade Center on September 11. Kim called him for the last time a few minutes before 9:00 a.m.

STATKEVICUS: I did say, Do you see the smoke? And he said, "I can smell it at my desk." And at that point, I got a little nervous.

PALMER: At first, grieving took a back seat to practical matters, like maintaining Tyler's normal routine. But grief caught up with her.

STATKEVICUS: Little things will set me off that, you know -- a song or a picture or something will remind me of Derek, and I'll start to cry. And it's hard with Tyler, because you can't really, you know, he doesn't understand it. He sees me cry sometimes, but I have to keep it together. And so at night, a lot of times, that's when I'm able to really let go.

PALMER: Letting go means opening herself to the waves of memories of the man she married barely four years ago.

STATKEVICUS: He's very funny. He was smart. He loved being a dad, and having the dog, little squirt. And he really just wanted to provide for his family.

PALMER: Tyler is still too young to realize what has happened.

STATKEVICUS: He goes to the bookcase and takes daddy's picture down and kisses it and carries it around with him. And so he knows who his dad is, and he misses him. I don't think -- but he doesn't realize -- I mean, if Derek walked through the door tomorrow, Tyler would remember him and run to him.

PALMER: A woman of faith with a supportive family, Kim is excited at the prospect of having a second child, in spite of her loss.

STATKEVICUS: When I think people feel sorry for me, and I see it as a blessing, because Tyler will not be an only child. He will have a brother.

PALMER: That blessing's name: Derek Chase Statkevicus. Derek, for his father, Chase, a name they chose before her husband died.

Brian Palmer, CNN, Norwalk, Connecticut.


HARRIS: Lauren Grandcolas was aboard Flight 93, the hijacked United plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. A writer with a sense of adventure, she and her husband were preparing to start a family that now will never be.

Here now is CNN's Rusty Dornin.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Life was chock full of adventurous possibilities for Lauren Grandcolas. Whether it was scuba diving or sky-diving, Grandcolas was game.

JACK GRANDCOLAS, HUSBAND: She was strong. She -- everyone who knew her would not say that she would back down from anything. And she embraced life that way, and she -- she was not afraid, ever, of anything.

DORNIN: No fear in her voice when she left her husband, Jack, a message on September 11th. She called from Flight 93, two months' pregnant with their first child.

GRANDCOLAS: And she said. "Jack, pick up sweetie, can you hear me?" And then she said, "OK. I just want to tell you, there's a little problem with the plane. I am fine. I'm totally fine," actually is what she said. She said, "I just want to tell you how much I love you."

DORNIN: Little has been touched in their house in San Rafael, California, since the day she left. On the dining room table, tokens of sympathy. Everywhere, images of their life together, and signs that will always remain.

GRANDCOLAS: We try to, you know, keep their pictures up here, and -- but Lauren had written on this pad here. DORNIN: "Get busy living or get busy dying." She was busy working on a book about improving self-esteem for women, a book her husband hopes to get published in her memory.

GRANDCOLAS: And the sadness is there in every little thing, whether it's a picture or clothing or what have you. And, that, I have learned is a good thing, to embrace it and to remember it and to hold onto it.

DORNIN: Holding on through the holidays has been tough this year.

GRANDCOLAS: So, did you guys have a good Christmas?

DORNIN: But, surrounded by family and friends, Grandcolas says he feels blessed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ....of lost loved ones....


DORNIN: He keeps in contact with other victims' families. While some are pressing to release the cockpit-voice recording, Grandcolas says he's not sure he wants to hear it.

GRANDCOLAS: If they decide to release it, then fine, I'll listen to it. If they don't I'm not going to -- it's probably a very sad transcript and tape, and I'd rather focus on the beautiful message that my wife left me, which was one of incredible courage, calmness and love.

DORNIN: His love for 16 years, his hero, forever.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, San Rafael, California


HARRIS: Just one of the many countless, touching stories coming from September 11.

And we here at CNN pay tribute to the victims of September 11 with our own on-line memorial. Find that at And when you go there, you can search the list there by name or by employer, by hometown or even by crash site. You can also leave behind a message or send a tribute of your own to one of those who are listed. The AOL keyword there, of course, is CNN.

For some who lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center, moving on from the tragedy means staying in a neighborhood filled with painful memories. That story just ahead.


HARRIS: Welcome back. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the idea of celebrating life's happy moments seemed beyond imagining. But you know, as time passed and the holidays approached, communities close to the Trade Center site looked for ways to celebrate while still remembering those they lost.

Here now, CNN's Jason Carroll.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been a while since people who lived in the shadows of the World Trade Center have been able to come together, to smile and rejoice. But Battery Park City...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The park is crowded today.

CARROLL: ... is a community that's slowly coming back to life, one family at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not going to have the life that we had back, but we weren't ready to just pick up and move somewhere else.

CARROLL: Nancy and Kevin Loving, along with thousands of others, fled their homes on September 11th. They are among the few who want to return.

But for months, it hasn't been safe.

NANCY LOVING, BATTERY PARK CITY RESIDENT: They detected asbestos and fiberglass, so they are doing an abatement.

CARROLL: Their home is a window away from Ground Zero. In their children's bedrooms, scattered clothes. On a desk in the living room, disorganized papers. A metaphor for their lives, which has been interrupted by several moves into temporary apartments, and many goodbyes to friends who've decided it's just too painful to stay.



CARROLL (on camera): Do you understand, though, why some people want to leave?

S. LOVING: Absolutely.

KEVIN LOVING, BATTERY PARK RESIDENT: Oh, absolutely, yes. I mean, it has proven to be very difficult.

CARROLL (voice-over): In such a difficult time, it's hard working in a holiday, or even having the spirit.

S. LOVING: Now, on to the Christmas list. Let's try get happy. I know it's hard.

CARROLL (on camera): In combination with everything else that you're dealing with, how do you do that? How does that work?

S. LOVING: Well, we've had to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) laughing because...



S. LOVING: It will work.

K. LOVING: I think it does.

S. LOVING: No, it will work. It will work.

S. LOVING: What about puzzles? He really loves puzzles.

S. LOVING: There is so much sadness, but at the same time, it is so important. Shopping yesterday for some of the Christmas things, it made me happy again. It made me real happy, because you know what? It was our opportunity to give, to stop focusing on ourselves.

CARROLL: Instead of themselves, the Lovings are focusing on others, namely their three children, Weston (ph), Elise (ph), and Elliot.


K. LOVING: Yes, that's good. That right there. That's good.


CARROLL: This Christmas, they made a few ornaments.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Skipper (ph), Sonny (ph) and, I think, Billy.

CARROLL: And added the names of their schoolmates who moved away. By the New Year, they should be back in their real homes, but they say they already have the best gift of all, each other.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


HARRIS: Well, in terms of numbers, the losses were fewer at the Pentagon, but the anguish for those whose loved ones died has been no less intense. For one woman whose husband was killed in the Pentagon attack, moving on has meant paying tribute.


ELIZABETH ANDERSON HOWELL, OLYMPIC TORCH CARRIER: This experience was beyond description. It was a combination of so many things. Probably if I had to sum it up into three feelings, I would say pride for the -- for my husband and the ideals that he represented, and for the fallen heroes of September 11. Probably humility for being asked to carry the flame, and in such a remarkable place. And also just sheer excitement for the opportunity to do something like this.

The president is one of the most congenial men. He put his arm around me. He said, "I am so sorry for your loss." Then he -- we were standing there, and he leaned over and said, "I am so cold." I told him a little bit about Brady, just shortly. And he said, "I know; I know it -- how great he was."

Brady was all-American by every standard of the word. He made me proud. Brady was working as a Navy civilian in the Pentagon in the Naval Command Center. And he was a presidential management intern. He was working as an intelligence officer in the command center, and had just received his top-secret clearance a couple of weeks prior, and that was one of his lifelong goals.

Mostly, I am sustained by the prayers that have been offered in my behalf, and also the hope -- there's hope that there will be a better and brighter day, and that has been manifest through the aftermath of September 11 -- how countries have come together; how people here in our nation have come to one another's aid. And things are getting better. And it's this knowledge that is keeping me going.

I felt Brady's presence with me before I started the race. And I knew he was looking out for me, and I knew he was proud. He was proud, because he was such outstanding man. He was very proud of what was going on today.


HARRIS: For one survivor of the Pentagon crash, the road to recovery has been a tough one, and even more challenges lie ahead. But coming back stronger than ever is just his way of honoring those who did not make it. Here is CNN's Jonathan Aiken.


JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is a simple Christmas tree in the home of Lieutenant Colonel Brian and Mel Birdwell.

LT. COL. BRIAN BIRDWELL, SURVIVOR OF TERRORIST ATTACK: Even though it's the same tree that we've had for several years, it just looks prettier this Christmas.

AIKEN: Christmas at the Birdwell's isn't about fancy. It's about thanks. The only reason there is even a Christmas at the Birdwell home is because he had to leave his Pentagon office on the morning of September 11.

B. BIRDWELL: My morning Coke had kicked in, and I had to go to the men's room right after we watched the plane go into -- the second plane hit the tower.


AIKEN: He never made it back.


B. BIRDWELL: I was returning. I had only had taken three, four steps out of the restroom, and then the explosion and the concussion had occurred.

AIKEN: American Airlines Flight 77 had just crashed into the Pentagon. He was 40 yards away.

B. BIRDWELL: You heard the sound, then the concussion knocked me down, and that's when the fireball comes through. I do not recall seeing fire coming at me, whether I was laying on my back or otherwise. I remember -- I am trying to get to my feet to get up, and I'm on fire.

AIKEN: As the first alarms were sounded, Colonel Birdwell fought to stand up and get back to his office.

B. BIRDWELL: As I struggled -- I mean, I didn't wait to call out to my Lord and Savior. I, you know, because I knew I was in bad shape. And without, you know, God's help, I was not going to get out of here. But I, you know, cried out, you know, "Jesus, I am coming to see you."

Mel Birdwell was home-schooling their 12-year-old son Matthew when a friend called and told her a plane had hit the Pentagon.

MEL BIRDWELL, WIFE OF PENTAGON SURVIVOR: So I knew if he were in his office, that he was standing at the Throne of God, because there is just no way that he could have survived it. Because where the plane hit was three windows from his window, from where his desk was.

AIKEN: While plumes of smoke rose from the Pentagon, Brian Birdwell collapsed under a corridor sprinkler, which doused the flames that had burned almost half of his body. After months of therapy, Lieutenant Colonel Birdwell wears compression gloves that reduce the scarring, protect his hands, and make it hard to use a fork.

B. BIRDWELL: My mom used to teach, you know, how you hold your fork between your middle and forefinger to, you know, to eat properly. Well, now I have to stab it, you know, like some untrained or ill- mannered person, and so it looks like I don't have any manners, but I got to do it to eat, so.


AIKEN: Out of the hospital and home for Christmas, the Birdwells begin to rebuild their lives.

B. BIRDWELL: Hey, Kurt. How are you doing buddy?

AIKEN: A chance to see old friends at a Christmas party, receive the purple heart that was pinned to his hospital pillow, and join his co-workers once more as they honored those who died by carrying the Olympic torch from the Pentagon. Despite the physical pain and the searing memories of 9-11...

B. BIRDWELL: Oh, gosh that hurt.

AIKEN: Brian Birdwell's gift this Christmas comes from within: faith, determination and hope.

B. BIRDWELL: It'll be a time of joy. Hey, you know, I just spent the last thirteen weeks in the hospital. Folks, I'm back.

AIKEN: Back with his family, and the light of a simple Christmas tree that never looked better.

Jonathan Aiken for CNN, Washington.


HARRIS: And that concludes our look now at the victims of September 11 and the lives that were touched by them and their loss.




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