It was supposed to be just another ordinary day.
Terry Strada’s husband Tom, a 41-year-old bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, got up and went to work. She was home that Tuesday morning with their three children, one of whom was starting nursery school.
Then the phone rang. Heartbreak ensued.
Tom, standing on the 104th floor of the North Tower of Manhattan’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, told her a plane smashed into the building beneath his feet. Smoke billowed out of the tower.
A cacophony of panicked background screams infused the phone call with a sense of deep despair. Her heart sank.
“Something horrible was happening,” Strada recently recounted to The Post. “He had a cellphone. He was with a group of friends, and they were going to the stairwell.”
That was the last she ever heard from him.
Although feeling blessed that Tom had the opportunity to say goodbye and that he loved her, Strada also now has to live with the profound burden of that gut-wrenching call.
Tom was one of the 2,977 victims who perished that dark day — and Monday, on the 22nd anniversary of the attack, the raw pain that family members such as Strada still feel will be as palpable and fresh as ever while their fight for justice rages on.
Top on the minds of many 9/11 family members-turned-activists are federal documents being withheld from the public about Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement, as well as the plea deals being mulled involving some of the attack’s masterminds.
“Not only are we fighting the Saudi government, we’re fighting our own government,” Dennis McGinley told The Post. “It’s like our government is helping the murderers.”
McGinley lost his oldest brother, Danny, who was in the South Tower that day.
McGinley is infuriated by the fact that the Pentagon is contemplating plea deals for some al-Qaeda detainees such as purported 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
McGinley’s family and other victims’ kin received a letter informing them about the potential deals several weeks ago, though last week the Biden administration rejected some of the concessions being considered.
“They’re telling us it’s probably not going to go to court, and the reason is they don’t want there to be a trial because these terrorists in Guantanamo Bay — they’re gonna spill the beans” on Saudi Arabia’s involvement and alleged US failures in teh run-up to the attack, McGinley surmised.
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s attorneys in Guantanamo Bay told our attorneys, ‘If you guys had this information [everyone] would be up in arms,’ ” McGinley added.
For years, family members have feuded with the government over files that could shed more light on how the terrorist attack was orchestrated.
In 2021, President Biden signed an executive order directing the government to divulge additional information about the attack.
One of the many bombshell revelations in the trove was an FBI report summary alleging that Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi had correspondence with at least two of the hijackers and with Saudi government entities in the US.
The report detailed more information on al-Bayoumi and other Saudi fingerprints on the attack than was previously known.
This summary came from the FBI’s Operation ENCORE, which investigated 9/11.
Victims’ family members are still seeking outstanding material, including on al-Bayoumi’s potential role.
Saudi Arabia has strenuously denied any culpability for the heinous slaughter of Americans that day.
“We’re tired of having to fight this fight,” bemoaned Brett Eagleson, head of 9/11 Justice. “We would just love for a president to demand that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia admit fault and be held accountable,”
Brett was a 15-year-old high-school sophomore when his father Bruce, 53, was on the 17th floor of the South Tower working a gig for Westfield Meriden Mall on 9/11.
Normally, Bruce operated out of Connecticut, but as part of his job of managing malls on the East Coast, he wound up in the South Tower that day to oversee renovations of a mall beneath the towers.
Sometime after the second plane collided with the South Tower, Eagleson’s brother Kyle, then 22, talked with their father on the phone.
As with Strada, Kyle heard absolute pandemonium and terror reverberating around Bruce, who was extraordinarily calm. Kyle urged him to bolt out of the flame-engulfed building, but Bruce was bent on helping others escape first.
Bruce’s last known whereabouts were the lobby of the building, where he is believed to have told others about his heroic plans to zip back up to the 17th floor and ensure it was cleared out.
“That’s the bittersweet part of all this,” Brett Eagleson said. “Growing up, it’s like you want to be proud of him, but then the other side of you is like ‘Why didn’t you just get the hell out of the building, dad?’ “
A recent glimmer of hope in Eagleson’s crusade for justice is the Ensuring Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which closes loopholes in previous legislation that permits victims to sue foreign states over terrorism.
But that legislation was recently put on hold by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), whose office told The Post he “has concerns about unintended national-security consequences at this time and in the bill’s present form.”
Disillusionment over the government’s response to 9/11 transcends party lines.
“With every administration, Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden — they use the 9/11 families as political pawns in a geopolitical world,” Sean Passananti griped of the country’s presidents. “It’s a national tragedy.”
Passananti is now almost the same age as his father Horace, 55, who was on the 100th floor of the North Tower when he perished.
The two had a lovely steak dinner about three months before to celebrate Sean’s birthday. The son, who was gearing up to purchase a house, got his father’s input.
A few days before the attack, Horace left a message on his son’s answering machine after the two played a bit of phone tag.
Sean still has the message, which included his father talking about how he was at the US Open and really enjoying it and that they would talk again soon.
Many 9/11 family members have been rankled by Biden’s decision to observe 9/11’s 22nd anniversary at a military base in Alaska after his multi-day visit to New Delhi, India, for the Group of 20 summit and pitstop in Vietnam.
This is a stark departure from the tradition of marking the dark anniversary from one of the three attack sites: in New York City, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Notably, former President Barack Obama commemorated the attack in 2015 from the White House before heading to Maryland. Former President George W. Bush marked the somber occasion in 2005 from the White House lawn.
“It just sends a very, very concerning signal,” Eagleson vented of Biden’s actions.
Neither the White House, Justice Department nor FBI responded to Post requests for comment.
Sept. 11 family members, including Eagleson, have also lashed out at former President Donald Trump for hosting Saudi-linked LIV golf at his resorts. Much to their chagrin, the PGA Tour has recently moved to ink a deal with LIV.
Another lingering issue from the day is the various health impediments that have afflicted first responders and bystanders during the attack and its aftermath.
Shortly after 9/11, Congress established the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide money for 9/11-induced injuries and other woes.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t speak to someone who says ‘I never knew I was eligible for compensation or health benefits,’ ” said Troy Rosasco, a lawyer at Hansen & Rosasco Law Firm, to The Post.
Rosasco, who does legal work for 9/11 victims, underscored that it’s not just the first responders eligible for compensation — workers who returned to their office while poisonous cancer-causing toxins coated the air are as well.
“It’s a complex process. It was designed to be straightforward, but there are hundreds and hundreds of pages of fine print regulations that govern it,” said Dan Hansen, who works with Rosasco.
Awareness is perhaps the core problem at hand, according to Hansen and Rosasco. They cited an estimate that as many as 500,000 people may have been exposed to toxic particles.
Yet there has been a comparatively paltry 85,475 VCF claims submitted, according to the latest available data from the government.
More people have died from the environmental fallout of the Twin Tower attack than did that actual day, according to the VCF.
Symptoms could start to emerge even decades later, which is part of why Hansen and Rosasco believe awareness is paramount.
New York has advanced the 9/11 Notice Act to compel relevant employers to inform their workers about available benefits. Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign that legislation to mark the 22nd anniversary.
In another bid to raise awareness and “never forget” the brutal attack, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress introduced a resolution backing mandatory 9/11 curriculum in classrooms.
Only 14 states currently require that instruction on 9/11. The legislation was introduced ahead of the 22nd attack anniversary.
Yet even with all of the ongoing issues surrounding the fated day, some victims’ kin are trying to focus on the brighter side of things.
Jay Winuk lost his brother Glenn in the attack. Glenn was still at his apartment in midtown Manhattan getting ready for work when the first plane hit.
Seeing the bone-chilling news, Glenn sprang into action, burnishing his firefighting credentials, bolting to the South Tower in a bid to evacuate those trapped there and save lives.
He previously responded when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. But this time would end very differently.
“That’s certainly a heroic thing, but it is the way Glenn lived his life,” Winuk reflected. “It’s horrific that he was murdered in this way. But he did die doing something that he loved, and that gives me some solace.”
Winuk’s best guess is that his brother died near the lobby.
To honor his late brother’s memory, Winuk helped co-found the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, which he stressed is one of two days of service recognized under federal law and presidential proclamation.
Winuk is encouraging the country to honor the fallen by giving back to others and coalescing in national solidarity.
“Our mission is to bring people together in unity,” Winuk said. “Who knew 22 years ago when we started this that the 9/11 Day of Service would be as relevant today as it was then, perhaps even more so — a day focused on putting aside our differences.”
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