After two passenger jets piloted by terrorists smashed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the structures soon collapsed. And that was the cue for a massive rescue operation. By the next day all survivors had been rescued from the ruins and the huge task of sifting through the debris for human remains began. Some of the personal items subsequently discovered in that search have heart-rending stories attached.
Pictured above is a pair of smart business-dress shoes. But these are unusual in comparison to the other items we’ll see later. The owner of the shoes, Linda Raisch-Lopez, actually survived the terrorist atrocity. The owners of nearly all of the other items you’ll see died in the attack. Raisch-Lopez injured her feet as she evacuated from the South Tower. However only later did she notice the dark stains on the shoes – her own blood.
As people went to work in the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, everything seemed as normal on that blue-skied fall morning. But a determined band of vicious Al Qaeda terrorists had been planning their deadly mission for years. Subsequently this sunny day was going to turn out about as far from normal as anyone could imagine.
As early as December 1998, President Bill Clinton had received a CIA report outlining a possible Al Qaeda mission to hijack planes and use them for an attack on U.S. territory. And towards the end of 1998 or early the following year, Osama Bin Laden himself gave the go-ahead for an attack, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.
In the year 2000, the plotters arrived in the U.S. and some started flying lessons. The terrorists finalized their plans just three weeks before they carried out the attacks. Four targets were chosen: the White House, the Pentagon and the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. As we know, the White House attack was stymied by brave passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93. But the other three targets were all hit.
The first target to be attacked was the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 9:03 a.m. The second plane subsequently ploughed into the South Tower after an interval of 17 minutes. As a result, intense fires started in both towers as the many thousands of gallons of jet fuel ignited. This compromised the steel structures of the towers and a catastrophic collapse ensued.
The operation to clear the rubble and debris after the attack was massive. Some 1.8 million tons of rubble were trucked away in 108,000 loads. All of the debris was then minutely examined for human remains and any artifacts. Many of the objects found were then handed to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It has carefully catalogued them, recording details about their owners whenever possible.
Many of those who lost their lives were rescue workers and first responders. This Port Authority Police Department baseball cap was 47-year-old James Francis Lynch’s. We know that because his badge number is written on the inside. And the soiled and tattered condition of the hat bears witness to the conditions that Lynch worked in when he lost his life.
Born in Wellsville, Ohio, and an alumnus of the University of Cincinnati, Catherine Patricia Salter was living in Brooklyn in 2001. And on that fatal September day she went to work as usual at Aon Corporation’s South Tower offices. Salter, 37, had worked for Aon for a decade, rising to assistant vice-president. But her everyday purse, discovered in the ruins, takes on an almost unbearable poignancy.
Unsurprisingly, firefighters paid a high price on the day of the attacks on Lower Manhattan. A total of 343 subsequently lost their lives. One of those was 28-year-old Kevin M. Prior of Lifelong Bellmore on Long Island. Even a cursory glance at this battered firefighter’s helmet illustrates the dangers faced by those trying to quell the flames and rescue survivors. Happier times for Prior included a vacation to Ireland with his fiancée in summer 2001.
This cellphone belonged to Andrea Lyn Haberman, a 25 year old with a bright future ahead of her. She had made her first ever trip to New York from Chicago for a business meeting on the North Tower’s 92nd floor. Earlier in 2001, Haberman and her fiancée had bought a home together in Chicago.
These elegant but battered shoes belonged to Joanne “JoJo” Capestro – under all that dust they are actually black. She was on the North Tower’s 87th floor when the plane hit, however she managed to escape from the tower moments before it collapsed. Afterwards Capestro sheltered behind a vehicle parked in the street and a firefighter brought her to safety. After surviving the attack, she subsequently gave her shoes to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
Of the many personal items discovered in the rubble after 9/11, few could be more evocative than this handsome gold wedding ring adorned with a row of tiny diamonds. Originally from the Bronx, 55-year-old Robert Joseph Gschaar lived in Spring Valley, New York, with Myrta, his wife of 11 years, and her four daughters. The attack caught him on the South Tower’s 92nd floor.
This wallet’s owner, Giovanna Galletta Gambale, lived in Brooklyn all her life. The tragic victim was 27 years old and living with her parents in September 2001. Gambale was a vice-president at a firm called eSpeed and was in her office on the 105th Floor of the North Tower when the disaster unfolded. She was a New York Mets fan and enjoyed nothing more than spending time with her boyfriend Tom.
This damaged car key once operated Joseph F. Holland’s Mercedes. The 32-year-old was born in the Bronx however now lived in Glen Rock, New Jersey. He had also recently become the father of a son with his wife Kathleen. On September 10, he’d been passing out cigars to celebrate the arrival of his newborn, however on the following day he was at a meeting on the 92nd floor of the North Tower.
This religious pendant belonged to 34-year-old Durrell V. Pearsall, Jr. and is inscribed “St. Florian Protect Us.” Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, and Pearsall was a member of the New York Fire Department’s Rescue Company 4. Pearsall lived with his partner Karen in Hempstead, N.Y.
Firefighter William Wren lived with his wife Patricia in Long Island’s Lynbrook. Wren, 61, had actually retired from FDNY’s Ladder Company 166. He took a job as resident fire safety manager at the Twin Towers and joined in the rescue and evacuation effort, but at the cost of his own life.
Badly twisted and with the lenses missing, these were the glasses of 54-year-old Aon Corporation senior vice-president David Wiswall. Wiswall and his wife Patricia had two grown-up children and lived in Long Island’s Massapequa. The couple filled their time enjoying dinners with friends, bowling and golf. He was in his office on the 105th floor of the South Tower on 9/11.
This New York Police Department shield and medal display belonged to Moira Ann Smith. She was one of the 23 NYPD officers who lost their lives on 9/11, in addition to 37 officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department. Living with her husband James, the couple had a two-year-old daughter. However she died as she helped in the evacuation of the South Tower.
As we’ve seen, firefighters paid a high price for their habitual bravery in the face of danger. This crumpled, dusty jacket belonged to assistant chief of department and citywide tour commander Gerard A. Barbara. He lived on Staten Island. At the age of 53, Barbara and wife Joanne had two grown-up children, and he’d been a firefighter for 31 years. He died when working on the rescue operation at the South Tower.
This brief case, much the worse for wear, was the property of Thomas J. Fisher. The paper stuck on the outside of the case has hand-written notes. Fisher was from Queens but lived in Union Township, New Jersey, at the time of the atrocity. He lived with his wife Susan and their three children. A vice-president at Fiduciary Trust, 36-year-old Fisher was in his 97th floor office in the South Tower on the morning of 9/11.
This final artifact is not actually from the Twin Towers, rather it belonged to 58-year-old flight attendant Lorraine G. Bay who was aboard United Airlines Flight 93. That was the plane that the hijackers intended to fly into the White House but was brought down after passengers overwhelmed the terrorists. Bay lived in East Windsor, New Jersey with husband Erich.