For 12 families, 9/11 changed lives forever

One year after attacks, pain remained raw for those suddenly left behind


One young widow has wallpapered her apartment with photographs of her husband she lost on Sept. 11. She wants the pictures close, but she cries if she stares at them too long.

An older man seethes with anger when he talks about how his son was murdered, robbing his grandson of his father.

For a year, a  mother has been patiently explaining to her two sobbing children that daddy is never coming home.

Last year’s terrorist attacks killed at least a dozen people with ties to the greater Riverdale community. Each loss was unique, but aspects of the pain each survivor feels are similar. They describe their experience as a nightmare, and they say the ache is constant.

“I don’t know if you can ever get over it,” said Patty Kellett, a North Riverdale resident whose husband Joseph — a 37-year-old commodities trader — died when a plane hit the north tower.

Kellett’s two children, 5, and 6, ask her where the World Trade Center buildings were. They ask her if they’ve caught Osama bin Laden yet. She tries to answer as best she can.

Counseling has helped, she said — both Kellett and the kids go. It’s also consoling that Monsignor John Farley, Sister Dorothy DeYoung and parishioners from St. Margaret’s Church have reached out to her, as has Rabbi Barry Dov Katz of the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale.

“It’s a comfort,” Kellett said, “knowing they’re around to help.”

Six days after Ariel Jacobs perished at a breakfast meeting at Windows on the World atop the north tower, his wife Jenna gave birth to their first child. One year later, Ariel’s mother Sylvia said nothing could have prepared her for losing her son.

Sylvia Jacobs, who is trained as a psychologist, still cries when she talks about Ariel. People tell her time will ease the pain. But so far, it has not.

Trying to keep busy, Sylvia volunteers at the American Cancer Society, takes classes, and works out daily at the gym. It’s a brief escape, she says, while still living on Kappock Street and singing with the Riverdale Chorale Society.

Her grandson, Gabriel Benjamin, will celebrate his first birthday on Sept. 16. He’s delightful, Sylvia says, but he does not replace Ariel, who was 29.

“The roughest part is for the baby, because he would have made a hell of a father,” said Ariel’s own father, Melvin Jacobs, with tears stinging his eyes.

Melvin, who lives on Johnson Avenue, admits to a thirst for retribution: The assault on Afghanistan eased his pain, he said.

About a week after the attack, Monica Iken realized that office buildings might rise on her husband Michael’s remains. She founded an organization to preserve some of the 16-acre site as a memorial.

The endeavor consumes her. A former teacher and real estate manager, Iken now works full-time at the foundation, September’s Mission.

“This is all I do,” she said. “I eat, sleep and breathe September’s Mission. I’ve taken my grief, and I’ve channeled it into something positive.”

A tall, striking woman, Iken has become a leading advocate for victims’ families. But whenever in the thousand interviews she estimates she has given over the last year she talks about her husband at length, she cries.

She still can’t set foot in Park Place, the Mosholu Avenue restaurant where she and Michael first met, or eat the little prosciutto appetizers he liked so much. And she can’t bear to watch their wedding video, which was shown on CNN recently.

Iken decorated her south Riverdale apartment with countless photos of Michael, who was 37. They make her cry sometimes, but seeing his face gives her strength.

“He’s my motivation to get up in the morning.”


Shattered engagement

The terrorist attacks shattered the marriage plans of Patrice Braut, 31, and Lupe Mendez. Braut, who moved to New York from Belgium about six years ago, worked for Marsh and McLennan, and was in the company’s World Trade Center office when the planes hit.

The couple lived on Greystone Avenue and planned to marry in Braut’s hometown within the next year or so. Now Mendez lives with her mother in Yonkers, hoping to adjust to life without her Patrice.

Last Sept. 10, Kathryn Shatzoff, 37, was getting the West 238th Street apartment she shared with husband Neil ready for painting. She removed every photograph from the walls. She died the next day in Tower One.

One year later, the walls remain bare. Neil, who runs Magnum Comics and Cards on Riverdale Avenue, cannot muster the strength to redecorate the apartment.

He’s doled out her clothes to family and the Salvation Army, keeping only the things closest to his heart, like the 60 Barbie dolls he gave her during their five years of marriage.

He, too, tries to ward off grief by keeping busy, traveling and perpetually cleaning the apartment.

“I feel like I am doing it for her, you know,” Neil said. “It’s because of her that I am this person.


Too painful

Others who lost loved ones did not want to speak, or could not be reached. Ruth Richman said the emotions are still too raw to talk about her son, Alan, who worked on the 99th floor of Tower One. He was 44.

Richard Gabriel, 54 — who attended P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School as a child — was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. His funeral was held at Riverdale Presbyterian Church, where is mother Barbara is a member of the congregation.

Calvin Gooding was a 38-year-old Douglas Avenue resident, and a financial trader.

He and his wife, LaChanze, had a daughter and were expecting a second child last October.

A lieutenant in the fire department’s special operations command, Bill McGinn, lived on Henry Hudson Parkway with his wife, Anne Golden. He was 43 and a father of two.

Another firefighter, Thomas O’Hagan, 43, lived on Fieldston Road with his wife Andrea and their two children, who are twins.

Andrew Zucker, 27, worked for the Harris Beach law firm on the 85th floor of Tower Two. He and his wife Erica lived on Independence Avenue. Erica was pregnant when her husband died, and was due to have a baby last March.

Gerard Jean Baptiste, 35 — who moved from the Dominican Republic when he was 5 — was stationed at a SoHo firehouse.

Most of the bereaved said they would spend the anniversary of the tragedy with family. A handful planned to attend citywide events.

But most said they looked forward to the day passing quickly. They don’t need ceremony to remind them of what happened. Empty chairs and empty beds do that.

Additional reporting by Lani Perlman and Marie Villani

Originally published Sept. 12, 2002