Families of 9/11 fallen still seeking closure

By Connor Adams Sheets

Family members of Queens 9/11 victims were overwhelmed by emotions ranging from elation to distress when they heard the news that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the World Trade Center attack, had been shot dead Sunday.

Though some victims’ loved ones have struggled with bureaucracy, racism and other ills in the days since the Twin Towers fell, those battles were never as hard as losing a brother, a daughter or a spouse. That reality came flooding back when President Barack Obama confirmed the rumors that bin Laden had been killed.

The Corrigan family of Little Neck has undergone a years-long battle with the city over how to honor Capt. James Corrigan, who retired from Bayside’s Engine Co. 320 in 1994 and was killed after responding to the World Trade Center alongside active-duty firefighters who died there that day.

Despite his sacrifice, the FDNY opposed listing Corrigan’s name on a 9/11 memorial wall at Ground Zero because it contended he was not recognized as being on active duty at the time of the attacks.

His wife Marie sued the city in April 2010, and in July 2010 Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate ruled that there was “no rational basis” for excluding Corrigan’s moniker. The city said it would appeal the decision, but finally dropped its opposition two months later — eight years after his death.

One of James and Marie’s two firefighter sons, Brendan Corrigan of Rockville Centre, L.I., who now works for Ladder 147 in Brooklyn, said bin Laden’s death does nothing to heal the wounds of his father’s death.

“I really wasn’t celebrating. It was a little more a relief than anything. I saw the celebrations on TV and I was more touched by the celebrations than the news,” he said. “I’m glad that now that he’s gone maybe some other families might not have to go what we went through, but I don’t think there’s ever going to be total closure on something like this.”

Dorie Pearlman of Forest Hills underwent a similar situation after the death of her 18-year-old son Richard, a member of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps who died while attempting to help the injured.

The U.S. Department of Justice provided $250,000 payments to more than 400 families of first responders killed in the line of duty, but only two were denied. Pearlman, who said she is “bitter about a lot of things,” is one of those two non-recipients and she is still working to get him recognized as a first responder.

She said she was upset about how long it took to find bin Laden and that it hurts to revisit the scars of Sept. 11, but that people can never forget that fateful day.

“He didn’t die the way I wanted him to die. I wanted him to be caught alive. He didn’t suffer. And he caused so much suffering. He should have suffered,” she said. “It opens old wounds. It just reopens the wounds and that’s it. You try and move forward. And I will never forget and I will never forgive.”

Talat Hamdani, mother of Bayside NYPD cadet and paramedic Mohammad Salman Hamdani, also experienced a distressing series of events in the aftermath of his death. Her son, who was a Muslim, disappeared after 9/11 and rumors surfaced that he had colluded with the terrorists, according to U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

In the end, it became clear that he had been smeared as a result of Islamophobia, Ellison said, and that when his remains were found in the rubble he was vindicated as a selfless man dedicated to helping the victims of the attacks. She is still fighting to have her son listed as a first responder, and signs suggest he will be soon.

Hamdani said she was initially “offended” at the celebrations of bin Laden’s death, but she eventually came to see it as an affirmation of the end of a destructive era.

“Then it was more of a celebration as an American that we are going to hold our enemies accountable,” she said. “I don’t think it would bring anybody closure, but a sense of relief. At least the guy who attacked us and jeered about it was brought to justice.”

Al Santora, of Long Island City, lost his son Christopher only two months after the young man became a member of Engine 54/Ladder 4 in Manhattan. Al Santora, who operates the Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund with his wife Maureen, focused more on the impacts eliminating the terrorist will have in the war against al-Qaeda.

“We’re elated about the death of Osama bin Laden. It’s a bittersweet victory,” he said. “You can’t be complacent and think that this is over … hopefully, they’ll [al-Qaeda] be affected for a long time.”

Whitestone resident Dina Marie Amatuccio lost her father Joseph, who worked for the Port Authority as manager of maintenance at the World Trade Center, in the attacks.

She said a friend called her when she was in bed shortly after the announcement Sunday night to tell her bin Laden had been killed. She thought it was a dream and went to sleep, not registering it was reality until the next morning when she received a text message from her husband confirming the news.

“I don’t know why, but I didn’t feel as happy as I thought I would. I’m really happy that a person like him is gone and killed, but it took so long that now that it happened it hasn’t changed anything. My father still passed away and it doesn’t fix that,” she said. “When something bad happens, you always think of revenge, but as time passes it kind of goes away. And it just brought back so many emotional things for me.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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