Families wait and pray: Attack takes heavy toll

A week after Sept. 11, some still hold out hope finding missing loved ones


At least five families locally continue to wait and pray for their missing more than a week after terrorists plunged two airplanes into the World Trade Center.

Many more are visiting their injured or thanking their stars for narrow escapes. A few are mourning their dead.

When Patricia Kellett learned that a Boeing 767 had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, she called her husband’s cell phone.

Joseph Kellett, 37, normally trades commodities in the World Financial Center on Vesey Street. But on Sept. 11, he had an 8 a.m., meeting in the north tower.

At 9:18 a.m., he said hello. Then the line went dead. A little more than 30 minutes later, the tower collapsed.

“We are hoping he was on his way out,” said Kellett, who lives on Netherland Avenue. They have two children.

Andrew Zucker, 27, worked for the Harris Beach law firm on the 85th floor of the south tower. Her last word of him, said his wife Erica, was that he and his secretary were heading down the stairs during the evacuation.

The secretary — who made it out safely — reported last seeing Zucker near the 70th floor.

Calvin Gooding, 38, is a financial trader who disappeared in the wreckage. He and his wife, LaChanze Sapp, live on Douglas Avenue. They have one daughter, and Sapp is expecting a child in October.

While all local police and fire personnel are accounted for, they continue to search downtown for the missing — including firefighters who call the greater Riverdale area home, but work elsewhere in the city. Their families have been inspired by their heroism, but plagued by uncertainty.

Thomas O’Hagan, 43 — a firefighter who lives on Fieldston Road and is stationed at Bleecker Street’s Engine 6 — was on the 44th floor of World Trade Tower One shortly before it collapsed. His wife Andrea said he had begun descending the stairs when the evacuation began.

Andrea said that rescue workers believe there is a pocket in the debris in the area where that section of the tower collapsed. She prays her husband is alive in that pocket.

“There is still some hope,” she said.

Bill McGinn, 43, is a lieutenant in the fire department’s special operations command. His wife, Anne, said he was last seen on the mezzanine level of one of the towers two minutes before it collapsed. On Friday, rescue workers found Lt. McGinn’s badge and helmet.

The McGinns and their two children live on Henry Hudson Parkway.


Vietnam veteran

Richard Gabriel, a longtime resident whose mother still lives here, lost a leg in Vietnam. On Tuesday, Gabriel — who moved to Virginia a decade ago — was a passenger on board American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington to Los Angeles, the hijacked plane that smashed into the Pentagon.

Everyone on board died.

Gabriel was 54. He grew up in Riverdale, and attended P.S. 81 as a boy. His mother attends the Riverdale Presbyterian Church where his funeral will be held Sept. 22.

Daily News photographer David Handschuh is in a New Jersey hospital, his leg shattered.

Handschuh — who grew up in Riverdale, and whose first job as a news photographer was at The Riverdale Press — was taking pictures at the World Trade Center when an explosion blew him down the block.

Handschuh said firefighters and EMTs saved his life twice by carrying him away from flaming debris.

Not everyone with local connections involved in the relief efforts were police or firefighters.

Bill Abramson, chair of Community Board 8, was charged with helping government officials set up a massive triage center and morgue at Chelsea Piers in lower Manhattan in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Abramson, first vice president of the sports complex, steeled himself for carnage. What he saw was worse: Few injured, no bodies — an eerie calm amid the storm.


Best of humanity

Meanwhile, clergy and religious leaders from diverse faiths gathered at the site. As he scrambled to accommodate relief workers in a sleepless, chaotic 48 hours, Abramson took strength from their prayers.

“I saw the best of humanity in the face of what the worst can do,” he said.

For some who were fleeing downtown’s madness, Riverdale became a sanctuary free from fire, falling concrete and death.

Thor Kaslofsky and his girlfriend Lecia Smith were lying in bed looking out of their bay window on Reed Avenue and Church Street when the earth shook.

Within minutes, the couple had run out of the building, hopped in Kaslofsky’s pickup, and were on their way uptown. In the back of the truck were 10 adults, three children and two cats — complete strangers, whom the couple had plucked out of the ensuing chaos.

One man, holding his infant son, had stopped Kaslofsky on the street, frantic.

The couple dropped people off at various spots along the way, then decided the place they would feel safest was Kaslofsky’s former home on Dash Place. Their landlady, Alice Rumpler, was astonished to find the couple — confused, disheveled and dusty — on her doorstep, but willingly took them in.

Writer Ted Conover and his wife took in a family friend who had walked all the way to their Riverdale home from lower Manhattan.



As rescue workers picked through the rubble downtown, miracles began arising locally as resident learned how saved loved ones narrowly escaped.

Herb Barret, whose picture appeared on the front page of last week’s Press, spent Sept. 11 fighting back tears, terrified because his 43-year-old son works at Chase Manhattan’s Wall Street office.

That night, he was relieved to learn his son had had a doctor’s appointment the morning of the attack, and arrived at his office just in time to see the second plane slam into the tower.

“He is OK,” Barret said. “Thank God.”

Additional reporting by Alexi Friedman, Nicole Howe and Marie Villani

Originally published Sept. 20, 2001