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9/11 Widows
9.12.03
Politics and Economy:
Unanswered Questions
More on This Story:
9/11 Widows Speak

Two years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, thousands of families are still wondering what could have been done to save their loved ones. In "Unanswered Questions," NOW profiles four New Jersey widows demanding answers to questions about what our government knew before and after the terrorist attacks — and what’s being done to protect us today.

Mindy Kleinberg, Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza and Lori Van Auken were widowed by the September 11 terrorist attacks. The four came together as they sought answers and explanations for the tragedy. In their perseverance they helped push for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate 9/11, a request Congress fulfilled last fall.

All four women are mothers and all four lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attacks. Lorie Van Auken and Mindy Kleinberg's husbands were both as securities traders. Mindy's and Patty Casazza's husbands worked for the Cantor Fitzgerald group, which lost 658 employees. Kristen Breitweiser's husband was a vice president at Fiduciary Trust. The women all reside in New Jersey. They and others in that area touched by September 11 are featured in author Gail Sheehy's new book MIDDLETOWN, AMERICA: ONE TOWN'S PASSAGE FROM TRAUMA TO HOPE.

Read more from NOW's interviews with the women below.



The Motivation

PATTY CASAZZA: Initially when 9/11 happened my son had some very profound statements and questions about what had happened. But the one thing that he said that affected me the most was, "Who will stay and protect us?" And what I was thinking at the same time is, "Who is supposed to be protecting us?"

MINDY KLEINBERG: It was personal curiosity. I think when somebody dies, you want to know what happened. You want to know why this happened to them. And it started from there.


The Mission

MINDY KLEINBERG: You know, initially it started out that we knew there were failures that happened that day. It was really just let's make things safer. We all have children and they have to grow up in this world. And I didn't want my kids to feel that their father had died in vain, that something good could come from this horrible tragedy. That we would affect a change so that if there was another attack, maybe the effect could be minimized and there wouldn't be as much devastation.

KRISTEN BREITWEISER: I would say that after the next terrorist attack, Director Mueller, Director Tenent, National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush, will you be able to put your heads on your own pillow that evening and sleep soundly, knowing that you did everything in your power to prevent the damage of the next attack? And really, really honestly, within your own self, be able to find rest and peace that evening?


Life Before, and After

PATTY CASAZZA: I would say I was pretty soft-spoken; however, when something of this magnitude changes your whole entire life, your whole thought process and sense of security... at the basis level sense of security, everything's been rocked down to its foundation, you either remain a victim...or you say to yourself, "No more."

KRISTEN BREITWEISER: There's always this level of anxiety because nothing is finite. Nothing is finished. Nothing is complete. Nothing is solid. And I think that that has an emotional impact, because really on the morning of September 11th, we all became untethered from the Earth. And we just want a grounding.

And we keep looking everywhere for something to be finite and solid and finished. And we can't seem to find that, whether that be, you know, with asking questions in Washington to understand why our loved ones died or whether that has to be with filing paperwork for the Victim's Compensation Fund. Or whether that is looking at our children when we take them to see a therapist. And we want the therapist to say to us, "Your child's gonna be fine."

No one seems to have any answers. No one seems to provide us with any kind of finite, simplistic, here's the answer. And that's unsettling.

LORI VAN AUKEN: I was raising my children. I was taking care of my house. I was a freelance graphic artist. I was taking care of my things. I didn't understand that I needed to look at the bigger picture. And since September 11th, I've had much more time to look at the bigger picture. Because on Saturday nights, instead of going out, I'm home.

I obviously am just the sole parent of my children now, and I have to take care of everything for them. I'm the one who drives them everywhere now. My husband was very involved before he was killed. And I don't have that support. I don't have that kind of emotional support, or physical support. And my children don't have a father. We lost our innocence that day. In a lot of ways.


Democracy in Action

MINDY KLEINBERG: I felt responsible. I really felt like, "Had I done what I should have done as a citizen, had I heard the stories of Lockerbie, had I called the Senators and Congressmen, had I rallied together with those people who are victims then maybe we could have affected a change that could have stopped this."

And so I couldn't then just shut this off. How do you go forward knowing that there are still glaring errors, knowing that, you know what, our role as citizens isn't just to sit and watch. If we really want to be a democracy we have to participate. That's what made me start to get involved in the process.

PATTY CASAZZA: These people [politicians] don't retain the same level of awe after you know that they have failed you. And you realize in failing they're probably no better than you or I; however they are paid to do a job and we pay them as citizens to do their jobs. And we have the right in a democracy to ask the questions of our government: What did you do? Where did you fail? And what are you doing to prevent that the next time around?

LORI VAN AUKEN: I learned that ... if you want to live in this great country of ours, with our fabulous democracy, and our Constitution, and our different rights. Freedom of speech, and all the things that we take for granted, you have to fight for those things.

And if you don't speak out...you're censoring yourself. If you don't research and understand the issues then you're voting on somebody maybe who isn't representing your interests. These are things I didn't understand until September 11th.

I voted. I always voted. And I was always interested in environmental issues, and ecology, and you know, those kinds of things. But I didn't really pay attention to these other issues. I didn't understand how big they were. And I didn't understand that somebody's voice, that didn't have the same interests as mine, could be so much louder than my voice.

KRISTEN BREITWEISER: On the morning of 9/11 I was still an innocent person. And I believed that my government was protecting me, was doing it's job. I thought I was a stockholder in the country of America. I thought that my taxes were being spent wisely. I thought that things were being taken care of. After I watched my husband's building collapse, I lost my innocence. Two years out, I have lost my hope that something like September 11th will not happen again.

MINDY KLEINBERG: When you really are passionate and believe in what you are talking about, it tends to transcend whoever you're talking to. I can't explain it. This is not something that any one of us has done prior to 9/11. But really, when you feel that you're right about something, it's not hard to go into an office and ask for what you want. We had three or four meetings at the West Wing...Although it was impressive to go to the White House 'cause that's always impressive, but you know what? We weren't awestruck by the people we were talking to. They were just other Americans who we needed to help us. So you know what? We did it.

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