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9/11: Three lives that became part of my own {Newspaper column}

Throughout my journalism career, many stories have affected me personally, but none more than covering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I had just graduated from college, started at my first newspaper in a small town in central New York and was eager to be professional, neutral and present the facts.

At the time, I didn’t understand that although my classes taught me how to be objective, sometimes it’s impossible not to get emotionally involved.

September 11, 2001, was an election day in New York. I was preparing our coverage and needed some polling clarification which prompted a call to the state capital in Albany.

A woman answered the phone in tears. I remember feeling frustrated by her lack of concentration and was a little terse in order to get the information I needed.

“Don’t you understand?” she asked. “Two planes just hit the World Trade Center. There might not BE any election.”

I might have been inexperienced, but I understood the gravity of her words and decided to look into it by booting up our Associated Press wire service on my computer and scrolling the national news feed.

The story was literally unfolding one sentence at a time. By the time a full paragraph had moved, I knew enough that our town would have casualties. We were only a few hours north.

I asked my managing editor if I could change my assignment for the morning. By deadline, I had collected a few first-person accounts that still haunt me to this day.

In the weeks that followed, I talked to people who were elated to find out their loved ones were safe. Others weren’t so lucky. Three people from our coverage area died in the attack on New York City. And although I’ve moved four times since then, changed states and jobs, I’ve never forgotten their stories:

Kevin Bracken 

“With something of this calamity, people expect to see pictures of the victims and their family members on television, but this time it was my family.”

Bill Bracken, a county police officer, had been spending his 20th wedding anniversary in the Caribbean with his wife. They watched the devastating news coverage from their hotel room, worried about his younger brother, Kevin, a city firefighter.

“I was told that Kevin was one of the officers listed as missing on the New York Fire Department records,” Bill said. “I had almost been expecting it, but that didn t make it any easier to accept.”

Unable to get an early flight home due to the countrywide halt on air travel, the Brackens decided to ignore the media coverage and find solace in each other. Four days later, they turned on their television, hoping for some positive news.

“It was unbelievable. The first thing we saw was a makeshift memorial at my brother’s fire station,” he said. “They mentioned Kevin’s name and showed his wedding picture, and we both started crying. It was gut-wrenching.”

Because of some family connections in the NYPD, Bill and his father were among the few people to tour ground zero firsthand.

“What was most amazing is that no human remains were visible in the rubble. Not even a trace. No shoes, clothing, tables, computers or clocks — nothing but a vast sea of cement and twisted steel beams,” he said afterward. “I had seen enough on television to know that my brother was dead, but I think my dad needed some closure.”

Tu-Ahn Pham

“Tu-Ahn had an incredible life,” her husband, Tom Knobel, told me. She came to the United States as a teenager from Vietnam. In the weeks before Saigon fell in 1975, her family fled from the communists. “She literally had bullets flying at her when she was being airlifted out of the country and she escaped to become an American success story.”

She was a stockbroker at Fred Alger Management Co. on the 93rd floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower. Sept. 11, 2001, was her second day back from maternity leave after giving birth to 5-pound, 6-ounce Vivianne Hoang-Anh, which means “yellow bird” in Vietnamese.

Tu-Ahn had been able to call Tom on her cell phone three times after the first plane hit her building. “She sounded scared, was obviously in danger and very concerned,” he said. “I had all the TVs on in the house trying to get the most accurate information and wondering how I could help. Then I watched it fall. It felt pretty hopeless at that point.”

But in the midst of catastrophe, Knobel found some hope to cling to. “I look at my daughter and it gives me a warm glow. It reminds me of the virility of life.”

Valerie Hughes

Every Monday since 1999, Valerie Hughes left her farm at 3 a.m. and commuted to the World Trade Center, where she worked on the 97th floor of the north tower as the senior vice president of technology for Marsh McClennan. She was scheduled to start working from home at the end of 2011, but she never got the opportunity.

On Sept. 11 — five days after celebrating her 57th birthday — the first jetliner crashed into her building a few floors below her office.

After hearing the news on his car radio, Glenn pulled over and frantically tried contacting Valerie on her cell phone. When he didn’t get an answer, he and some family members drove to the city and formed a search party. They filed a missing persons report, submitted her hairbrush for a DNA sample, and then found a glimmer of hope. Valerie’s company set up a list of its employees who were alive, and Valerie’s name was among them. She was said to be in critical condition at an unknown hospital.

It turned out to be a false lead, but even a month later, Glenn hadn’t given up. “There’s always the possibility that like Huck Finn she’ll walk in on her own funeral.”

He admitted that coming to terms with his loss wasn’t easy, but knowing he wasn’t alone helped. “The whole country is grieving at the same time,” he said.

Ten years later, that’s still true.

As a journalist and as an American, I learned a lot that day. I learned about patriotism and that sometimes having a personal connection to a story makes it more tangible.

And as I take in all of the news coverage today, I’ll be paying personal tribute to the three lives who unknowingly touched my own.

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Sharing the “like”

One of the things my clients get most excited about is to see their sneak peeks on Facebook and here on the blog. And who wouldn’t? You planned, you prepared, you smiled, you shined — now you want to see how your photos turned out!

And I love sharing them with you.

There’s nothing better than seeing you guys enjoy them — tagging, making them your Facebook profile picture, raving on the blog, whatever. I LOVE that you love your photos! But, lets face it, maybe I didn’t pick your absolute favorite. That one photo you’d LOVE to have as your Facebook profile image for all of your friends and family to see.

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The Thompsons {State College, PA family photographer}

It’s so great to be able to give sometimes. I was reminded of that when I met Jo Anne, one of the winners of the 3K Giveaway. She was so excited about her session and said that she’d been following my blog and Facebook updates forever, just loving to look at all the new images. So it goes without saying that I’m really excited that this time the photos are for HER!

I had a great time chasing after her three kids, who definitely made me run for it. And they were full of things to say as I asked them about school, their favorite games and whether they were good to each other.

What an awesome family. So glad I got the pleasure of meeting them.


What to wear {Wardrobe Wednesday}

Oh my gosh, I’m in love. Rebecca spotlights an incredible retailer for this week’s Wardrobe Wednesday post. Now off to the website to request a catalog of my very own! Eee!

Here’s what Rebecca has to say:

I came home today to find one of my MOST favorite catalogs waiting for me in the mailbox.  I love it so much that I felt compelled to share it with you for this week’s Wardrobe Wednesday post.  Those of you with boys know how difficult it is to find really cute, original, and unique clothing for them.  While living in England, I was overly excited during an early shopping outing when I came across Next in a little town near our home.  There wasn’t a time that I went into that store and didn’t come out with an armful of bags for the whole family, especially Kade, who was about a year old at that time.  Not only were the clothes super cute and stylish, the prices were very reasonable {which is really hard to find in the UK} and extremely well made.  Much to my dismay, when I moved back to the US, I realized that they didn’t ship to the States.  And thus ended my love affair with Next.  You can imagine how over-the-moon I was when, just a few short months ago, I received a Next catalog in the mail and realized that they have changed their shipping policy and now even list their clothing in US sizes!!  Holy shopping spree, y’all!!  One of the many amazing things about being able to shop online with Next is that they are truly a one-stop-shop when it comes to all things apparel.  Babies, boys, girls, mom, dad…shoes, accessories, outerwear, special occasion, casual, dressy, sportswear…even maternity AND homeware…all with a fabulous British flair!!  They even offer $5 shipping.  Seriously.  Here are a few of my favorite collections found in their brand new fall catalog.  With holiday portraits and fall sessions just around the corner, you’ll be glad you now know all about Next.  Enjoy…and happy shopping!!

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Possibly my favorite photo series of all time

My husband is iCrazy. He’s wanted an iPad since Steve Jobs commissioned a prototype, and I decided to go for the gusto for his birthday and surprise him. And I really went all out by hiding it in a new golf shirt. His reaction was perfect!

Laurie - September 6, 2011 - 2:02 PM

Awww great to have that in pics!!

Randall - September 6, 2011 - 2:05 PM

I love this so much!

Erin - September 6, 2011 - 4:39 PM

I love how Evan is eating the wrapping paper! It’s a play by play of each bite :)

Lindsay Williamson - September 6, 2011 - 5:05 PM

Jerry’s face is priceless! Glad you captured it on camera!

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