9/11 families to regroup, reminisce on 10th anniversary

Before the death of Osama bin Laden, a forlorn-looking Ground Zero

Count the families of Ma. Theresa Santillan and Judy Santillan Fernandez among the ranks of the still-grieving.

Cousins Maritess and Judy of New Jersey were among the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees who died in 9/11. Both were 27, Rutgers grads and living New York life to the fullest.

“They were very close,” said Maritess’ father Expedito.

The closeness was evident not only to their families but also within the Cantor organization. It was Judy, a benefits specialist in human resources, who paved the way for Maritess to get into the company as customer service rep when the position opened up. Maritess’ office was at the World Trade Center’s North Tower on the 103rd floor; Judy, who was one floor above, wasn’t too far away.

The cousins were excitedly planning Maritess’ wedding around the time when the attacks happened. Two months before, her engagement to a computer network engineer became official. Altar date had been set for May 2002; the church and the hotel were already reserved for the occasion. Judy was to be the maid of honor.

“We’ve already ordered the gown in New York,” said Maritess’ mother Ester. “Everything’s set except the invitations.”

Eerily, the photos of mother and daughter bridal gown-shopping could not be reproduced because they were taken by Judy, who would perish in the tragedy. “Judy had the pictures, but…Judy is gone too,” Ester said.

I met Ester and her husband Expedito shortly after 9/11. I would check in, say ‘hello’ almost yearly every time 9/11 comes around. When one was choked up to speak, the phone would pass to the other. But always, they would find the time to talk no matter how briefly. The cheer of speaking to a reporter would eventually give way to a mumble of sadness. The memory of Maritess still fresh as the day they learned she was unaccounted for, later confirmed among the nearly 3,000 fatalities.

Expedito would always remember the frantic voice of Maritess on the phone, crying as the building was in chaos and about to collapse. He urged her to “get out of there fast,” but heard only silence after that.

“Families,” mused Cantor Fitzgerald Chairman & CEO Howard Lutnick in a CBS interview. “You can never replace a loved one, especially parents who lost a child. Nothing will change that. No matter how old they are.”

When news of bin Laden’s death began to spread, Lutnick said his phone was “on fire” with calls from his employees’ families. Over the years he got to know each of them. He talked to them, even if it meant allowing the anguish to come flooding back. His own brother died in 9/11, a friend, a friend’s brother, 658 of his employees.

In the aftermath of 9/11, he said the employees came together and comforted the families whose relatives had died.

“All our employees gave all their commissions to charity,” he said. “We raised $12 million.”
The brokerage service firm also committed 25 percent of profits for five years to pay for the 658 employees’ health care, he said.

Reflecting on his own loss, Lutnick vowed this year’s 10th anniversary of 9/11 will be as memorable just as in previous years. While the killing of bin Laden will introduce a different emotion to the memorial, one thing is constant: The families will gather as in previous years to joyfully remember their loved ones and celebrate the lives they had.

“I’m glad we got him,” he said. “It was good the way they got him.” – Cristina DC Pastor



2 Comments

  1. Earle wrote:

    Added, I enjoy your blog! 🙂

  2. […] is the youngest of three children. She was 27, a human resource specialist at Cantor Fitzgerald. The brokerage company which occupied the 101st floor of the World Trade Center lost 658 employees […]

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