Sept. 11 widows demand answers

By Annie Reuter/Senior Writer
Published: 4/12/06

Nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many families continue to wonder what happened to loved ones who died.

Mindy Kleinberg and Lori van Auken are two such people.

The pair said the attacks of Sept. 11, made them widows.

They spoke to journalism and media studies students Tuesday at the Scholarly Communication Center of the Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus.

"Those words were very hard to utter. The first time I had to say those words gave me the shakes," van Auken said. "Before September 11 we were typical suburban housewives. September 11, our whole world turned upside down."

These two women have not stopped in their pursuit to find the truth about their husbands, who were killed in the attack, while also wondering how safe America is.

Kleinberg, van Auken and two other Sept. 11 widows formed the Family Steering Committee to put pressure on the federal government to force an investigation of the unsolved murder of those involved in the attacks.

It all started when van Auken received the phone call from her husband after the planes hit the World Trade Center to tell her he loved her and hopefully would see her later that day.

"In his voice you could hear panic," she said. "I couldn't reach him. From his message I knew he survived the impact of the plane [crash]."

Several media outlets sought her for comment after hearing about her story. She appeared on The Larry King Live Show and on Oprah, relating her husband's last words and displaying his picture in hopes it would help the search and rescue effort.

"I thought if someone saw his picture they could help me find him," she said. "Knowing my husband survived the plane gave me the strength to go on the show. My motivation was to try to find my husband."

Van Auken talked of entering the city when she was to appear on The Larry King Live Show.

"We passed the buildings - it was just horrible going into the city that day," she said. "I was going breath-to-breath, not step-to-step. I wasn't eating, it was all a blur."

After appearing on both television shows, van Auken saw the media would show the pain and suffering of the families of Sept. 11 victims, but were less inclined feature members of those families that wished to pose questions about what had happened.

"The media didn't have the same want to find the truth," van Auken said. "Conflicting facts began to raise issues to us. It became very clear to us that we were supposed to play the role of the unquestioning victims."

To van Auken, Kleinberg and others, the government was controlling the message of what happened in the attacks.

"We began using the Internet to re-surface facts. We couldn't sleep anyway," van Auken said. "I became a little bit compulsive on trying to figure out what happened. We began to compile large binders with everything we could find about September 11."

This was an event that would change the world and there was no desire to find out exactly what had happened and why, van Auken said.

"We needed to know a lot more," she said.

Van Auken said it became apparent to her and fellow Sept. 11 victims they needed to do something, so they held a rally on June 11, 2002. Such an event, van Auken learned, attracted the media.

"The press came to our rally and it was one of our first victories," van Auken said.

"We asked these lawmakers to support an investigation to make our nation safer."

With support from the press and certain lawmakers, those involved in the Family Steering Committee began forming relationships with the members of the press.

Slowly, the media started to pick up the story of these families fighting for an investigation of the attacks and they began gaining more and more support from legislators.

"The media started following the story, [which] allowed the rest of the public to provide the pressure," Kleinberg said. "It was the courageous reporters that were making this happen."

"We knew every agency had failed us on 9/11," van Auken said. "We couldn't let them get by with a simple investigation on intelligence failures."

After applying a great deal of pressure to the federal government, the Family Steering Committee, along with other advocates, achieved its goal of prompting an investigation

However, Kleinberg and van Auken doubted the veracity of the testimony offered by many top officials.

"We've been operating in an environment that's a no-fault government," Kleinberg said. "Whatever glossing over of the topic they could do they would."

Kleinberg then advised journalism students in attendance, "The power that you are able to yield is everything. If people are enlightened, you can really make changes."

Kleinberg talked of how she was disappointed with the end result of the 9/11 Commission report.

"They did not do the job we were hoping," Kleinberg said. "Evidence was offered that they did not go after."

Before the session opened up to questions, Professor Matthew Reiss reminded students to make their own conclusion on the situation.

"At the end of the day, you have to be able to know you are living in a city that is safe from this kind of thing. There is a certain amount you have to do to be a citizen," Reiss said.