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Friday, June 14, 2024

9/11 horrors replayed in Virginia courtroom

The desperate voices of Kevin Cosgrove and Melissa Doi filled a hushed courtroom Monday, as they pleaded for firefighters to save them from smoke engulfing the upper floors of the World Trade Center's south tower.

The desperate voices of Kevin Cosgrove and Melissa Doi filled a hushed courtroom Monday, as they pleaded for firefighters to save them from smoke engulfing the upper floors of the World Trade Center’s south tower.

“It’s very, very, very hot,” Doi, 32, told an emergency dispatcher in a taped Sept. 11 cell phone call from the tower’s 83rd floor _ the area where a hijacked plane had hit. “I’m going to die, aren’t I? . . . Help! Help!”

On the 105th floor, Cosgrove, 46, gasped for breath and told a dispatcher: “Lady, there’s two of us in this office. We’re not ready to die, but it’s getting bad . . . Tell God to blow the wind from the west.”

A couple of minutes later, he shouted, “Oh God! Oh!” A video timed with the call showed the tower collapsing.

They were among the last calls to 911 from the south tower that day. And when federal prosecutors played the tapes for jurors at Zacarias Moussaoui’s death-penalty trial and called more than a dozen witnesses, they provided one of the most jarring public expositions of events that day.

As the Sept. 11 survivors and victims’ family members recounted the horrors of 4-and-a-half years ago, most sobbed or choked back tears.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema cautioned prosecutors to scale back the number of victims’ photos and to try to limit witnesses’ tears so the testimony is not “so overwhelming” that it undermines “the rationality of the verdict.” Nonetheless, it was another day of sobs and tears, and several jurors wiped their eyes.

Jurors heard how a lawyer for the bond-trading firm of Cantor Fitzgerald was hit by a fireball as he rode an elevator to work, somehow surviving severe burns, and how a woman was fatally burned, apparently from falling debris, as she waited for a bus outside the Trade Center.

Sharif Chowdhury, 62, a Muslim from Bangladesh, described losing his daughter and son-in-law aboard one of the hijacked flights and then said his religion bars the killing of innocent people. He and Moussaoui, an Islamic extremist, glared at each other as Chowdhury exited the courtroom.

During an earlier recess, Moussaoui said loudly: “Burn in the USA.”

C. Lee Hanson, 73, testified that his 32-year-old son, Peter, phoned him twice from California-bound United Airlines Flight 175 before it hit the south tower. Hanson said Peter spoke softly about the hijacking as he sat with his wife, Sue Kim, and 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Christine Lee.

On the second call, Peter told him “there are people throwing up all over the plane” and that he suspected the hijackers planned to crash the jet into a building, Hanson said.

“He said, `Don’t worry, dad. If it happens, it will be quick,’ ” Hanson said. “All of a sudden, he said three times, very softly: `Oh, my God!’ . . . I looked over at the television screen and saw the plane flying into the building.”

Hanson said he eventually got a call from the Massachusetts medical examiner informing him that some remains of his son had been found. Weeping, he said he was led into a room with a box containing a six-inch bone.

“That’s all I had of my beautiful, red-headed son.”

Cantor Fitzgerald, based on the 101st to 105th floors of the north tower, lost 658 people on Sept. 11. Harry Waizer, 55, the firm’s tax counsel, said he was on an elevator between the 78th and 104th floors when he heard an explosion, shooting flames set him ablaze and the elevator car started to plummet. Waizer said he beat out the flames, and the elevator somehow glided to the 78th floor, but he was hit in the face by a fireball on the way. As he began to descend a stairwell, he said, “I could see jaws dropping and people kind of backing away.”

Waizer said he was rushed to a hospital and was unconscious for seven weeks. Prosecutors displayed photos of his reddish brown face and legs on the day he ended a five-month hospital stay.

Ronald Clifford, 51, an Irish immigrant, said he was walking into the north tower when something exploded, “everything shook” and panic set in. He said he came upon a woman, Jennieann Maffeo, 40, whose clothes were burned to tatters by flames while she waited for a bus. He said he read her the Lord’s Prayer until rescue workers got her to an ambulance, though she later died. Clifford said he escaped to a ferry before the towers collapsed, only to learn that his sister and her 4-year-old daughter were on Flight 175.

Several witnesses recounted the traumatic effects on children who lost parents.

Wen Shi, 42, whose husband, Cantor employee Weibin Wang, died in the attacks, said her 2-year-old son, Richard, woke up at night crying “where’s daddy” for two years. She told him he was “in paradise, watching us.”

But two years later, when he returned from a stay with his grandmother in China, she said, Richard accused her of lying because he could not find his father in the clouds when he looked out the plane window.

Mary Ellen Salamone, 42, said and her husband, John, a stock broker at Cantor, adopted their son, Alex, from Lithuania in 1995 before she delivered two other children. When their dog died two weeks before Sept. 11, she said, she assured the kids that “mommy and daddy . . . are all OK and we’re gonna be here,” only to lose her husband in the attacks.

Now, she said tearfully, “Alex’s full of fear of life.” He’s “afraid if a police car drives by, afraid if his friends fight or struggle that somebody’s going to die.”