After two decades of September 11, 2001, that fateful morning seems to be forgotten by each of those who lived in both New York and in the rest of the world. After the tenth anniversary, the greatest newspapers and magazines of the world reviewed articles (in Spanish) as brilliant as that written by Fernando Savater, and by the Venezuelan Alberto Barrera Tishka. They both reflected on the matter. That disaster in the great metropolis astonished most conscientious people. The images of those victims and the survivors: the fire, the burned skin, the destroyed bodies. What those people saw and heard before they died as tons of debris collapsed on them. For some of those affected by such tragedy, even many non-believers, peace was found in religion, in a nearby temple.
In the North Tower
Jenny Seu Kueng Low Wong was born in Caracas in August 1976. Her Cantonese Chinese parents have the typical Chinese restaurant beloved by many Venezuelans. Jenny studied elementary school in Los Dos Caminos School and the Catholic Mother Matilde. Although her younger sister Mary had declared that her family was not Christian, Jenny participated in activities with the nuns and was a great student.
At the age of twelve, her life changed when an aunt who lived in New York offered her the possibility of moving in with her at the end of 1988. Her parents consented to the idea. And in that city, Jenny attended a Brooklyn high school. She always returned to Venezuela during the August holidays and at Christmas. She was among the top ten in her high school.
Later she went to study at New York University, initially, she liked medicine, but she took another turn and ended up studying Business Administration and graduating in 1998.
After looking for a good job from various options, the Caracas-born woman decided on a great opportunity as assistant to the vice-presidency of the international insurer Marsh & McLennan, on the floors 93 to 100 in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A colleague of the firm, Jonathan Limmer, remembers her most constant phrase when asked how she felt, she always answered in Spanish: Chevere, Chevere!
She was a very sociable and risky woman, she traveled a lot in the United States, she liked to try things and one of the most daring was parachute jumping. She enjoyed Californian wine which she drank when visiting relatives there. Her sister says she wanted to travel to Europe and return to Venezuela, she could not do either during the last four years of her life. Even though she also wanted one, she did not have a partner.
On September 11, Jenny got up at 5:30 a.m. as usual, she exercised in White Hall Street, ten minutes far from the north tower, bought a huge coffee (Jenny loved coffee) at Starbucks and before 8:30 a.m. she was already in her 100th floor’s office.
At 7:59 a.m. from Boston Airport, American Airlines flight number 11 left for Los Angeles with 81 passengers aboard a Boeing 767. Five passengers were hijackers from the Al Qaeda network and were led by the Egyptian Mohamed Atta who would initiate the attack, that dry face with a penetrating gaze with traces on its face that seems to have suffered smallpox, would be later seen through the security cameras. The terrorists had managed to pass knives with which at 8:14 a.m. they stabbed a passenger and two flight attendants, subdued the pilots and flew half an hour to lower Manhattan.
At 8:46 a.m. Flight 11 crashed in the North Tower between the 93rd and 99th floors. Jenny would be on floor 100 where the vice presidency was, and worst of all, her office was in the north facade which received all the impact. The truth is that 295 employees of that firm must have died instantly. Some 1,344 people were in those levels and the upper ones, the shock was so certain that all the stairs were blocked preventing escape downwards. Jenny was never heard from again. The people on the upper floors succumbed to the fires or escaped the flames by throwing themselves out of the windows to choose a quicker death. At 10:28 a.m. the north tower would collapse.
In the South Tower
John Howard Boulton Jr was born in Caracas in November 1971. His name, so English, belongs to a long British tradition of a wealthy Venezuelan family. The first Boulton knew Simón Bolívar well, one of their boats even brought the remains of El Libertador from Colombia and one of them was also a patron of our famous painter Armando Reverón.
Howard, as he was usually called, had a degree in Marketing from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993 and although he had lived in the United States since his high school years, he spent most of his childhood in our Venezuela. He regularly visited the herds his family had in Cojedes, where they raised cattle and he felt like just another llanero. He liked to hunt cart ducks in the savannas of the hacienda. When he was 26 years old, he married the Icelandic Vigdis Ragnarsson and with her, he had a son who by September 2001 was eleven months old. His other great passion was Formula 1 racing.
His brother Alfred and his father-in-law say that that morning he woke up as usual at 5 in the morning to attend and play with his baby. After washing up and having breakfast, he said goodbye and went to work on the 84th floor of the South Tower in Manhattan. Since 1994, Howard had been working for the financial company Euro Brokers International where he was looking for investments, to link more translation with the Argentine branch and the rest of Latin America for that company.
When Howard was arriving at his office around 8 a.m., United Flight 175 took off from the same Boston airport. It was another Boeing 767 which had only half an hour in the air when it was hijacked and diverted to New York. The pilots and one of the flight attendants had been stabbed by five terrorists. The suicide pilot was Emirati Marwan al-Shehhi, Fayez Banihammad and three other Saudis were responsible of the highjack.
At 8:58 a.m. Marwan observed his target and descended violently from the 9,300 meters where he was erratically flying, so much so that he almost collided with another Delta airline plane, despite this he was heading safely to his target. According to the New York Air Traffic Control that followed the flight and had notified of probable hijacking due to radio silence and the diversion. The same radar noted the descent at 5 thousand feet per minute, very steep and fast for a commercial jet. The twin-engine with its 65 passengers crashed at 9:03 a.m. between the 77th and 85th floors of the South Tower, exploding violently due to its full fuel tanks. This not only killed those inside the plane but also 637 people who were at the levels that were hit. Only 18 people managed to escape from those floors.
The man from Caracas would have got used to his routines at the beginning of work for about an hour when his world ended. At 8:46 a.m. they heard the whirring of turbines and the explosion in the North Tower. As a precaution, the evacuation began, he notified his wife by phone and hung up. They tried to go down and, on the elevator, changed floor since they were told that a lot of debris was falling and they better return to the office.
The rest is told by Sakae Takushima, who managed to get off the building and was the girlfriend of Manish Patel, a native of India who was a friend of Boulton's. Manish accompanied Howard's final minutes as he spoke on the cell phone with her. As they left the office, the thunderous roar of the plane above them was heard, which must have covered them during the seconds before the explosion.
The massive collision shook the tower and the detonation and fire immediately followed. The elevators were no longer working. Among the remains of the destroyed walls, stairs and floors that were on fire, they tried to escape. They did not find a safe step down since only one ladder was standing, they were not that lucky. They returned to the office that was beginning to burn. Five minutes before the collapse Manish said to Sakae: We are going to die! It was the last thing he said. At 9:59 a.m. he 415 meters of the building collapsed.
We only know of Jenny's family that the Chinese do a remembrance ceremony in which they wear white, contrary to Western custom. And her sister made a beautiful portal on the Internet to remember her.
A few days after the tragedy, at the Don Bosco de Altamira Church in Caracas, the Boulton family attended a mass in memory of Howard.
Almost simultaneously, the country watched on television how another group burned the American flag in Plaza Bolívar in Caracas, and with that act, a quite controversial woman who led them was revealed. Did those few protesters know that two compatriots died that day because a terrorist organization on the other side of the planet had decided to kill them and 2,817 other human beings? The response of the first national magistrate was delayed and hesitant until another of his reckless phrase let slip: "The United States was looking for that problem." In contrast, almost all the countries of the world expressed solidarity against this act of supreme evil.
Around March 2002, an arm with the wedding ring with Vigdis was found in the rubble of the South Tower. He was cremated and those ashes were returned to the family in Venezuela. They were taken to the farms of so many joys of Howard's youth, there on the first anniversary of the tragedy they were buried near a freshly planted mango. The tree germinated three shoots; one was planted by his brother Alfred in the garden of the building where he lives in Caracas. The three estates were invaded and destroyed by people encouraged by the Cojedes Government between 2004 and 2006.
Howard's mother, Renata Szokolowski, upon hearing the news about the South Tower, almost lost her will to live. But a few years later she was determined to rescue part of the ashes and some of the earth from the mango roots before the destruction of the farms. She placed them in a small ceramic urn. Those ashes were placed for some eight years in an apartment that Alfred rented. A few months ago, he recovered the urn and went alone near a beach in La Sabana in Vargas State, where he scattered Howard's ashes into the sea. Every September 11 he will go to that shore in front of the ocean.
In the final report delivered by the US Department of Health and the New York Police the year after the tragedy, the death toll in the WTC was set at 2,819 of all nationalities and religious beliefs, including Muslims. 247 were Latin American, of which only two were Venezuelans. Initially, there were three more probable deaths born in our country, a couple and another woman, however, they were declared missing. Initial notes from our consulate in October 2001 reveal that the Hernández couple went to the headquarters of the Chase Manhattan Bank which was one block from the WTC, however, they never reported that same day. They and Natalie de la Cruz were recently removed from the lists of both the American Embassy in Caracas and the Memorial in the United States, as well as another hundred undetermined who remain among probable visitors or ordinary people in indefinite status, since coincidentally, they were that Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, on the premises of the twin towers. Some Venezuelans also share their experiences in the surroundings of the city during that long journey. What they remember most was the smell of burning.
That morning dawned with a radiant sun but the city ended up being covered in the gloom left by the disaster for almost a week ... and until today when we remember it. Jenny was 25 years old, and Howard 29.