For Lewiston residents who were touched directly and intimately by the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the days since Osama bin Laden’s death was announced Sunday night have been ones of reflection and sorrow as much as celebration.
Judy Andrucki, a Lewiston lawyer whose husband’s niece was killed in the attacks, went to bed early without turning on the TV on Sunday, still jet-lagged from a recent trip to Europe. When she took in her newspaper the next morning, she was shocked to see a bearded, all-too-familiar face dominating the front page, under the headline “Bin Laden dead.”
“I had given up any thoughts” about bin Laden being found, Andrucki said. “At first, it was all about the operation and how it went down, and then . . . I started reliving this,” she said, referring to the days and weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers where Jean Andrucki, her niece by law, worked as a risk assessor for the Port Authority.
“I can’t say I’m sad” that bin Laden was killed, she said. “It’s brought back a lot of memories. It was just a nightmare.”
In 2001, Andrucki and her husband, Martin, a Bates professor, had gone to New York for Jean’s memorial service, and to attend a larger memorial for victims of the attacks at Ground Zero. It was the first time authorities had let family members back on the site, she said.
“It was an amazing moment, standing down there. Everyone had lost someone. Everyone had a story,” Andrucki recalled. The ground near the site was greasy, black, she said. There was a sweet but acrid scent in the air, like burning plastic. Dust coated the goods in abandoned Manhattan shops, and there were pictures everywhere, posted by people searching for missing loved ones: “. . . just ‘missing,’ ‘missing,’ ‘missing,’” Andrucki said.
“This event has brought everyone back to that moment,” she said. While she has continued to monitor the news of bin Laden’s death as it develops, some other family members have tried to shield themselves, she said.
“It’s a hard moment,” Andrucki said. “I’m still angry about what was done.”
Andrucki recognizes, like so many others, that bin Laden’s death does not change the reality that their family members have died; that they can’t trade his body for the loved one that disappeared when the hijacked planes struck and the towers collapsed.
“It’s one of those things that I don’t think will ever be forgotten,” said Paul Jalbert, whose brother Robert Jalbert was on the second plane to hit the Twin Towers. “Nothing can give those lives back. That’s not going to change any,” Jalbert, who lives in Lewiston, said.
While bin Laden’s death was welcome — “I’m glad they caught him. I’m glad they killed him,” Jalbert said — the event doesn’t signal the end of his grief. “I always think of my brother. I don’t need this to bring back the memory of my brother,” Jalbert said, adding that for the last 10 years, things on TV and in the newspaper, and the people around him have triggered thoughts of his brother on a weekly basis.
In many ways, the importance of the event lies not in bringing closure for the victims’ families, but in politics. “It’s important politically, in a way that doesn’t affect the families,” Andrucki said. After a difficult decade, fraught with deadlocked wars and declining fortunes, “it’s a clarifying moment of American success,” she said.
Still, the fact that the mastermind of the attacks is no longer hiding and no longer capable of planning further destruction may change the tone of the 10th anniversary when it arrives in September, Andrucki said. “I think it will be significant . . . Maybe some people will be comforted.”
Anticipating a greater memorial, Andrucki has booked a hotel room in New York for Sept. 11, 2011. She plans to attend with Jean’s sister, Laura, who wants to go.
It took a long week for Andrucki to believe that Jean had perished in the attack. It’s been a much longer 10 years, and Jean still won’t be back. Nor will Robert Jalbert, nor the thousands of others who lost their lives on Sept. 11. But neither will Osama bin Laden.