NEW YORK (USA TODAY/Melanie Eversley) — For many, 9/11 is characterized by a televised reading of the names of the dead at Ground Zero. But for those looking for answers in what’s left of the World Trade Center rubble, the words on TV are empty promises in a tragedy still unfolding.
Survivors struggle with broken lives and jobs lost due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Others try to let go of anger: their loved ones ended up in a tumble of broken wreckage in a landfill on Staten Island, left to endure rain, snow and wind. Now the remains sit in a museum, in a private area open only to victims' family members, not far from where curious tourists buy trinkets at a souvenir shop.
Staffers at the medical examiner’s office still work to identify remains that turned up as recently as 2013. Families of 1,113 of the 2,753 who died still have no biological confirmation of death, according to New York’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“Someone says to you, ‘Tough it up, kid. Move on. The person died 15 years ago,’“ says Arnold Korotkin, 71, a Montclair, N.J., sociologist and creator of a massive 9/11 listserv. “Forty to 50% of the families didn’t have any body parts returned to them. Only a small percentage had an entire body returned to them. Sometimes, it was just a wedding ring with a finger, or a jawbone with teeth.”
“This isn’t over,” Korotkin adds. “The wound heals and every Sept. 11 the scab gets taken off for a moment.”
Many ongoing issues still swirl around survivors and families. Among them: what role Saudi Arabia may have played in the terror attacks and 28 classified pages of a federal document that some lawmakers say includes a smoking gun; the inclusion of more cancers in insurance coverage for first responders; the treatment of remains.
"I was paranoid," retired police Sgt. Dennis Frederick said of the years immediately following 9/11 and his ongoing battle with PTSD. "I thought people were trying to injure me, trying to hurt me. I'd have rage attacks. I was like a loaded gun when I was walking around in public. It was a shame. I was a danger to others. I was close to being hospitalized because I was such a danger to myself and others."
Frederick, retired from the Port Authority Police Department, already was struggling with PTSD and working a desk job when a plane struck tower one — the North Tower — of the World Trade Center.
Until that moment, Frederick’s professional life was one traumatic situation after another. He’d worked as a social worker in a children’s shelter, caught war criminals as a member of the U.S. Air Force elite Special Forces Unit, and joined the Port Authority Police Department in 1980, only to see his partner get fatally shot a few months later. He often was the first person at the scene when someone was hit by a train and was one of the first responders in 1993 when terrorists blew up a truck bomb at the World Trade Center, killing six people.
By 2001, he’d reached a point where he was often paranoid, could not always understand reality and drank too much. The department took his weapon and assigned him to desk duty in Jersey City, N.J.
In his autobiographical Kindle book The Hollow Man, which recounts his experiences on Sept. 11, Frederick, 64, tells of a police officer who has lost his courage. But Frederick, who lives in Little Egg Harbor on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Nancy, wrote that he felt that he returned to his old self when he had to think on his feet that day.
On the morning of Sept. 11, a work colleague told Frederick and his coworkers that a plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. They got in a car and made the quick trip over to lower Manhattan. Frederick, familiar with the complex because of the years he was based there, directed the others. He ran up the steps of Tower One, directing people down the stairs. As the smoke and confusion grew, he heard a thunderous sound and the building shook. He learned that a plane had struck the second tower. He and his colleagues assumed they were about to die.
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