Sept. 11 Widows Demand Answers
By Annie Reuter/Senior Writer
The Daily Targum
(Rutgers Student Newspaper)
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
Kleinberg then advised journalism students in attendance, “The power that
you are able to yield is everything. If people are enlightened, you can really
Kleinberg talked of how she was disappointed with the end result of the 9/11
“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.
(c)2006 Targum Publishing Company
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