Tragedy of the 9/11 widow

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Beverly Eckert became a national heroine as leader of the 9/11 relatives. Yesterday it emerged she died in the Buffalo plane crash

Even as Beverly Eckert boarded Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo, she knew she still had not shed the burden that came with the death of her husband on 11 September 2001.

The weekend was to be one more spent honouring his memory; days before, she had met Barack Obama at the White House as a 9/11 widow. Now Ms Eckert herself, who was 50, is gone, like her husband, consumed by horrifying fire. The plane, a Dash 8 flying under the livery of Continental Connection, dropped from the clouds amid icy conditions just seven miles short of Buffalo airport, killing all 49 people on board and one on the ground.

There is equality in death – every life on board was as precious as the other. But the loss of Ms Eckert, who emerged after 9/11 as a leader among relatives and friends of victims demanding action and explanations from Washington, added awful poignancy to a day of national tragedy, even for Mr Obama.

"Tragic events such as these remind us of the fragility of life and the value of every single day," Mr Obama said in televised remarks. "One person who understood that well was Beverly Eckert, who was on that flight and who I met with just a few days ago. You see, Beverly lost her husband on 9/11 and became a tireless advocate for those families whose lives were forever changed on that September day."

It was in late 2004 that Ms Eckert vowed at last to try to leave behind the pain of losing her husband, Sean Rooney, and rediscover the old groove of ordinary life at home in Stamford, Connecticut, about 40 miles from New York. After all, just about every moment until then had been dedicated to toiling for what she thought was the right thing – for the country, for herself and, above all, for Sean.

Tears would always flow when she was asked of the precise circumstances of her husband's death on that clear blue morning almost eight years ago. Mr Rooney was an employee of Aon, a risk assessment company in the insurance business, and worked on the 98th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Centre. He had been Beverly's high school sweetheart.

For reasons she could never really know, he telephoned that morning simply to remind her that he loved her. Ms Eckert then heard a loud explosion precisely at the moment that the jet airliner commandeered by al-Qa'ida terrorists ploughed into the glass and steel heights of the building. The line went dead and the two were never to speak to one another again.

Among friends and colleagues grieving for Beverly yesterday was Carol Ashley, whose daughter died in the Twin Towers. The circumstances of her death made it even worse, Ms Ashley offered. "The fact that it was a plane crash, it was fire, it was reminiscent of 9/11 that way, that's just very difficult," she said.

Ms Eckert was the co-chairperson of Voices of September 11, a group of spouses, children and friends of 9/11 victims which had formed to make sure such an attack on America could not happen again – and hold a dysfunctional American government, at least as far as intelligence gathering went, to account.

With other members of the group, Ms Eckert made repeated trips to Washington to lobby Congress first to establish an investigating commission into the intelligence failures that contributed to the 9/11 attacks and then to translate its main findings into legislation to reform intelligence gathering.

It was a hard and very long slog, but both things happened.

She was fond of recalling how, one day, she was travelling back to Connecticut late in the evening only to find that the last train to Stamford had left already. She and a friend slept on the floor of Grand Central Terminal. "We had no place else to go," she would remark some time later. "That's when you look at yourself and say, 'What am I doing? How can we possibly get this done?'"

But get it done she did and Ms Eckert remained well known as one of the widows who spurred a reluctant Washington into action. "I did all of this for Sean's memory, I did it for him," she once explained. "I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else's Sean will get to come home."

It was no surprise, therefore, that when Mr Obama invited a group of relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole to the White House a little more than a week ago to discuss his ideas for combating terrorism, the name Beverly Eckert would be among them.

Like the trip to Washington, the visit to Buffalo was a testament to the difficulties Ms Eckert faced in trying to let go of the pain she had been enduring. The duties to her husband never really ended. She was flying north first to help celebrate what would have been Sean's 58th birthday with friends and second to present a scholarship in her husband's name at a Buffalo high school.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game