Family Representation After 9/11

In the weeks after the September 11th attacks, relatives of the victims began to form support groups to help deal with their grief and trauma. Now, if you search 9-11 families on the internet -- you'll come up with more than 420 thousand matches. Several family organizations have formed a coalition. The question is -- do the groups really speak for most of the families of the 28-hundred people who died in New York City? As WNYC's Allison Keyes reports, it depends on whom you ask.Monica Iken - a slim blond with expressive eyes - lost her husband Michael when the twin towers collapsed. She had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant in the months before the attacks. She was so devastated that she had to take prescription drugs to help her sleep. In the midst of her numbing grief Iken had a revelation.

"I said I have to go on a mission - and my family and friends thought I was crazy - you just lost your husband - relax."

In the same way that some family members are advocating for better emergency response and tougher building codes, Iken found her own cause : she's determined not to allow anyone to build on the site where so many had died.

Now - a year later Iken's group September's Mission is part of a coalition she says is doing it's best to represent the views of ALL the victim's families.

"Through the coalition we sent out a newsletter asking if we can represent them - what are their concerns - what are their opinions - what are three things they want us to advocate for - and we're getting responses from all over the world. Up to about 7800 which have come back very positive. -It's great because we're seeing that we're doing the job they want us to do - and they appreciate the job we're doing."

Iken understands that the families have different opinions about many issues - including the memorial - but she says the coalition is doing the best it can.

"We make every attempt to reach out - we really do."

Beverly Eckert is a co-chair of Voices of September 11th. Her husband, Sean Rooney, worked for the Aon Corporation on the 98th floor of the South Tower. She bristles a bit at the thought the groups aren't representing for the majority of the families.

"People don't open their mail and they don't read and don't respond sometimes. It would be difficult for us to call every individual on a basis like that but we sent out newsletters and there's information on our website so any family member who disagrees has a chance to voice their opinion in dissent and until they do - and we're out there putting out a position - we have every reason - every justification for assuming that we actually do speak for them."

"I get a lot of e-mails from a lot of groups saying they're representing the families. No I don't feel like they're representing me - because none of these people have ever come to me and said to me how do you feel or what bothers you?"

Susan Carroll - lost her 25-year-old son Kevin Colbert, is bothered when she sees "the families" quoted in various news stories.

"I want to know what families - why don't you print a few names? What families are you talking about. 'Cause they're not my family. And I know they're not my friend's families so who's family are they?"

37-year-old Lisa Cardinali feels left out too - but for different reasons. One of the functions of the advocacy groups is to offer emotional support through e-mail, websites and meetings. Cardinali spent time trying to find a group to connect with - but says she didn't feel she belonged anywhere. The mother of three young children lost her own mom -- 62-year-old Marianne Simone - in the terror attacks.

"I just felt very alone and I still feel very alone. I feel like no one understands me. I haven't met anyone in my position. I did speak to a few 20 year old girls who lost their fathers, but no one who lost their mother. And for me - losing a mother is a very hard thing. She was my best friend - the person I confided in - She was everything. She helped me raise my children and all of a sudden I was by myself."

In fact, Monica Iken of September's Mission says many relatives of victims are too upset to talk to anyone. And others who were initially involved have backed away as the reality of the situation sets in - many will never have anything to bury. And one thing she says all the families can agree on - is making sure their loved ones have a beautiful final resting place.