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Interview with Christine Papasso, Sally Regenhard, Richard Saracelli

Aired March 10, 2002 - 07:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to talk about September 11. We have three special guests with us.

As you know, many people are personally touched by September 11 terrorist attacks the last months have seemed like a lifetime for them.

MILES O'BRIEN: Their days have been filled with pain and despair and some anger. Three guests joining us from our New York bureau this morning to talk about how they're getting along six months later. Christine Papasso lost her husband in the World Trade Center attack. Sally Regenhard lost her son. And Lieutenant Richard Saracelli is a New York firefighter who toiled at ground zero and lost many of his brothers there.

PHILLIPS: I want to welcome the three of you. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.



PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk first, give you a chance to talk about your husband, your son, and Rick, your fellow firefighters who were on the ground with, and obviously quite an intense day to say the least. Rick, take us back to when you responded September 11.

SARACELLI: Well of course, September 11 was the worst day of my life, as it is for many people across the country. I was home. I got to see the towers hit on television. And I left immediately for my firehouse in the Bronx. And we made ready to go down there to assist in the search and rescue and recovery effort. And my fire company, ladder 49, was staged in midtown at engine 23.

At 8:00 that night, I went down with the night crew to relieve the day crew. And shortly thereafter, we were relocated to ladder company 1 on Dwayne Street, about three blocks from the disaster. So we found ourselves right in the middle of the disaster.

PHILLIPS: And Sally, your son had just graduated from the fire academy, correct? SALLY REGENHARD, MOTHER OF WTC VICTIM: My son graduated from the fire academy six weeks before 9/11. And since then, our lives have been devastated, not only my life, but the life of all the other relatives of the people who were killed. And in my son's memory, I have created, and I am currently the chairperson of the campaign for skyscraper safety. It's a project of parents and families of firefighters and World Trade Center victims.

It is our goal to force the federal government to do a thorough, complete, and independent investigation into all the reasons why the World Trade Center collapsed. And I'm very, very proud and happy to say that congressional hearings were held this past Wednesday, March 6. And the science committee of the House of Representatives have decided to commence that investigation.

PHILLIPS: Sally, I know you have a picture of Christian. We'd love for you to share that with us.

REGENHARD: Yes, I do. This is his probe E picture. And this was his graduation picture. And I also have a picture of the uniform he work before he joined the fire department. And Christian was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was a recon Marine. He won 12 medals in five years. And he was an outstanding person. He was a graduate of Bronx High School of Science. He had a 146 IQ. He was an artist, a writer, a rock climber, an environmentalist and a humanitarian.

And you know what? There were many, many people, both civilians and rescue people who were the most outstanding people in our society. And it is a disgrace what happened to them.

O'BRIEN: Christine, tell us about your husband. You were married for a little more than year. you know, the first year of a marriage is a special time. It's a time to make a lot of plans and think about the future. Obviously, all that is -- has changed in an instant. Are you able to embrace the future yet? Are you still reflecting on the past?

CHRISTINE PAPASSO, WIDOW OF WTC VICTIM: I'm still at a point of September right now. My life has changed so much that I don't plan for anything. Everything that I ever planned for or thought of is gone. We planned, you know, for our life together, to grow old together, to have children. And it was taken away from me in one day.

O'BRIEN: Are you like Sally in that you are engaging in some efforts to try to ease the grief in some way? Sally's working, you know, for the skyscraper safety, for example. Have you been able to do that? And do you think that would be of any solace to you?

PAPASSO: I have joined Sally on the trip to Washington for the congressional hearings. I also am working -- my husband worked for law enforcement, and I'm working on a bill that he had started before September 11 to have him get police officer status. He right now has peace officer status and it's a very big difference. And I want to have that done for him. O'BRIEN: So I mean, does that help at all, when you go to Washington and try to change laws? I mean, it's -- in a way, I would think that would still leave someone such as yourself very empty, nevertheless?

PAPASSO: It doesn't help the pain, but it helps to know that they're not forgotten and this will never happen again.

PHILLIPS: As you can imagine, we're getting a number of e-mails already to direct to the three of you. One here, Ronnie writes, "I would like to ask the question to one of the victim's family members, do you feel most people in the United States have forgotten what happened on September 11?"

REGENHARD: Well, I feel that if you've been directly affected, of course, you'll never forget. But you know, I think it's human nature. As time passes, people do forget. You know, it wears off. It's the goal of the campaign for skyscraper safety not to have people forget about the dangers of skyscrapers, not to have people forget that this is not the end of it.

You know, we've lost our safety. We've lost our security. We have to look at the buildings that are constructed. We have to look at the safety of people in their homes and in their -- and when they work. And it's my goal in having these congressional hearings, in changing the laws about the construction of skyscrapers, and it's also my goal to safeguard the fire service. And in this way, people will not forget about 9/11.

O'BRIEN: Here's a good one. This comes from Shashi Kant in Vancouver, British Columbia. And it's a big long, but Mr. Kant was a victim of an attack years ago and has difficulty dealing with his feelings of vengeance. And his question is, and anyone of you can answer this one, "How are you coping with feelings of vengeance and hate and how are you adjusting? How are you able to handle those emotions?"

Richard, you want to go with that? Why don't you go with that?

SARACELLI: Yes, I could answer that, Miles.


SARACELLI: I'm sorry on the attack on the gentleman from Vancouver. I don't feel vengeance. I feel mostly just wanting to get on with the job, just wanting to get on with making things right at ground zero. It's up to our military to carry out the vengeance end of it. And I think vengeance is probably the wrong word.

I think what we should all be working toward is just making sure this never happens again, not from a vengeful standpoint, but from the standpoint that Americans can never be attacked again. And we have to eradicated terrorism for that reason, not for vengeful reasons.

PHILLIPS: Rick, Sally, and Christine, we're going to ask you to stand by because we want to take a quick break. But before we go, Christine, I just received an e-mail from your sister, Karen. And she says, "I would like to express my pride to Christine on the way in which she is handling herself with class and dignity in this situation. Not a day goes by that her friends and myself don't feel for her and pray for her to have the strength to carry on." We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: Once again, we'd like to encourage you to e-mail us at this morning. And we're joined by three special guests from the FDNY, Rick Saracelli, also Sally Regenhard. She's the mother of a WTC victim. And Christina Papasso, a widow of at WTC victim.

We received a number of very nice comments. We just got one, didn't we?

O'BRIEN: Yes, there's room in the e-mail box if you'd like to send us one, feel free. We, kind of a little late getting up and running here on the e-mails. So let's -- this is an interesting one. "I'm listening to the show this morning with two ladies and the firefighter And one question just asked do you think people have forgotten? I have not forgotten. I doubt very many people have forgotten. It's part of daily conversation and continues to be this day, around my community." That from Mike Harvel.

What happens? And this could go to anyone of you, while it hasn't been forgotten, it does fade in peoples' memory. Life goes on is the expression. And on the one hand, I'm sure you would embrace, because you want life to go on for yourselves. On the other hand, when memories fade, is it in some way an insult to the losses that you all have endured? Who would like to take that one? That's kind of a hard one, Sally?

SARACELLI: I'll take that one.

O'BRIEN: OK, Richard, go ahead.

SARACELLI: People have not forgotten. The disaster doesn't end, it just changes form. I've traveled to diverse places across this country of ours. I've been to the town of Bethlemane, representing the New York City fire department. And last weekend, I went down with the mayor's conference of cities to Macon, Georgia where I got to talk with many wonderful people. And people have not forgotten. They want to do so much for New York City and so much for the New York City fire department. They want to be part of the healing process in this disaster. And it's our job to let them do what they can to help us.

Like I said before, the disaster hasn't gone away. It's just changed form.

O'BRIEN: Anybody else on that one?

PHILLIPS: Go ahead, Sally.

REGENHARD: Yes, I'd like to say that if people across this country and in this city want to help us, the most -- one of the most important things that they can do is to contact their congressman, contact their elected officials, everyone from the president on down, and tell them that we need to have this comprehensive investigation into the construction, into the design, and into many other aspects of why the World Trade Center collapsed. This is relevant, not only for people in New York, but people in this nation, and people in other countries.

I have received phone calls from as far away as London. People telling me that they've heard about this campaign and they want to know more about it. I got a call from a woman whose brother attended a business meeting at the Windows on the World that day, and she never saw him again. And she is angry and she is devastated. And she wants to know how in this greatest city in the world, in the greatest country in the world, these buildings could have collapsed like buildings in a third world country.

So we have to have people insist. We have to change the building codes. We have building codes right now that treat 10 story buildings with the same standard as a 110 story building. It is just outrageous. If we could know more about these details.

I have spent the last six months researching all the aspects of the Twin Towers. And you know what I have found out is horrifying. You know, many skyscrapers are death traps for people. And we have to look at it. We have to change it. We have to make sure what buildings are safe and what buildings are not. And this is a painful subject. It is not politically correct.

But you know, we allowed this attack on our country because we were more concerned with political correctness than we were in ensuring the safety and the well being of the American citizens. Everything has to change now. We have to change everything.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely, absolutely. Sally, we hear you. Definitely, well made point. We're receiving a number of e-mails now. This comes from Gord, interesting point that he makes here. "Canadian view of WTC, I feel the commercialism of this tragedy is shameful. I cannot believe anyone could even consider making a move or any other claim to fame at the cost of these family members. We cannot allow this ever happen."

Christine, maybe you can respond to this. I don't know if this is out of, you know, the talk about the CBS documentary that's going to air tonight. I know there was a lot of controversy over that. How do you feel about that, Christine?

PAPASSO: I agree with that comment. There has been so much controversy. Our lives are an open book right now. People who don't even know us want to know our financial situation. There are cartoons being made about us. The terror widows, about being -- everything about money. It's not about money. It's about having a loved one home with us, which we'll never get. And the terror widows and the terror mothers and the families, they just want justice. They want an investigation. They want to know why this happened. They don't ever want it to happen again.


SARACELLI: I believe that the story must be told. In relation to the film that's going to air tonight, I believe that film shows New York City firefighters at their best. They were in there to rescue 25,000 people, the biggest rescue effort ever undertaken in this country. And I realize it's going to be painful for victims' families to watch, but that story must be told. And I'm proud of my brother firefighters for going in there and saving 25,000 lives.

PHILLIPS: Rick Saracelli from the Fire Department New York and Sally Regenhard, also Christine Papasso, thank you three so much. We know it's early. We know it's a tough subject, but boy, you really added a special touch to our CNN SUNDAY morning this morning.

O'BRIEN: Let's -- I'd like to leave you all. Stay with us. Just hear this from one of our viewers. "Your lives have forever changed by the loss of those you loved. Hold on to your treasured memories, grieve, and embrace who care about you. We will never forget how our lives have forever changed. We all have to keep the compassion and kindness that has been revived in our country. We must change laws and force what has been promised and allocate to those families that have suffered a loss.

There are many who feel the same way. Have courage to face new challenges. You are not alone."

REGENHARD: Thank you. That's beautiful.

O'BRIEN: That was a beautiful comment.

REGENHARD: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Back with more in a moment.





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