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Voices of 9/11

Aired August 28, 2003 - 20:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin by revisiting the horror of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Just a few hours ago, New York's Port Authority complied with a court order and released transcripts of emergency communications during the terror attacks. The Port Authority had its headquarters at the World Trade Center and was in charge of security there. Many of the people quoted in the transcripts died when the Twin Towers collapsed.

We wanted to share with you some very small parts of the 2,000 pages of documents, to give you a sense of the impact of what is found inside these transcripts. This first excerpt is from records of transmissions from the New Jersey state police network. I'm going to leave this up for a couple seconds to give you a chance to digest it.


MALE P1: (INAUDIBLE) to portable one.

MALE P2: Go.

MALE P1: The World Trade Center has collapsed. (PAUSE)

MALE A: The last (INAUDIBLE SECTION) portable one, I want the (INAUDIBLE) clear and the (INAUDIBLE) We've got to mobilize everybody. We want...


ZAHN: And then we move on to something from New York City's EMS direct line. Let's read this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody out of the building. The World Trade Center just went down.

MALE P1: Ten-Four.

MALE A: I want to (INAUDIBLE) and I want everybody out. That's it. (INAUDIBLE) the south tower. I want everybody out of the building.


(END) ZAHN: And this next excerpt is from a handwritten police report.


MALE: I've got debris feeling from (OVERLAP/INAUDIBLE) two World Trade Center. Liberty!

MALE: The tower.

MALE: Fire. Building one.

MALE: All right. Ten-four.


ZAHN: The families of 9/11 victims are divided over whether the transcripts should have been released.

We have, we hope, two guest to join us. But first off, we're going start with Carie Lemack, who joins us from Boston. Her mother died on board one of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers.

Carie, always good to see you.

CARIE LEMACK, DAUGHTER OF 9/11 VICTIM: Good to see you, too, Paula.


ZAHN: Thank you.

Your reaction to the release of these transcripts?

LEMACK: Well, I think that there's two things that the families are concerned about. The first is obviously safety. And every family member wants buildings that are built in the future and those that still stand today to be safe for the people who are inside them. And if these transcripts can provide some sort of information to make buildings safer, I think everyone supports that.

But another concern is how this information is used and in what ways the media chooses to portray it. If it's what went wrong in those buildings, then that's fine. But if the media decides to start talking about victims' last moments without the consent of those families, then we're very concerned for the families and their well- being.

ZAHN: So, once again, Carie, if you think there is something to be learned about the process of handling this horrific emergency, then that is fine?

LEMACK: I think that we all understand that we don't want this to happen again and we don't want our loved ones to have died in vain. And if there's some information we can gather from these transcripts, then that makes sense to us. But what does make sense has been the -- we'll call it exploitation of our loved ones' murders. We've seen it in the French film that was broadcast on TV, with the sounds of people dropping to their deaths. That was shown as entertainment. I hope that is what's in these transcripts is not used for people to gawk at the horror of our loved ones, it's not used as entertainment. It's only used to ensure safety of other Americans.

ZAHN: Now, were you adamantly opposed to the release of these transcripts in the beginning?

LEMACK: I think, as I said before, it's not the transcripts that upsets people. It's how they're used.

If they're used for safety, that's one thing. But if they're used to allow people to watch the loved ones, their murders, or listen to their final moments as entertainment, then that's something that we oppose. Families need time to figure out what happened to their loved ones. They need to gain some control in the process.

Some people don't want to know what happened to their loved ones in their final moments. Some do. And if they do, they deserve the choice. But if they don't, they deserve the choice not to have to hear it on television or radio or in newsprint.

ZAHN: Carie, we're going to take a shot of most of the -- actually, I'm told this is just half of the 2,000 pages of documents that I have here stacked on the desk. Have you had access to any of this material yet?

LEMACK: As all family members and the public in general, it was just released a few hours ago. So we are as in the dark or were ask in the dark as others until just now. And, obviously, we're happy if the NIST commission that's studying the collapse can learn from these transcripts.

But we're concerned that the media is going to use to it exploit what happened to some of our loved ones in their final moments.

ZAHN: I hear what you're saying loud and clear. And we spoke with a number of family members today, who were not even comfortable with trying to glean information that might be of some help on the safety issue front, because they said it's just too painful.

LEMACK: It is very painful for some people.

Specifically around this time of year, it's very difficult for many family members. And for a lot of people, they can't even begin to fathom the horrors that their loved ones went through. To have to think about the release of that publicly, without even being able to digest it first privately, it is very difficult for many people.

ZAHN: How will you be spending this September 11?

LEMACK: In private with my family, reflecting on my mom and who she is, not on how she died, but who she is and how we love her. ZAHN: Well, I hope you and your family find that healing.

Carie Lemack, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

LEMACK: Thank you, Paula. Thank you.


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