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CNN Sunday Morning

Three Families Share Stories of Last Communications From Loved Ones on 9-11

Aired September 08, 2002 - 11:38   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: On the morning of September 11, family and friends of many of those in the World Trade Center received what would be their final communication with loved ones. Three families now share their stories of that last e-mail, the last phone call, that last voice mail. CNN's Maria Hinojosa reports.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So many of us, especially New Yorkers have come to understand the importance, the profound meaning, the lasting memory of our good-byes. On September 11, these three families said their regular good-byes to their loved ones, but then they had something more. One last message of love and hope or panic and fear.

Six thirty in the morning of September 11, Moises Rivas was off to work as a cook at Windows of The World on the top floor of the World Trade Center.

ELIZABETH RIVAS, HUSBAND LOST ON 9/11: He gave me a kiss at the door and said, "OK, Mamma, I have to go. See you later. Pick me up at 4:00," and that was it.

HINOJOSA: Elizabeth Rivas, the mother of six, went to the Laundromat. The soap operas on TV were suddenly interrupted.

RIVAS: I saw everything and I was calling him from the washing machine. I was calling him from my cell and nothing come up.

HINOJOSA: Sixteen minutes after the first plane hit, Moises was somehow able to get a phone line out of the very top floor. It was 9:02 when his stepdaughter, Linda, answered.

RIVAS: So I called Linda. I said, "Linda, did Moises call? Did Moises call?" "Yes, Mommy, he said not to worry. He's OK, Mommy, not to worry. He's OK." You know. I said, "What you mean not to worry. What else is there?" He said, "Mommy" -- he say, he love you -- no matter what happen, he love you.

HINOJOSA: Moises never called again, but those words were to Elizabeth a final act of love and bravery.

RIVAS: She said to me that he didn't sound worried. He didn't sound worried. A lot of people were maybe they were screaming and crying and getting suffocated with the smoke and everything and he tried to call me. He called me.

HINOJOSA: Bob Harrington was the proudest father. His stunning 31-year-old daughter Melissa, an international trade consultant, had just married an equally handsome young man, Shawn Hughes. Life was good for them in San Francisco, but on September 11, Melissa was at a meeting at the Trade Center. It was 8:55 a.m., a mere nine minutes after the attack when the phone rang at her father's home in Massachusetts.

HARRINGTON: She was a little hysterical and I couldn't understand what she was saying. So I said, "Honey, you got to slow down a minute and tell me what the problem is so I can help you out."

HINOJOSA: As his daughter spoke, Bob turned on the TV. His heart split open. But ever the father, he remained cool and calmly told her to find an exit sign.

HARRINGTON: And I said, "You get to the stairwell and you get out of that building as fast as you can." I told her that I loved her. She said, "I love you too, Dad, but you have to do me a favor." And I said, "What's that?" She said, "You have to call Shawn and tell Shawn where I am and what happened and tell him that I love him."

HINOJOSA: Twelve minutes later, at 9:07, miraculously Melissa was able to make a second call to her husband, asleep in San Francisco.

MELISSA HUGHES, LOST HER LIFE ON 9/11: Shawn, it's me. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and I'm stuck in this building in New York. There's lots of smoke and I just wanted you to know that I love you always.

HARRINGTON: And when she called me, she was panic stricken but I didn't think -- she thought she could get out of the building. But when she talked to Shawn, I could see in her voice that she knew she was going to die.

HINOJOSA: A father left to live with that gut-wrenching image, and yet, he was one of so few able to say good-bye, able to be a good father who gave advice to his little girl till the very end.

HARRINGTON: In one instance, it's good that I talked to her because I can always remember, you know, us exchanging, you know, I love you, I love you Dad, but it just is painful sometimes, you know, was painful all the time because you just don't forget that, a girl like that.

HINOJOSA: Bill Kelly loved to sail, loved the ocean, loved his four sisters and after living in New York for a year, came to love the city. And he loved his Park Avenue job for the Bloomberg Corporation. But on September 11, he was at Windows on The World, but his family and friends had no idea he was there, neither did a friend of Bill's who sent out this e-mail message that Bill received on the 106th floor on his Blackberry pager.

MIMI DONEGAN, BROTHER LOST ON 9/11: Check out the news. A plane just hit the World Trade Center. And my brother had e-mailed back to him. I'm stuck on the 106th floor, dot, dot, dot, stuck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's at 9:10.

DONEGAN: Nine ten, yes.

HINOJOSA: And then, 13 minutes of silence from Bill's end until 9:23 when another message was sent to his Blackberry.

COLLEEN KELLY, BROTHER LOST ON 9/11: His boss writes at 9:23, "Bill, are you OK?" And that's the one that Bill responds to. And Bill writes back, "So far, dot, dot, dot, we're trapped on the 106th floor but apparently fire department is almost here." The fact that he felt the fire department is almost here, to me that means at 9:23 he still had hope.

HINOJOSA: For these sisters, the final communications have meant different things. Colleen says she became fixated.

KELLY: I was really obsessed with messages and really obsessed and really wanted to know everything that Bill might have communicated. It was helping me accept his death and accept that he wouldn't be able to communicate anymore with us.

HINOJOSA: But for sister, Mimi, her peace came not with the last messages but with the messages of Bill's 30 years of life.

DONEGAN: Over time, Colleen and I have talked and the rest of the family, too, about not overvaluing those last messages either, that really trying to balance the value of the messages that he gave us all throughout his life to us, and that's what's really important. We're never going to know exactly what happened. And I think for myself, I've resolved in that. I know he probably died the exact same way he lived his life. He died with honor. He died with courage. He died a gentleman. And he died with a lot of love and a lot of faith because that's how he lived.

HINOJOSA: And those are the real, lasting, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) messages all the lost ones left behind.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.