Families detail effects of 9/11

At Moussaoui trial, wives, siblings and parents talk of going on after attack, in emotional courtroom

Newsday Staff Correspondent

April 12, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Wendy Cosgrove sees the ghastly ripples of Sept. 11 most vividly in her middle child, Claire, who was 9 when her father, Kevin, of West Islip, died in the south tower.

"Recently, we discovered that she's been self-mutilating herself," Cosgrove testified yesterday at the death-penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, one day after jurors heard her husband's call to 911 as the tower collapsed. "She can't express her anger any other way."

Kathleen Byrne of East Norwich sees the ripples in her mother, Charlene, who has never recovered from the death of her son Timothy Byrne, 35, Kathleen's older brother who served as a surrogate father of eight siblings after their dad died in 1986.

"She can't come out," Byrne said of her mother. "She can't leave her house. She surrounds herself with pictures of Tim, lights candles all day. She can't imagine a safe place for her and her family without Tim. It's really ... scary."

And Michael Williams of Shoreham feels them in a deep sense of loneliness whenever he visits Yankee Stadium, where he and his son Kevin used to be regulars. Now, he always wanders outside in the middle innings to the solitude of the giant bat in the plaza, where the two used to meet up until Kevin, a trader, died in the south tower at 25.

"I talk to Kevin at the bat," Williams told the jury. "I don't know if he can hear me, but I know I can't hear him. There's no drug, no alcohol, no friend that can take this pain away."

The testimony of the three Long Islanders, and 10 others victimized by the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, marked the third consecutive day in which grisly pictures of charred bodies, desperate emergency calls and a tapestry of grief and memory have virtually shoved Moussaoui into the background of the punishment phase of his trial.

His only show of emotion yesterday came as a prosecutor recounted the damage to various Pentagon commands. Moussaoui smiled and pumped his fist slightly. He offered his commentary at the lunch recess, shouting, "Burn whole Pentagon next time."

Prosecutors are trying to persuade jurors that the al-Qaida terror operative deserves execution, instead of life in prison. The jury has already found that Moussaoui, 37, caused deaths on Sept. 11 by lying to the FBI about his knowledge of a hijack plot when he was arrested in August 2001.

Today, prosecutors are expected to close their case by airing publicly for the first time the cockpit voice recorder from United Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania as passengers tried to retake it. The defense, probably tomorrow, will begin presenting evidence on Moussaoui's religious indoctrination, and possible mental problems.

Although U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema on Monday warned prosecutors not to overwhelm jurors with emotional evidence, she let them display several photos of the carnage at the Pentagon yesterday. One appeared to show a charred torso sitting up, others indecipherable mounds of burned flesh.

Jose Rojas Jr., a Pentagon police officer, described how he lost his grip on one man as he pulled mutilated survivors out through a window. "He slipped back because his skin came off in my hands," Rojas said. "I had to dig my fingernails into his flesh."

Navy Lt. Nancy McKeown, who ran a small meteorological unit in the Pentagon, was one of two officers to describe a harrowing escape from offices that rapidly filled with debris, thick smoke and searing heat after the jumbo jet hit.

She scrambled under a desk. Afterward, she staggered blindly through rubble, calling out for two young aides - Edward Earhart, 26, and Matthew Flocco, 21 - until she found a way out. They died. It was her duty to see her "sailors" home, and she took Earhart's body back to Kentucky.

"I inspected his uniform to ensure that his buttons were buttoned and his medals were straight," she said through sobs. "I then stayed by his side until he was buried."

Wendy Cosgrove Wendy Cosgrove (Newsday / Ken Sawchuk)  (Mar 31, 2006)

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