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Sept. 11: One year after

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What becomes of voice mails left by those facing death on Sept. 11?

By Deborah Hastings, Associated Press

NEW YORK She has made fragile peace with her husband's death. She knows he is gone for good. For the rest of her life, she will never see his face or touch his cheek or smell the sweat from a long day's work in the creases of his neck.

On some days, on good days -- and this depends on her point of view -- Veronica Hynes can accept that. On other days, which sometime bleed into many days, she cannot.

But if she pushes a button, she can still hear his voice, more familiar to her than her own. Sounding calm but forceful. Calling her "honey" one last time. Saying he loved her. Knowing he would soon face death.

She has played that phone message hundreds of times since Sept. 11. She has made cassette tapes of it and saved them for her children. Like others left behind, she has found small but real solace in the voice of someone now dead. There is an unintended benefit in modern technology: Voice mail comforts the living.

On Sept. 11, Fire Capt. Walter Hynes waited for the sound of the beep. "Honey, it's real bad," he said into the phone just before he rolled out of Ladder Co. 13 at 85th Street and Lexington Avenue, and headed downtown to the World Trade Center. The second hijacked passenger jet had just roared into the south tower.

"I don't know if we'll make it out. I want to tell you that I love you and I love the kids."

His wife does not listen to it as often as she used to, though now she can listen without weeping. "It makes me feel good," she says. "He was thinking about us in those final moments. That gives me great comfort."

And inspires awe at the calm courage of everyday people imprisoned by wounded skyscrapers and in hijacked planes who picked up a cell phone or a desk phone or the plastic GTE receiver jammed into the airline seat in front of them, and used it to say farewell.

Those who reached a person were blessed with chances to receive and to give comfort. But those who talked to machines left a double-edged legacy, one that simultaneously warms the heart and slices the soul.

Of all five senses, none save smell evokes a more visceral, emotional response than hearing, researchers say. Think of the transporting power of a certain melody or the life-affirming joy of hearing a child laugh deep and hard. Then multiply it exponentially.

"It's such a powerful, powerful thing," says radio producer Nikki Silva of the Sonic Memorial Project, a repository for audio memories of the World Trade Center. So far, the project has collected hundreds of tapes donated by the public containing everything from the sound of elevator doors closing in the 110-story towers to weddings held at Windows on the World.

"Photographs freeze a moment. But when you hear a person's voice, they're breathing, they're alive in there," Silva says.

Psychologist C.C. Clauss-Ehlers counsels families torn apart by Sept. 11. It is not only the sound of a loved one's voice, she says, but the circumstances under which it was recorded.

"It is a real, live contact from someone who is no longer living. And it comes," she says, "from a moment in time when that person knew the world was coming to an end for them."

Melissa Hughes was trapped on the 101st floor. "Sean, it's me," she said to the answering machine, losing a battle against tears. "I just wanted to let you know I love you and I'm stuck in this building in New York."

Her husband, asleep in their bed in San Francisco where it was just after 6 a.m., never heard the phone.

"A plane hit the building, or bomb went off. We don't know, but there's lots of smoke and I just wanted you to know that I love you always. Bye."

They had been married for one year.

After months of recounting their losses in media interviews, many relatives can no longer bear to reopen their wounds. Recent messages for Sean Hughes left by The Associated Press went unanswered. The family of Krishna Moorthy no longers speaks publicly about his message.

Moorthy was a technology consultant at Fiduciary Trust in the south tower. Eleven minutes after the first plane struck, he left a message for his wife. He would call again when he got downstairs.

The call never came. On the night of Sept. 11, his name appeared on the admitting sheet of a New Jersey hospital. But Moorthy never escaped the trade center and no one has been able to explain how his name got on that list.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Larry Courtney had just walked into his midtown brokerage when a co-worker rushed over.

Courtney began checking his voice mail, half-listening to his excited colleague, registering the words explosion, fire and the World Trade Center. "I didn't understand," Courtney says. "I'd just gotten off the subway."

There was a message from Eugene Clark, his lover of 14 years, who spoke calmly. "Don't worry," Clark said. "The plane hit the other building. We are evacuating."

And then Courtney did something he will forever mourn. He punched the number 7 on his telephone keypad, deleting the last words Clark spoke to him.

"I regretted having done it within two seconds," he says. "I did it without thinking. I had no idea what he was talking about."

Television monitors on the trading floor soon slapped him with more information than he wanted to accept.

He wishes many things. That he had been at work when Clark called. That he could have told him to hightail it out of there. That he had saved the message.

"I asked people all over the company if it could be retrieved."

It couldn't.

"He sounded just like always," Courtney says. "Just like he was calling to say `Pick up a newspaper on the way home."'

Such composure astonished Silva, listening to voice mails donated to the Sonic Memorial Project.

"They're thinking past their own fears, telling people to take care of themselves and that they loved them," she says.

There is one she hopes to never forget. A husband, hurtling through northeast skies in one of four hijacked jets, dialed his home and left a message for his wife.

"He was saying `I want you to be happy, I want you to carry on,' " Silva recalls.

Then in a sweet and loving voice, he signed off.

"See you when you get here."

On the Net:

Sonic Memorial Project:

Today's news:
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Mass. remembers victims
Silence, tears mark day at Logan
Under alert, Mass. carries on
Bush faces day with resolve
World remembers attacks in US
Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
Updated wire coverage

Photo galleries:
Families mourn, remember
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Ceremony at the Pentagon
Ceremony at Pa. crash scene
Remembrances worldwide
Remembrances in Boston

NECN RealVideo:
Moment of silence observed
Ceremony at State House
Gettysburg Address read
Procession at Ground Zero
A somber travel day at Logan
Images of Sept. 11, 2001



Preparing for the worst
Security has become the new norm in Greater Boston.


Fear and children
Children's responses may shed light on human anxiety, resiliency.


Muslim minds
The US effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds is failing.


Science vs. terrorism
New chemical, biological threats spur nation's top minds.


For those deported after Sept. 11, the losses are wrenching.


A special Magazine issue
A Sept. 11 narrative by former Massport chief Virginia Buckingham, plus an essay by Christopher Hitchens.

A special Arts section
How culture has changed since Sept. 11, including a gallery of art inspired by the attacks.

A special Focus section
A look at how the lives of six Americans were altered.

Everywhere USA
Terrorism comes to God's country.


Where is Al Qaeda?
How have bin Laden and his terrorist group eluded US forces?


Two cities
New York and DC one year later.


America remembers
The US looks back at the terrorist attacks.

Victims and survivors
A year later, still hurting.

A time for bells and remembrance
A clash of views on terror
Limited damage to the economy
Families build support system
NYC's healing process
Finding comfort in the kitchen
Bailey: A day of atonement

From the Associated Press:
Tribute paid with tattoos
Charities changed by 9/11
White House calls home
9/11 stole innocence, love
Man escaped earthquake, 9/11
Update on 9/11's famous faces
Firemen still burying dead
A mother's note to a lost son
9/11 created heroes in death
Voice mails bring comfort
Little things hold memories
87th floor survivor copes
Sampling of 9/11 memorials
Pentagon survivors move on
Moments of silence on Sept. 11
Survivors try to move forward
Families cling to chances
Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
Widow becomes an advocate
Workplace response varies
Graphic: Funds offer relief

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