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'We don't have any proof' say the families of victims still listed as missing
By Sara Kugler, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Missing. The word has lost its hopeful luster since the days when families plastered the city with photographs of those who didn't come home on the night of Sept. 11.
"If you've seen her, call us," the fliers begged, offering optimistic details on the eye color, scars and freckles of the lost. "With any information please call."
This Sept. 11, fewer than 100 names will remain on the missing list. No one disputes they are gone, but the city will not list them among the confirmed dead until remains are identified or their grieving relatives bring themselves to apply for a death certificate.
"It's very hard to live with the fact that somebody can just disappear like that without a trace," said Dee Ragusa, whose son Michael Ragusa, 29, is among a number of firefighters still classified as missing. "He just went 'poof' in the air one day."
In their hearts, the Ragusas know that Michael is gone. But like many families whose loved ones vanished on Sept. 11, they admit they still look for his face in the crowds. Some widows said they even called homeless shelters in lower Manhattan, searching for their husbands.
"I think there isn't one person who isn't missing a loved one that still doesn't have that ounce of hope," Ragusa said. "You know he's gone, but we don't have any proof yet. Maybe he chickened out and ran away -- you go through all those scenarios."
Ragusa said her family is not in denial about Michael's death. But they've debated whether he could have amnesia or might be scared to come home.
"There's just that little bit of hope. Because he hasn't been found, you say 'maybe,"' she said.
The victims on the missing list do not have court-issued death certificates generally for two reasons -- either their families don't want to apply or haven't been able to, according to Police Inspector Jeremiah Quinlan, who heads the trade center missing persons investigation.
Victims' relatives who live in other countries may not have applied because the process can be hard from far away. Families of undocumented workers may have trouble proving their loved ones were in the trade center.
More than 60 of the missing are rescue workers. Many of their families have held memorial services for the dead, but have not been able to force themselves to apply for the death certificates, which state, "Body Missing."
"I'm not delusional or kidding myself. I know he was there and I know he's not coming home," said Donna Hickey, whose husband, Capt. Brian Hickey, is among the missing. "But it's not going to change anything; it's not going to be this light going on, 'Oh, OK, now I know.' It's a piece of paper that doesn't tell us anything."
Hickey's family mourned him at a memorial service in Bethpage, N.Y., on June 11, nine months after he disappeared, on what would have been his 48th birthday. His wife and four children laid to rest a coffin that holds his crushed, dirt-caked helmet -- the only sign of him found in the ruins.
Hickey said she eventually will apply for a death certificate, at her lawyer's urging. But she resents the idea that her husband is categorized as missing in the attack.
"To this day, I have not been told my husband's gone," Hickey said. "I haven't been told he's dead. The building came down and he wasn't found and that's just the way it is."