The 9/11 hoax “That morning, I was on my way to work, in my convertible...” the man told me. I’ll call him Russ. As Russ began his story, I listened intently, as he had to mine.
I’d told him how shocked and dazed I was on 9/11 as I heard about the first tower then the second, falling. “It was as if the weight of that horror had crashed on me. I was as stunned as I’d been many years before when I’d learned that one of my favorite uncles had died when he flew his plane into the side of a Carolina mountain.”
Although it wasn’t cold, that’s when I shivered.
“Russ,” I told him, “that’s when I felt compelled to go to Manhattan, to see the wreckage, to pay homage to the fallen. I had to make peace with what happened there.” And I did go; I told Russ about that too, about how frantic I was to find a spot where I could clearly view the scope of the damage. “But there was a fence around the site with occasional peep holes, barely big enough to fit my camera lens into. Finally, I saw a walkway. I think I had to get tickets to get on it.” At the time, I couldn’t remember where I had gotten the tickets. I was shaking too badly to recall. “There were memorials everywhere,” I said, as I began to weep, “and small teddy bears from children with pictures of fathers they had lost on 9/11. Pictures I took that day of them are treasures to me.”
When I told Russ about going to Penn Station to see larger than life Polaroid pictures of many of the fallen heroes that day, I thought I heard him sob. “Please tell me your story,” I said quietly.
That’s when he began describing his drive to work. He’d come in late that morning. “Suddenly,” he told me, debris was flying through the air over the top of my car. Moments later I saw what had happened.” He paused. I gasped.
“When I was able,” Russ continued, “I pulled over, in shock. On the top floor of that building was my entire staff, and, for what it’s worth, all of my records. Gone.”
Perhaps I imagined hearing Russ cry. He had brought me so close to the 9/11 catastrophe, to the feeling of enormous pain he had felt, that I sensed a kinship with him, a kinship born of a brutal shared remembrance. When Russ exclaimed, in what sounded like an inconsolable cry, that he didn’t what to do or where to go, I suggested that he start over, that he come to Danville to rebuild his life.
“Things are safer here, more affordable. People are good and trustworthy here,” I told him. “You can begin a new life here. I’ll help.”
And I did. Within three weeks, he’d bought the house I’d told him about, just up the street from my parents. A week later, again with my help, he’d opened a downsized version of his business, a debt collection service. Helping Russ had helped me deal with the trauma that lingered from 9/11.
Or so I thought. Although we didn’t see each other that often, we were friends. We spoke on the phone almost daily. He had seemed interested in my new pursuit, the study of radical Islam. If I wanted to discuss something about it that no one else would listen to, Russ would. For a while, I thought we were buddies. He even introduced me to a few of his girlfriends. Now and then he and I would talk about the aftermath of 9/11.
Word had gotten out that I was helping Russ. People who wanted to know about the work that he did called me. Among his customers were banks. At least one was local.
All seemed to be going well until I received a call months later. The caller wasn’t happy with me because I had helped his father. He accused me of terrible things, made it sound as if I had aided and abetted a criminal.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I confessed. “I thought I was helping him rebuild his life.”
“Well, you helped him destroy mine,” he said, still seething. “He used my social security number for the credit check. That’s how he was able to buy the house he’s in. Now that purchase is showing up on my credit report!”
Hearing that shocked me. I asked the young man to confirm some of the supposed facts his father had shared with me.
“No, he wasn’t anywhere near the Twin Towers that day. He was out of work, sitting in front of the TV after having beaten my mother the night before. She had to be hospitalized. Not long after that, he fled.”
More confirmations that I’d been lied to and swindled followed. Russ had actually been on parole, and had come to Virginia without informing authorities. I did. And I contacted everyone who had any business dealings with him.
I also spoke to his latest girlfriend. She and I worked together to gather more information by contacting sheriff’s departments in four different states. Ultimately, I received a call from one of the law enforcement officers we’d been in touch with.
“Thanks for informing us,” he told me . We’ve just been notified that he has applied for a loan at a bank near Eden. And he’s used his other son’s social security number.”
He asked whether the man, Russ, was dangerous. “I’m sure he is,” I replied. The next day, when he walked into the bank, he was arrested. Since then, he hasn’t left prison.
When I heard that he’d been caught, I called his wife and his sons. By this time, we had gotten to know each other well. When I said, “At least it’s over now,” to the one of the sons, he scoffed at me.
“No it’s not, not for me. I’m a Jr. I have to wear his name.” He was disgusted.
Like a shock wave, his words shook me deeply. Russ’s entire family had been wounded by the repercussions of 9/11.
And so had I.
B. Koplen 8/25/11