By Dan Shine
Richard S. Gabrielle
Tuesday, 9/11/01: We all remember where we were on that terrible morning.For The Boy, it began as an ordinary day at work. At 9:00 he was in aconference room in Orange, negotiating a contract with customers fromTennessee, when a middle manager burst in without knocking: “Turn on the
television! Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center!”
Surprise turned to horror, as the little group watched the endless replays:Fiery videos of the plane crashing into the tower again and again. And then, a second plane flew into the other Twin Tower. Ultimately, almost3000 civilians were killed by the barbaric terrorist attack staged byIslamic extremists.
Meanwhile, for insurance broker and West Haven resident Richard Gabrielle,his ordinary workday just had begun on the 103rd floor of the South Tower of the WTC. At about that time, American Airlines Flight 11, and United Airlines Flight 175 left Logan International Airport in Boston; both planes were bound for Los Angeles, and each plane had five hijackers on board. At 8:46, the first plane crashed into the North Tower, entering the tower intact. It appears that in response, evacuation of the South Tower began almost immediately.
At 9:02, the second plane crashed into the South Tower, between floors 77 and 85. Pieces of the plane exited the building and landed up to six blocks away. At that time, Richard Gabrielle was part of a group of 200 waiting for an express elevator to take them down from the 78th floor. Upon impact, the tower rocked back and forth, a deafening explosion occurred, walls and ceilings crumbled into a foot of debris on the floor, the air turned black and flames shot out of the elevator shafts. Most people died instantly, and others suffered serious injuries. Richard Gabrielle was thrown against a wall, suffered two broken legs, and was pinned under a large marble slab that had been on a wall.
His family was faced with the thought of him lying here by himself, in severe pain, knowing he had a terrible fear of dying in a fire. Six months later, the tapes surfaced, known as “Lost Voices of Firefighters.” From it, the family learned that firefighters arrived, mentioned his name by radio, and were working to provide aid and comfort to him and others when at 9:59 the South tower collapsed, killing all those who could not exit the building, and their rescuers as well.
Richard Gabrielle’s brother George “Gabe” Gabrielle had previously planned to come north from his home in Florida and visit Richard on Sept. 13; when he finally was able to fly into New York, Gabe took his place in a long line of people giving DNA samples, in hopes of identifying the remains of his brother. They were never found. There was a sad silence all around the area of southern Manhattan, as relatives of the victims searched the trauma centers in hopes of finding a loved one, even as others walked the streets vainly holding up photos of a family member who had vanished in the smoke and rubble on that day.
In the aftermath of it all, Gabe returned to his own job, only to find his desk covered with cards expressing sympathy, and numerous stuffed animals, meant to comfort him in his grief. And then there were telephone messages–no words, just the sounds of people crying on the other end of the line–for the words could not be spoken. And later, there followed memorials and observances of the loss of Richard Gabrielle and the thousands of others who were the victims of a senseless act of violence.
Richard Gabrielle had lived on Island Lane; today, not far away on the boardwalk, there stands a monument in his memory. His family is comforted by the knowledge that he did not die alone: He was being comforted by professionals and receiving care right up until the very end.
Richard’s brother Gabe says, “I believe the event far overshadows the individual or even collective losses, which we as a country must understand there are people out there who would do this over and over, or worse, if they could…that they will never stop trying and we must not be naïve enough to think that this was a onetime occurrence”.