The barrage of text messages came through on Iliana Guibert McGuinnis’ cell phone late Sunday night: “Turn on the TV,” one of the texts read. “Any channel.”
What followed was a moment that the Cuban 9/11 widow had given up hoping would ever happen: The announcement that Osama bin Laden, in effect her husband’s murderer, had been killed.
“I was bawling and my legs were shaking,” she says today, through tears. “For me and a lot of other women in my position, this is probably the best Mother’s Day present we could have gotten.”
On September 11, 2001, McGuinnis kissed her husband Thomas goodbye as he left extra early for a meeting. A commodities trader, he worked at the Mercantile Exchange, a building near the World Trade Center, but that morning he had business at the North Tower. After hearing about the attack on the Twin Towers, she tried calling him for what seemed like an eternity, to no avail. When the phone call from him came, he told her that he and others were stuck in a meeting room on the 92nd floor of the North Tower—just below the area where American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the building. As she tried reassuring him that he was resourceful and would make it out, Thomas, 41, simply said “I love you. Take care of Caitlin [the couple’s then-four-year-old daughter]. If we get out of here it will be a miracle.” Then the line went dead.
After hearing the Bin Laden news the night of Sunday, May 1, 2011, McGinnis cried herself to sleep. On Monday morning, she had to tell her now 13-year-old daughter that Bin Laden had been killed—one of many milestones that McGuinnis says will mark her daughter for the rest of her life. Still, “her father won’t be there when she graduates high school, when she gets into college. He won’t be there to kick out her first boyfriend, or when she gets married,” McGuinnis, a successful actress, says.
That’s why though she’s glad that Bin Laden was brought to some kind of justice, she will always feel the emptiness of losing her high school sweetheart and “soulmate.” “There’s nothing that can bring back our guys,” McGuinnis says of the 9/11 widows. “I’m glad that the man is gone. It’s one less person that can do this to other people or to another country,” McGuinnis says. “When 9/11 happened people asked me if I hate these people. And I just couldn’t even hate because it was so unbelievably sad that these people could have so much hate in their heart for people who have never done anything to you.”
While McGuinnis was checking hospitals and hoping against hope that her husband had somehow made it out of the North Tower on September 11, 2001, Puerto Rican community worker Maritza Falu was furiously calling Latino volunteers from Newark for a trip to Ground Zero. Once there, Falu and 35 others did anything and everything they could to help rescue workers: delivered food and drink, gave them massages, donated blood. “It was chaos, an inferno, nevertheless, they stayed in the area five days. There was a real sense of community. We were all one,” adds Falu. Head of the nonprofit Impacto 2000, Falu was featured in Latina’s December 2001 issue in a cover story honoring Latina 9/11 heroes titled, “Portraits of Heroism.”
As she watched the news of Bin Laden’s death on Sunday night, Falu wanted to feel a sense of closure, but ended up feeling rage. “You feel some relief that you have the end of a chapter, but after 10 years, you still have the consequences of what this man did,” says Falu, referring to rescue workers who have developed, and in some cases, died from, health problems connected to having been exposed to toxic air at Ground Zero. “Even though it should be closure, I didn’t think his death was enough. There should have been some type of punishment. Killing him, he got to take the easy way out.”