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Sept. 11 kin want answers


9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser of Middletown carries daughter Caroline, 4, at yesterday's hearing on the attacks. BOB BIELK

MADISON -- As an insurance company executive testified before the national commission on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, four Central Jersey women who fought for the investigation sat frustrated in the front row with their children.

Eleven months since the commission started its inquiry, the four women -- who lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attack -- are upset that they still have none of the answers they were hoping to get.

"It is extremely disappointing," said Mindy Kleinberg of East Brunswick. Her late husband, Alan, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.

Kleinberg had worked with Patty Casazza of Colts Neck, Kristen Breitweiser of Middletown and Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick to lobby Congress to create the National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. It held its fifth public hearing yesterday in the Baldwin Gymnasium at Drew University.

Kleinberg said she often walks out of the hearings wondering why the commission chose its witnesses.

"Most of the hearings are not substantive," Kleinberg said. "We are not getting any of the answers we were hoping for."

The hearing yesterday focused on how the private and public sectors need to prepare for another attack by improving security at chemical and power plants, protecting the water supply, and creating uniform building codes for skyscrapers.

Gov. McGreevey testified yesterday about efforts to prepare the state to deal with any catastrophes.

Chubb Corp. Vice Chairman John J. Degnan testified about how insurance companies were able to pay all claims related to the terrorist attacks. He also told the commission what protections are needed to help insurance companies if they should need to meet such a demand again.

But many of the victims' relatives said they considered his testimony irrelevant to the questions they wanted answered.

"They are still missing a large part of the story," Van Auken said yesterday. Her husband, Kenneth, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

"They talked about everything except what happened on Sept. 11," she said.

The commission's progress "is not giving me any renewed confidence in the players in Washington to do the right thing," Casazza said.

Van Auken's daughter, Sarah, 14, sat by her side through the hearing. Her son, Matthew, 17, wasn't able to attend. Kleinberg brought her daughter, Lauren, 9, and her son Jacob, 11, to learn about the commission. She decided her youngest son, Sam, 3, was too young to attend.

Breitweiser's 4-year-old daughter, Caroline, sat on her lap and sometimes played games with her mother during the morning testimony.

Van Auken said the women brought their children for a reason.

"It is good for the commission to see who they are doing this for," she said.

Jacob Kleinberg brags about his mother's work to his friends. When classmates ask about his parents, he replies, "My father is unemployed, and my mother is a rebel."

His sister offers advice about how stories on her mother and the other women should start.

"This is a story about four girls who lost their husbands," she suggests.

Putting faces to names

Others in the audience made sure the victims weren't faceless.

Bruce DeCell, a board member for the Coalition of 9/11 families, sat in the second row holding a photograph of his son-in-law, Mark Petrocelli, who died in the attacks two days before his 29th birthday. He also held a framed poster with the faces of many of the people who died in the World Trade Center attack superimposed over a photograph of the twin towers.

"They know the numbers," said DeCell, who brings both illustrations to every hearing. "This is a chance to identify them as real people."

Two of the victims' family members who are part of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign testified yesterday about the safety failures in the construction of the World Trade Center.

"Evacuation and emergency preparedness were sorely lack-ing or totally nonexistent on 9/11," testified Monica Gabrielle. Her husband, Richard, worked on the 103th floor of the south tower for Aon insurance.

She retold the stories of the hundreds of people who tried to escape through smoke-filled hallways and crumbling staircases only to find themselves trapped until the buildings collapsed.

"This along with critical flaws in the design and construction of the buildings," she said, "contributed to the ominous conditions occupants found themselves in, which ultimately claimed their lives."

Sally Regenhard, founder of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, held up a photograph of her son, Christian Michael Otto Regenhard, 28, as she called for improvements in construction, fireproofing and evacuation plans in high-rise buildings.

Van Auken said the only hard-hitting testimony given yesterday came from the family members.

"It doesn't seem right," she said. "My expectations keep getting lower. The bar is on the floor."

Next: White House aides

Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, a former New Jersey governor, said the panel plans to take more substantive testimony in January when it questions personal advisers to presidents Bush and Clinton.

Casazza said she worries that the commission won't be able to finish its work by the May 27 deadline.

"We have a lot to do," she said, adding that the recommendations from the commission will cost a lot of money to implement, which might slow the process.

"The question is," Casazza said, "How many of the commission's recommendations will be implemented before the next attack?"


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Sally Regenhard,

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470

Monica Gabrielle,

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470