Their lives as seen through the eyes of their friends, relatives, and co-workers
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, 62 SEIU members were killed when hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. On the anniversary of this tragedy, we remember their lives as seen through the eyes of their friends, relatives, and co-workers.
In Memory of the Union Members Killed on 9/11
Ignatius Adanga, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 62, left his native Nigeria to live in Liberia and Germany before settling in New York 20 years ago. An employee in the planning department of the Metropolitan Transportation Council in the World Trade Center, he was loved by colleagues for his willingness to lend a helping hand to anyone, and to help new employees adjust to their jobs. An active family man with a wife and three daughters, Ignatius still found time to become a friend and role model to the son of a co-worker who was a single mother.
Jeremiah Ahern, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 74, could have retired long ago. But according to his family, the quiet, hardworking employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance feared he would be left with nothing to do in retirement. A Bronx native born to Irish immigrant parents, Jeremiah worked his way through Baruch College, then went to work for the Internal Revenue Service. He retired from the IRS at age 55, but returned to work immediately with the Department of Taxation and Finance, located on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center.
Godwin Ajala, SEIU Local 32BJ, was a lawyer in his native Nigeria, but economic troubles led him to the United States, where he settled in New York. Godwin lived frugally, sharing housing with a roommate. He worked eight hours a day as a security guard at the World Trade Center, then, in his free time, studied tirelessly for the New York State Bar Exam. His dream was to become an attorney in New York and bring his wife and three children to the United States. He was last seen helping people in the Trade Center to safety.
Ernest Alikakos, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, of New York City was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. He was 43 years old.
Angelo Amaranto, SEIU Local 32BJ, fell in love with the World Trade Center towers when they were built in 1973, according to his family. A janitor, Angelo agreed to work nights in order to switch to a job at the Trade Center. A native of Salerno, Italy, Angelo was a summate family man who loved working hard so he could spoil his three children, now grown. According to Angelo’s daughter, he continued to show his passion for family life at age 60 by doting on his grandchildren.
Yaphet Aryee, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 49, was born in Ghana. When he immigrated to the United States and New York, he worked his way through Adelphi University, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration. Yaphet then went to work for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, where he won a reputation as one of the state’s best corporate tax auditors. He was also an accomplished handyman who built his own furniture when he married his wife, Maria. Yaphet and Maria raised four children.
James Audiffred, SEIU Local 32BJ, 38, of Brooklyn, was a World Trade Center elevator operator who loved taking tourists up to Windows on the World. He loved a different sort of tower as well. James was fascinated with lighthouses, and studied their history and architecture in his spare time. He was able to realize a dream vacation when he took his wife, Robin, and their son and in-laws on a trip to see the lighthouses of the Maine coast–his favorites.
Steven Berger, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 38, worked at the World Trade Center as supervisor of tax auditors for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Steven was also a gourmet chef, an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, and a master of trivia who could answer every question when watching television game shows. But his wife, Susan, remembers him best as a devoted husband and for the time and love he gave to their 12-year-old daughter.
Christopher Blackwell, SEIU District 1199NE, the son and grandson of policemen and the nephew of a firefighter, worked 20 years for the New York Fire Department. A nationally recognized expert on collapsed buildings, he was quick to the scene when the World Trade Center was attacked. His mother remembers him as a man who loved danger and feared nothing. His wife, Jane, remembers him more for his love of family. Whenever Christopher wasn’t working, he spent his time with his wife and their three children. Christopher was 42.
Larry Bowman, SEIU Local 32BJ, 46, worked as a security guard for the World Trade Center. But in his community he was known and loved as the pastor of House of God church Brooklyn No. 1. When Larry was not on the job, he was working as a missionary, holding services at nursing homes and New York’s Rikers Island prison, taking food to the hungry, or just playing basketball with the kids in the neighborhood. Youth were of special interest to Larry, and he regularly counseled young people in his community to avoid life on the streets.
Roko Camaj, SEIU Local 32BJ, 60, was a hero when the World Trade Center was first attacked–in 1993. When a bomb sent smoke pluming throughout the towers on that occasion, Roko covered his mouth with a sponge so he could breathe, then helped a woman trapped in a stairwell to safety. A window cleaner, Roko loved his work–delighted in hanging at breathless heights over New York City. He was once featured in a series of children’s books on dangerous occupations titled “Risky Business.”
Christopher Carstanjen, SEIU Local 509, 34, was a computer researcher for the University of Massachusetts. A popular man known to his friends as “Mr. Wonderful,” Christopher was expert carpenter–he built his own house–a trained chef, and a motorcycle enthusiast. Christopher was headed to California for a vacation with other bikers when his plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the World Trade Centers Sept. 11.
Eli Chalouh, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 23, was a native of Syria who moved to the United States, with his family at age 14. Fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, Eli entered Long Island University to study accounting and graduated with honors in 2001. He was new on the job at the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center, and is remembered by his co-workers as both diligent and extremely friendly.
Denease Conley, SEIU Local 32BJ, worked as a security guard at the World Trade Center. A Navy veteran and karate enthusiast, she loved Bruce Lee movies and even painted a mural of Lee on her wall. When Denease wasn’t working, she was usually studying for classes at Hunter College, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. Denease’s family was surprised by how many people attended her memorial service. A number of mourners told the family that Denease had helped to save their lives.
Francisco Cruz Sr., SEIU Local 32BJ, 47, worked as a security guard at the World Trade Center, but his life’s passion was music. He taught himself to play guitar at a young age, and was soon good enough to play in clubs in Brooklyn. He played in a variety of rock and Latin bands, but also just for friends, who remember his great renditions of songs by Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Jose Feliciano.
Simon Dedvukaj, SEIU Local 32BJ, 26, a native of Albania, supervised maintenance workers at the World Trade Center. He is remembered by his seven brothers and sisters as the good boy of the family–someone who would skimp on himself in order to give to others. Two years prior to this tradegy, Simon’s relatives told him they had met the perfect woman for him in Albania, so he traveled there to meet her. The chemistry was right, and Elizabeth, his bride-to-be, moved to the United States. The couple would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary in October 2001.
James Joseph Domanico, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 56, was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. He lived in New York City.
Benilda Domingo, SEIU Local 32BJ, 37, worked as a janitor in the World Trade Center. A native of the Philippines, she came to the United States in 1999 with her three children. Her children’s father and the love of her life, Cefar Gabriel, remained in the Philippines, working as a bus driver and waiting to immigrate to the United States. The couple had put off marriage for 14 years to improve Benilda’s chances of getting a U.S. visa.
Sareve Dukat, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 53, worked for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. Married at age 20 to her high school sweetheart, Sareve is remembered by her husband and friends as a lover of life. She idolized Mickey Mantle, attended every sporting event she could, went to the theater regularly with friends from work, and loved traveling with her husband–or just walking on the beach with him at their summer home on Long Island.
Samuel Fields, SEIU Local 32BJ, 36, a security guard at the World Trade Center, was also a deacon who loved singing and playing bongos at the House of God Holy Church in Harlem. In his spare time, he loved walking with his wife, Angela, playing basketball with his four children, watching the Yankees and the Mets, or listening to Motown and the Beatles. When the Trade Center was attacked, Angela was carrying their fifth child. Samuel was last seen helping people from the North Tower to safety.
Clyde Frazier Jr., SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 41, worked as a tax investigator for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Outside work, he was a true community hero. As founder of the SlamJam Women’s Basketball League, Clyde brought together hundreds of top players from New York high schools. The league has opened the door to countless college basketball scholarships for participants. Clyde was also the founder of a nonprofit group in Harlem that provides basketball and counseling to young people.
Ervin Gailliard, SEIU Local 32BJ, 42, a security guard, was disappointed by low wages at the World Trade Center, so he helped form a union, and job conditions improved. Raised in the South Bronx, Ervin had dreamed of going to college, but he was orphaned as a teenager, and joined the Army instead–making the All-Army basketball team. A homebody by nature, Ervin loved listening to jazz for hours with his wife, Cynthia, and teaching his stepchildren to play basketball.
Jorge Luis Morron Garcia, 38, SEIU Local 32BJ, of New York City, was a security officer at the World Trade Center. “He was going to become a citizen on September 17, 2001 and he never lived to see that happen,” said Garcia’s widow Sonia Morron of her Colombian-born husband. Sonia was pregnant with their child at the time of the attack, but lost the baby after her husband was killed.
Mon Gjonbalaj, SEIU Local 32BJ, 66, was a janitor at the World Trade Center. He passed on retiring at 65, says his family, because of his love of the buildings. A native of Albania, Mon traveled to Kosovo to do relief work in 2000 after the country was devastated by war. His daughter worked at the same time as a translator for the NATO peacekeeping forces. When the Trade Center was attacked, Mon phoned his son Sal, told him he was trapped, and asked his son to be strong and keep the family together.
Dianne Gladstone, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 55, worked for 37 years as an official for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, rising to be a section chief with an office on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center. She loved her work, but she loved her family life even more. She was married at age 24 to her husband, Herb, and the two had enjoyed decades of traveling and taking in Broadway shows together. Dianne was to retire in April 2002, and the couple had just purchased a new house on Long Island in preparation.
Yan Z. (Cindy) Guan, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 25, of New York City, was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
Neil Lai, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, path to the United States was an adventure. He fled his native Shanghai in 1958 at the age of 16 for political reasons. Living in Hong Kong, he worked in his uncle’s tailor shop and studied English at night in anticipation of one day immigrating to the United States. He finally came at the age of 34, and enrolled in Arizona State University, where he studied accounting. With this educational background, he was able to go to work for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at the World Trade Center. Neil is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and two teenage children.
Chow Kwam Lam, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, lived in Maywood, N.J. The 48-year-old was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
Leon Lebor, SEIU Local 32BJ, 51, was a janitor at the World Trade Center. He was deaf, but this didn’t stop him from experiencing life fully. A native of London, he traveled the world, moving to Jerusalem and eventually New York. He is remembered best by those who knew him at the Trade Center for his sense of humor. He loved telling jokes and putting on a wide variety of clownish faces.
Hyun-joon (Paul) Lee, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Paul was 32 and lived in New York City.
Myung-woo Lee, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 41, was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. He lived in Lyndhurst, N.J.
Stephen Lefkowitz, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 50, worked as a mediator with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at the World Trade Center. In his personal life, for as long as anyone can remember, Stephen was helping people. He participated in the Big Brother program for years, remaining in touch with his “little brother” until the latter was an adult. Stephen began a new phase of his life at age 45, when he married. The last five years of his life were devoted largely to his wife, Sara, and to raising their son, Daniel.
Charles Lesperance, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 55, was a systems analyst for the New York Department of Transportation in the World Trade Center. Charles spent his early childhood in Haiti, then moved to the United States. He earned an M.B.A. from Columbia and was known as a computer wizard. At the time of the Trade Center attack, Charles was engaged to marry Renee Alexander. Their wedding was scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Charles is survived by three daughters.
Daniel Lugo, SEIU Local 32BJ, 45, was a security guard at the World Trade Center. He was also the minister at a Pentecostal church in Upper Manhattan, where he met his wife, Olga. A native of Puerto Rico, Daniel had a strong work ethic and ignored the advice of his physician, wife, and friends that he stop working due to his poor health. Daniel suffered from asthma and the early stages of prostate cancer. His asthma was bothering him on Sept. 11, but he reported for work anyway.
Anthony Luparello, SEIU Local 32BJ, 62, was a maintenance worker at the World Trade Center for 14 years. Each day on the job, he would phone his wife, Geraldine, at the end of his lunch break, just to chat. Anthony commuted to work from Queens, and was always angry when slow traffic kept his bus from getting him home on time because he cherished his time with his wife. Personal time was serious business to Anthony, but so was his job. According to Geraldine, he never missed a day of work, even when sick.
Robert Martinez, SEIU Local 32BJ, was a security guard at the World Trade Center for four years. For three of those years, he lived with his fiancee, Lisa–and had lunch with her every day. Robert is remembered as a sincere and giving man who not only devoted much time to his son, Jonathan, and to Lisa’s two children, but who also faithfully tended to his parents’ needs. Lisa tried to find Robert outside the Trade Center after the attack, but he was inside, escorting people to safety.
Tyrone May, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 44, worked as an auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at the World Trade Center. To literally hundreds of friends, he was known for his vast collection of music and the fabulous parties he threw. According to Tyrone’s wife, Marva, he would rent a club each December to throw a party for a few hundred friends and family members. Tyrone was also a devoted husband and proud father of Tyrone Jr., who was 2 years old at the time.
Robert Miller, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 46, worked as a conferee for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. According to his wife, Faith, Robert was quiet and had no active hobbies, but had an amazing ability to absorb everything he saw or read. On subjects ranging from the Mets to the Jets to New York restaurants to television comedy and classic movies, he was an expert, and his face lit up whenever anyone said they had a trivia question for him.
Richard Miuccio, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 55, worked for 35 years for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, rising to the position of audit supervisor. While a tireless worker, he looked forward to retiring and traveling the country with his wife, Joyce, whom he first met when she was 13 years old. Richard had survived combat in Vietnam and beaten prostate cancer, and was ready to take a rest, but, according to Joyce, had just not yet gotten around to filing the papers for retirement.
Manuel Molina, SEIU Local 32BJ, was a cleaner for ABM industries. He grew up in the Dominican Republic and learned all the Spanish dances there like the Salsa and the Merengue. Along with dancing, he also loved dominoes and spent most of his Friday nights playing them with his friends. He spent his last days working on the 110th floor observation deck of the World Trade Center, keeping the place clean for tourists, shoveling snow during the winter months so that passersby below must have thought it was just God up there doing what he does naturally. He is missed dearly by his daughter, Mercery, who was 13 years old at the time of his passing.
Jorge Morron, SEIU Local 32BJ, 38, was a security guard at the World Trade Center. He also taught Spanish at a local college. He left his native Colombia to see New York, and in 1999, met his wife-to-be, Sonia–who had also come to the United States to see New York. When tragedy struck the Trade Center, Jorge was six days away from becoming an American citizen, and Sonia was expecting a child the following March. Within a month of Jorge’s death, Sonia lost the child.
Oscar Nesbitt, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 58, was a tax auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. A native of Trinidad, he moved to Harlem, where he bought and renovated two brownstones. Oscar is remembered by co-workers as someone who made friends with everyone–including strangers passing by on the street. He was also known for his wisdom, and colleagues often took their problems to Oscar.
Sonia Ortiz, SEIU Local 32BJ, worked as a janitor and elevator operator at the World Trade Center. It was a job she cherished, given her previous life of child labor in her native Colombia. With her earnings, she bought a house in Flushing, Queens, and raised three children. According to her family, she became fascinated by death and afterlife following the loss of one of her sons to a brain aneurysm 10 years ago. She read about the subject of life after death regularly, and longed to be with her late son.
Michael Ou, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 53, lived in New York City. He was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
Salvatore Papasso, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 34, was a special investigator for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. While he specialized in, and loved, bringing white-collar criminals to justice, his private personality was ironically different. According to his wife, Christine, Salvatore was a child at heart. He complained in his 20s that people had stopped giving him toys as gifts, so he began receiving them–and playing with them. Salvatore and Christine also observed each other’s birthdays for an entire month, and celebrated their wedding anniversary once a month.
Diane Moore Parsons, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 58, was a tax technician for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance who was visiting the World Trade Center on business Sept. 11. According to her husband, Howard, she was known to all as kind and selfless. When not spoiling Howard in her free time, she would make special salads for her guinea pigs and serve wildlife peanut butter to the squirrels outside. Even a mean, abandoned cat, when given to Diane, became pleasant.
Dennis J. Pierce, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Dennis was 54 and lived in New York City.
Vishnoo Ramsaroop, SEIU Local 32BJ, 45, was an elevator operator at the World Trade Center. A native of Trinidad, he came to New York 18 years ago, took one look at the Trade Center, and told his brother he wanted to work there. The next week, he was hired. Vishnoo worked six days a week to support his eight daughters and stepdaughters. He also delighted in any time he could spend with the girls. According to his wife, Shrimatti, his favorite time was vacation week in August, when he could take his daughters to attractions such as the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium.
Gerard Rauzi, SEIU Local4053/PEF, 42, of New York City was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Rauzi touched many lives and his kindness and thoughtfulness are remembered by many. One friend recounted how Jerry drove him home day after day so he could be available to his sick father, while another calls him “one of the kindest people” she’d had the pleasure to know.
Rose Riso, 55, was a senior tax auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. She took her job seriously, including her in-office assignment as fire warden. Rose gave regular fire drills, during which she donned a safety helmet and blew a whistle. When the Trade Center was attacked Sept. 11, she was ready. Some say she saved 39 lives. Others say it was 184. One co-worker said Rose hustled her out so that she made it through the lobby doors just 35 seconds before the building collapsed. Rose remained behind.
Esmerlin Salcedo, SEIU Local 32BJ, 36, was a security guard at the World Trade Center. He was also a diligent student, taking six hours of computer classes a day. It gave him little time to spend with his three children, but he felt he was investing in their future by getting an education. He was actually in class when the first plane hit the Trade Center Sept. 11, but he rushed out and reported to Trade Center command station. A co-worker says Esmerlin helped her to safety before he disappeared back into the building.
Jon Schlissel, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 51, was a 29-year employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. He was passionate about physical fitness, nature, his house–a restored 14-room Victorian brownstone in Jersey City–and politics: he was an outspoken social activist on issues such as gay rights. He served on his neighborhood civic association, as well, and still found time to regularly visit his 80-year-old mother in Florida.
See-Wong Shum, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 44, of Westfield, N.J., was an employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance & and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. Born in Hong Kong, he migrated to the U.S. in the late 80’s, leaving behind his years teaching high school biology–his college major–and being a corrections officer. Between earning an MBA at the State University of New York, Albany, in management information systems, and his job, he traveled to Europe, South America, Mexico, India and other destinations. Globetrotting was just one of See Wong Shum’s interests though–he also loved to read books of all kinds: finance, science, politics, religion, mysteries. Shum called his wife Rebecca, whom he wed in 1992, “the glue that held his family together.” Their two children, Leon now 10 and Chanel now 7, were the “highlights of their lives.”
Barry Simowitz, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, was an auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. His first love was his cat, Wanda June, so adored that it received its own futon. Barry was also a lover of opera and fashion. He knew and shopped at every exclusive store in New York, and owned more than 100 cashmere sweaters. At the office, he became the barometer for clothes fashions, and was always available to field a colleague’s question about cats.
Fabian Soto, SEIU Local 32BJ, 29, was a window cleaner at the World Trade Center. A native of Ecuador, Fabian believed in living for the moment. His wife, Elda says Fabian believed he would die young. Nevertheless, Fabian obviously kept his eye on the future; he worked extra hours to bring his wife to the United States, and was saving to bring his son, who remains in the care of grandparents in Ecuador. When the Trade Center was attacked, Fabian was washing the windows of the observation deck.
David Marc Sullins, SEIU 1199NY, was a paramedic. Earlier in life, he was a biker who didn’t want to give up his childhood, according to his wife, Evelyn. But at age 24, he did a turnaround and enrolled in night school. Once employed as a paramedic, he worked double shifts so he could have more time off to spend with his wife and two children. According to colleagues, David made at least three trips from the Trade Center to local hospitals before he was seen entering one of the towers just before its collapse.
Yesh Tembe, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 59, worked as an accountant for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. He loved high-tech gadgets, classical music, and cooking. Yesh specialized in Indian cuisine, and his cooking was good enough to attract many friends to dinners given by Yesh and his wife, Coomi. Yesh also liked eating. He and a friend loved nothing more than sampling the infinite variety of world cuisine available in New York’s restaurants.
Vanavah Thompson, SEIU Local 32BJ, 26, was a janitor with ABM. He was a father to one daughter, Nia Thompson, with Frauliene Lyte. Vanavah lives on on in Nia’s stories and memories of her Dad. Nia loves music, just like her Dad did, and she loves to sing–just like her Dad.
Diane Urban, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, 50, was a long-time employee of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, where she rose to the number-two post in the income tax division. Colleagues remember her as someone who always spoke her mind; sometimes leaving hurt feelings in her wake. Her sister agrees that this was Diane’s most prominent trait. Nevertheless, when Diane’s loyalty was put to the ultimate test, she behaved in a manner that few co-workers will ever forget. After the Trade Center was attacked and smoke was engulfing the halls, escaping workers saw Diane Urban turn back to go to the aid of a trapped colleague.
Sankara Velamuri, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, was an accountant with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. A native of Orissa, India, Sankara immigrated to the United States 30 years ago with his wife, Avenal, and changed occupations from metallurgy to accounting. (He was well educated in almost everything, according to his sister.) He is remembered by friends and family as a lover of English and Sanskrit literature and Hindu scriptures. He also had a beautiful speaking voice, and could often be heard quoting the literature or scripture he knew so well.
John White, SEIU Local 32BJ, 48, worked as an elevator operator at the World Trade Center for 27 years. His friends knew him as someone who would always lend a hand, whether it was fixing a plumbing problem or providing a 5 a.m. ride to work. A native of Jamaica, he moved to Brooklyn with his wife Enid in 1973. Enid disliked the cold of the Northeast, and moved to Florida several years ago. John was planning to retire and join Enid in Florida in the winter of 2001.
Yuk-Ping “Winnie” Wong, SEIU Local 4053/PEF, was a tax auditor trainee for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the World Trade Center. Obtaining such a position was a tremendous challenge for her; just a few years ago, she was a divorced mother of two with no college degree–and a recent immigrant from Hong Kong. Once her children were grown, Winnie enrolled in Baruch College and graduated with honors with a degree in accounting. Winnie was attending a Christian church and preparing to be baptized.