Monday, April 7, 2008
New York, April 4 - “Nearly 1,100 people remain missing - not one piece of DNA, not one piece of remains, in and around Ground Zero. Some of those remains are in the Fresh Kills dump on Staten Island,” said Sally Regenhard. This is an issue she knows all too well, because some of those remains belong to her son, 28-year-old firefighter Christian Regenhard.
Sally Regenhard is the founder and chairperson of the non-profit Skyscraper Safety Campaign (http://www.skyscrapersafety.org/) and she visited an NYU journalism class last week to describe her experiences and reactions soon after the attack on the World Trade Center.
“No elected official, nobody, said we needed an investigation. Not one person was questioning how this could happen in this city, the greatest city in the world.”
She was in shock soon after 9/11, both with the loss of her son as well with the incomprehension that nothing was happening on an official level to discover why the towers fell, why so many people were trapped inside, why so many firefighters had to die. So it was with relief that a month after 9/11, in October 2001, that she read an article in the Daily News by Joe Calderone. He was one of the first to describe the mismanagement of the rescue efforts and the need for an investigation. In opening up the topic and confirming her own feelings, the Skyscraper Safety Campaign was born.
Nights would follow camped out at Ground Zero protesting the building, and as the SSC started to form Regenhard met with victim’s families, relatives of firefighters, EMT and other workers at the site. She would meet with engineers, lawyers, attend government committees (“Listen, if you ever want to really suffer, join a code committee!”), organize demonstrations in Albany and protests in Washington and over the next six and a half years started pealing back the layers of secrecy to learn just exactly how government really works.
“9/11 was not only a massive failure level at the federal level but at the state level, the city level and especially the Port Authority level,” she said.
Regenhard criticizes the Port Authority for acting above the law in building towers that didn’t comply with local building and fire codes – codes which would have required each tower to have four stairwells instead of three. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the glaring building code violations she would find.
She publicized the lack of preparation and planning at FDNY, who on 9/11 were still using antiquated radios which had proven to have problems at the first WTC bombing in 1993.
But her harshest criticism is reserved for Mayor Giuliani, who refused assistance from sources outside city government which not only delayed the rescue of possible survivors, but even hampered recovery efforts. Regenhard pointed out that there is an established US military agency called JPAC (Joint Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command http://www.jpac.pacom.mil/) that has the expertise and facilities to recover the bodies of American servicemen anywhere in the world, but they were restricted from operating at the WTC site.
“They needed to make human remains a priority and they never did,” she said tearfully, one of several times during her presentation when she broke down and had to stop to recover herself.
“I was an innocent person, I believed in the system – a good Catholic school girl,” she said. “But at some point in your life you have to step out of your comfort zone to go after what is true, what is right.”