The family of the SF flight attendant who told the world 9/11 had begun react to the death of her co-architect

It’s been nearly 21 years since flight attendant Betty Ong picked up a phone while in flight and essentially let the world know that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had begun.

“The cockpit is not answering the phone and someone was stabbed in business class,” she told her American Airlines reservation desk calmly. She was on the phone for another 23 minutes until 8.44am – when her American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

So much has changed in the decades since that for some people, especially younger people, 9/11 is mostly a history lesson. But on Monday the past came alive with news that a US military drone had killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – the man who helped plan 9/11 and is the face of the group terrorist since the death of Osama Bin Laden. killed 11 years ago, also by US forces.

For the families of 9/11 victims like Ong, a San Francisco native, the news has yet again torn the crust. The only comfort is that after all these years, the families are a bit used to this heartbreak. It happens on every anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil, and every time the names of their loved ones come up.

The death of the second most notorious man responsible for the 9/11 mass murder of nearly 3,000 Americans helps, families say. But it’s not closing.

“I don’t know how anyone else feels. but when I learned today that al-Zawahiri had died – in a way I am relieved, but I am still very sad that 9/11 happened,” Ong’s sister said, Cathie Ong-Herrera, founder and president of Betty Ann Ong Foundation in Bakersfield. “With all these people getting killed? Why did this happen, really?

“I don’t know if Bin Laden’s death or this guy’s death really helps to heal anything because we still have a lot of questions,” she said. “I’m sure it brings a lot of people closer to healing – and, yes, I find some relief. But we still need to know more about what happened.

Dorothy Garcia Bachler, whose husband, Andy Garcia of Portola Valley, died on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, agreed. Flight 93 is commonly known as the “Flight of 40 Heroes”, to its passengers who charged into the cockpit when they learned it was heading for the White House. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

“This is a significant step forward, and it is especially important to me and my family and to the entire 9/11 community as we continue our uphill, years-long battle for justice and accountability,” said Bachler, who is remarried and lives in Southern California. “Many promises were made, but it was President Biden who did what no other president has done by declassifying critical FBI investigative documents by executive order.

“These documents provide further evidence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s culpability in the September 11 attacks. Our community calls on President Biden to continue to stand with the 9/11 community and all those seeking justice by holding them accountable. »

The Ong family has chosen to channel their pain by helping underprivileged children on Ong’s behalf through a community center in San Francisco, which turns 10 this year, and the 18-year-old foundation in Bakersfield.

“Every year we have a summer camp for kids ages 8 to about 16 here in Bakersfield, and when I tell the kids my sister’s story, you can hear a pin drop,” Ong said. “After my speech a year, I heard the sound of a little crackle running behind me, and I turned around and there was a little girl. She took my hand and said, ” It’s okay, I’ll be your little sister.”

She stopped. “It really touched my heart,” Ong said softly. “Kids still have that innocence in them, and to see that while I’m working in my sister’s memory, everything we do at summer camp and in the community is worth it.”

Cathie Ong’s husband, Ed Herrera, says on days like this, with the news of al-Zawahiri’s death, he chooses to remember Betty’s “sense of humor and courage” NGO. She was 45 when she died.

“When we went to therapy after 9/11, the therapist said you had to remember that Betty only died once, but in your mind, she dies every day,” he said. declared. “Everyone treats him in his own way. We did that by doing good in his name and making children aware of the importance of love, of brotherhood. That’s what we focus on.

Chronicle editor Sam Whiting contributed to this report.

Kevin Fagan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @KevinChron

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