September 10, 2021 by Ray Guidetti

Changed Forever by Stories of 9/11

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This post was provided by Ray Guidetti, a retired lieutenant colonel, New Jersey State Police, and a former public safety specialist with Motorola Solutions. Ray was a joint terrorism task force detective supporting the FBI post-9/11 and helped to compile the stories of loss that became the victim impact component of United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui. We are grateful for his reflections.

“My daughter cries uncontrollably when she sees the flames of a barbeque,” exclaimed the widow as she told her story. Perplexed, I thought to myself, your daughter wasn’t even alive when he – her Dad – perished in the towers.  

It wasn’t that long ago, while “on-the-job,” that I found myself working amongst a very special group of people. While it is fairly common for people who live through tragedy to form lasting bonds – this group was special – they all lost loved ones on 9/11. So special in fact, that even though it was long ago, I’ll never forget the stories that I was asked to chronicle that day – their stories – so many true stories – of life and death and loss and heartbreak. 

Over and over the gut wrenching ordeal was played out by the surviving family members. They all started with the beauty of that fateful day, but they all ended with what you could only expect when four airliners are turned into guided missiles. Each story was customized to the individual circumstances to that particular family and where their loved one was that day – the halls of the twin towers, onboard a fateful flight, serving at the Pentagon.  

My job – as a Joint Terrorism Task Force Detective supporting the FBI and Eastern District of Virginia’s Victim Assistance Program – was to help facilitate the interviews to gather this information. It was our job to meet with the countless families – years after that infamous day – to document their stories. We would preserve them and others would incorporate them into a mosaic of short narratives portraying the lives lived and lost, and the emptiness and  sorrow felt by those left behind.  

The mosaic would be the victim impact component of United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui. 

While I don’t remember all the details of the story above involving the young girl and the barbeque flames, I know it wasn’t unique. There were other family members with similar circumstances. I remain convinced that the yearly remembrances, relived by the survivors through their stories and through the mediums of print and video can actually create memories for their children who were too young – or even unborn – at the time of this tragic event of global impact.  

My experience with the Victim Assistance Program probably dates back to circa 2005, but it would foreshadow for me what was to come. While I mourned several close friends that perished that day, and rose to the occasion to combat terrorism, I would be doing it for the unborn. I would be doing it to make sure that something like this could never ever happen again on our soil. Like so many others who saw those tragic events unfold that day, we all looked to increase our capabilities and strengthen our resolve. 

For me it was joining the ranks of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, attending the Naval Postgraduate School, helping advance intelligence-led policing in my own agency, developing information-sharing technologies and capabilities at our fusion center and across the larger National Fusion Center network (and then later with Motorola Solutions), assisting the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, with rolling out policy, and finally with my last assignment at the New Jersey State Police increasing investigative and intelligence capabilities. Capabilities aimed at preparedness, prevention, and readiness and a resolve to do my part thinking and acting together with my colleagues to ensure that no generation would ever have to deal with the scourge of evil that so many of us witnessed on September 11th. 

My wife and I were blessed with children that were born well after 2001. Yes, they will learn about 9/11 from their history books and media reports, but like the children of the victims, who feel the pain of loved ones lost before they were born, our children have been exposed to what I learned about September 11th. I have shared some of the stories I documented like the one highlighted at the outset here. I told them how that fateful day changed me forever. I let them know that I owed much of my career to lessons learned from that tragedy and working to ensure it never happened again.  

As the years pass quickly now, more and more people – like our children and perhaps yours – will not have lived through the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. The victim impact stories can help all of us truly understand what terrorism means to America, our freedom, our national security, and its lasting impact across generations. They aren’t hard to find, just query Zacarias Moussaoui Victim Impact Statements.

When you do find some, take a minute today to think about the victims, their families and all the men and women who served on that fateful day and after to search, secure, protect, defend, and re-build.  

For even today – twenty years later – some are still falling victim to the events of 9/11. 

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