Published July 22, 2004
WASHINGTON – Family members found vindication and a call to action in the Sept. 11 commission's report (search), saying they will now set their sights on persuading Congress to make sure Americans are better protected.
"The families know that this is an election year. We're going to hold these people's feet to the fire," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot on the hijacked plane that struck the Pentagon.
About 30 family members attended the commission's release of its final report, which recommends sweeping changes in U.S. intelligence agencies.
The victims' families have been both outspoken advocates for the commission and sometimes its harshest critics. They were credited by chairman Thomas Kean (search) and Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., with forcing the creation of the independent inquiry, and compelling reluctant agencies and officials to hand over sensitive information.
Kean, in a private meeting with the families, asked them to continue to help by pushing those in government to adopt the recommended changes. That may be the toughest test yet of the families' influence.
Family members said they were eager to take up the cause, even if the report's findings offered a dismal assessment of repeated failures leading up to the 2001 attacks.
"I had a lot of my questions answered," said Terry McGovern, whose mother Anne was killed at the World Trade Center (search).
"They weren't answered in a good way, but I think it's really useful to show what kind of job needs to be done," McGovern said. "The report shows there was a catastrophic failure that day, and had the hijackers wanted to take 20 planes that day they could have."
April Gallop said the panel did not have enough time or money to address all of her concerns, but she was pleased by how much they did get done.
"I came here pessimistic, but I leave here optimistic," said Gallop, a 33-year-old who, along with her infant son, was injured in the attack on the Pentagon.
Ellen Mariani of Derry, N.H., lost her husband aboard Flight 175, and did not attend the Washington hearing. She said the commission did not do enough to hold officials responsible.
"There are people who need to be blamed," she said. "There are people that overlooked and failed our loved ones."
Matthew Sellito, whose son, also named Matthew, died at the World Trade Center, said he would assign wider blame if action wasn't taken.
"If this gets pushed under the rug," he said, holding a copy of the report, "I won't even blame Congress, I'll blame you and me."