After Osama's Death, Latino Sept. 11 Survivors Share Their Thoughts

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday struck an extraordinarily personal chord with Elisa Charter.

The New Jersey mother of Peruvian and Italian descent still grapples with the Sept. 11, 2001, nightmare that began with a violent shaking of the conference table where she sat in a meeting at the World Trade Center, 21st floor. She thought it was a bomb, just as it had been in 1993, when it went off underneath the towers.

Jorge Mercado, Charter's co-worker at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was running late to work that day, and got there just as mayhem was hitting.

Mercado, who had grown up seeing the towers being built, saw each one collapse in front of his eyes.

Charter and Mercado lost many friends and co-workers in the attack.

For years, Charter wondered why it was taking the United States so long to track down bin Laden. Ironically, years before, as a student at Columbia University, Charter had done a research paper on terrorism – much of the focus had been on bin Laden and Al Qaeda. So Bin Laden’s blood-thirsty ways were well-known to Charter before she became a direct victim.

“I could not understand for the life of me how we could have such amazing intelligence, put men on the moon, but we could not find this man,” Charter said.

Mercado recalled how President Obama pledged in his campaign to go after terrorists, and he clung to those words.

Now Charter feels relief that the mastermind of the terror that reached into the building -- that was a core of her life -- is no longer around to cause more harm. But at the same time, she said, she also feels fear and sadness over the violence in the world.

“He’s someone who led such a destructive group,” she said of bin Laden. “I still get goose bumps when I think about that day. Still to this day I am recovering from it.”

She avoids news and worries deeply about her husband working in Manhattan. She tells him she loves him every day before he goes to work, she said, because she knows it cannot be taken for granted that there will be another chance to say it.

“I’m not happy about anyone being killed,” Charter said of bin Laden’s death. “These terrorists, they should never have done what they did to us.”

Mercado, president of the Port Authority Hispanic Society, which was founded about 40 years ago, expresses a quiet satisfaction over bin Laden's death.

"They were able to eliminate an individual who caused so much destruction," Mercado said. "Now we have to be so much more vigilant. The terrorists are willing to sacrifice their lives for something that we believe is wrong."

"I'm always cognizant" of the targets, he said. "They're under our jurisdiction -- the high value targets, the bridges, the airports, the tunnels."

But pride in the United States eclipses all else for this son of Puerto Ricans. The tracking down of bin Laden was yet more proof of its mettle, he said.

"We can take it and we'll keep getting up," he said. "They knock down a building, and we erect it again. It's going to be rebuilt. We have a resiliency that will not waver, and we keep sending that message out to the terrorists."

"This country was built on a system of principles," Mercado said. "It's been put through all kinds of tests. And it's still the place where dreams can come true."

Twitter: @LlorenteLatino

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