For 9/11 families, the pain lives on

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Corazon Fernandez (third from left) with her family. Photo by Elton Lugay

NEW YORK—It’s been 11 years, but the pain in Corazon Fernandez’s heart lingers as in the morning when two hijacked planes rammed into the World Trade Center Towers and Arab militants waged a war against America. Her daughter Judy Hazel died instantly, one of nearly 3,000 New Yorkers caught in history’s crossfire.

“Every day is painful,” Corazon spoke to The FilAm at the National September 11 Memorial where a national tribute of remembrance and honor was offered in memory of those killed in 9/11. “It’s difficult
especially if you think of the good memories.”

The pain gets more intense every time 9/11 comes around, said Corazon, who makes it a point for her family not miss the yearly ritual of remembering. “She was so young, I wanted to give her everything, but I never had the chance.”

Judy is the youngest of three children. She was 27, a human resource specialist at Cantor Fitzgerald. The brokerage company which occupied the 101st floor of the World Trade Center and lost 658 employees to 9/11.

Judy may still be alive had she heeded her parents’ plea for her not to go to work that day. She was to fly to Arizona for a “promotional” conference and would be gone for two weeks. But Judy had to go to work to turn over her tasks to another employee. “But mom I’ll be away for two weeks, I need to delegate my responsibilities.”

“It’s OK mom, I’ll be fine” would be the last word spoken. Judy’s boyfriend dropped her off at WTC around 8:26 a.m.

“I was on my way to my doctor’s appointment when I noticed so many people watching the TV, I asked them what was going on. Upon learning the news, I was confident that Judy was not in the office because she’s supposed to be going away that day.”

“We were hoping she’s alive ‘cause the news mentioned a lot of people were saved. We’ve organized a SWAT team, we went to the hospital and we thought she’s there as we were told there’s a Fernandez found. But it was a Julio Fernandez.”

“Para akong naloka, hindi ko tanggap,” said Corazon beginning to shed tears.

It was hard for Corazon to accept her daughter was already gone until John, Judy’s boyfriend, confirmed she indeed went to work that day.

The family moved in the US during the 1970s when Judy — the youngest of three children – was 1 year and 6 months old. She was kind and thoughtful, said her mother.

“Judy’s ambition was to become an entrepreneur, she’s business-minded. ‘I’ll put up my own business someday,’ sabi nya.”

“She’s a good event planner. She had 12 friends in her barkada. Whenever there’s an event, she’s the one leading the group, the one that plans for everything, camping, surfing, whatever their activity
is, she’s the one that prepared for everything. Her friends looked up to her as their leader. She’s very talented, skillful, she knew how to make things happen.”

What made the circumstances even harder to accept was that Judy died with her cousin Theresa Santillan, who was also a Cantor Fitzgerald employee. She was to be the maid of honor and wedding planner. “She already planned her cousin’s shower.”

Ma. Theresa, also 27, worked as an administrative clerk. Her father Expedito recalled how he got the news and filled us in on their last conversation.

“She called me from her office, saying ‘Daddy our building was hit by a plane.’”

“Which airplane?”

“We don’t know.”

“Keep your cool, you have to evacuate as soon as you can.”

“I have to go, I have to go.”

His fondest memory of Theresa — the eldest of three children — was her infectious laughter. “Mabait at ma-halakhak niya. Pag nasa bahay siya punong-puno ng halakhak niya.”

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