In the comments to Pres. Monson’s article on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog one Church member claimed that “Not one single LDS employee working in the Twin Towers was at work that morning.” This is, of course, incorrect. In fact, one of the LDS employees working in the towers died in the attack, as did two more on planes and two in the Pentagon.
This may be an attempt to extend some of the rumors that were passed through email in the weeks following September 11th. One account claimed that a group of missionaries was scheduled to meet at the Trade Center at 9:o0 AM, but that “every single missionary had problems that morning getting to the meeting, either not waking up on time, or with transportation. No one made it to the towers.” Of course, to Church members who live in New York City the idea was implausible, at best. Another email suggested that 40 BYU interns all contracted food poisoning and couldn’t make it to work at the towers that day, but since BYU didn’t have interns in the trade center at that time, this email was also labeled a hoax. Later that fall, academic Mary Ellen Robertson, speaking at the Sixth Annual Religious Studies Conference at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University), called the motivation behind these emails “Chosen People Syndrome.”
While these email messages were certainly misguided, their popularity still represents something we all have had to or are struggling with—how to find meaning in the events of September 11th. For many of us here in New York and other September 11 sites, the meanings found by politicians, patriots and almost everyone outside of New York seem quite different than what we see here. At least, these meanings leave out one important thing: the people.
In all of the politics and patriotism that surround the public perception of September 11th, I think we often forget the people—it seems we, as a nation, are caught up in revenge and reaction, and concern over security and safety, that we forget the grief and fear of those who personally faced the tragedy. I don’t say that our national perceptions are necessarily wrong, just incomplete without the personal.
The incorrect perception of the member who commented on Pres. Monson’s post about how LDS Church members suffered in the tragedy is an example of how views are incomplete. So, perhaps it will help make the tragedy that much more personal to remember the LDS Church members who died in the tragedy—not because they are more important than others who perished, but because we, Mormons, might identify with them.
So, here are some short biographies of the LDS Church members among those who perished:
- Ivhan Luis Carpio Bautista
Bautista, 24, had recently joined the LDS Church and was a member of the Richmond Hill District, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Tuesday, September 11th was actually his day off his work at Windows on the World, the famous restaurant located on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center. It was also his birthday. But the Peruvian-native Carpio agreed to cover a co-worker’s shift because he needed all the money he could get for his extended family in Peru.
Things were going very well for Carpio. He had learned English during his two years in the US, found a steady job and had moved into his own apartment just a month before. On September 10th, he had learned that he was accepted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York. He had been worried that the school wouldn’t accept his more than two years of law school in Peru.
- Carolyn Beug
Beug, 48, had retired from the music industry, where she had directed music videos, including an award-winning video for Van Halen’s song “Right Now” and several for country singer Dwight Yoakam. Beug was working on a children’s book about Noah’s Ark and with her mother, Mary Alice Wahlstrom (see below) had just taken Beug’s twin daughters to start college at the Rhode Island School of Design. Wahlstrom and Beug were returning to California on American Airlines Flight 11.
- Brady Kay Howell
Howell, 26, a native of Sugar City, Idaho, would go home each night and brag to his wife about the “amazing things” he was working on as a civilian employee for the chief of naval intelligence in the Pentagon. But he would tease his wife, Elizabeth, saying that he couldn’t tell her about any of it because it was classified. A co-worker, Aaron Otto, said Brady “was the kind of guy who would go across town to pick up a Star Wars action figure, because he knew that someone in his family collected that sort of thing.” Howell was a returned missionary who had served in the Spain Canary Islands mission.
- Rhonda Sue Ridge Rasmussen
Rasmussen, 44, worked in the Army’s budget office in the Pentagon, a position she had taken the previous April, after following her husband, Floyd, a management analyst at the Pentagon, in his career. This led their family to move 27 times in their nearly 27-year-long marriage. She enjoyed reading to her husband, who had poor eyesight, nearly every night—the couple had just begun one of the books in the Harry Potter series before the attack. They had planned to move back to California, where they met and married, in October of that year.
- Mary Alice Wahlstrom
Wahlstrom, 78, was “unstoppable.” She rose at 5 each morning, read books, traveled, debated current events and played golf. She was a volunteer usher at Temple Square and member of the Kaysville 17th Ward. She was traveling with her daughter, Carolyn Beug (see above), returning from taking her granddaughters to start college in Rhode Island. Another granddaughter, Maryann Wahlstrom, 21, was waiting for a van to pick her up from the Missionary Training Center to fly to her mission in Germany when she was informed all flights had been cancelled. When she called home she learned that her grandmother and aunt were on board the hijacked flights, “It is unbelievable,” Maryann Wahlstrom. “You can never imagine something like this could happen.”
I’m sure the above are poor summaries of lives that family members would say are varied and complicated. It seems to me that, as we construct meaning out of the events of September 11th, we should somehow include these people, and the complexity that is their lives, in that meaning. Perhaps then we can move beyond simplistic, political and patriotic interpretations to fuller, more compassionate meaning.