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‘Sept. 11 never goes away,’ says parent of young victim

BILLERICA, Mass. (BP)–Steve and Karen Sachs, whose daughter Jessica was aboard the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center Sept. 11, say they haven’t made it through the past year on their own strength.

“Karen and I have said many times that we wonder how people who have no faith survive a time like this,” Steve Sachs said. “We’re both convinced that many people have been praying for us, and it’s by God’s grace that we’ve kept our sanity since September.”

The Sachs, members of New Colony Baptist Church northeast of Boston, continue to struggle with how and why they lost their daughter. Steve Sachs said there have been a lot of times when they’ve been angry at God. They’ve maintained their faith, but they still have questions. He also admitted he has not yet forgiven the 19 terrorists who hijacked the planes that day.

“Jessica didn’t die on Sept. 11. She was murdered,” he said.

Karen Sachs said she and her daughter, who was 23, were extremely close. In fact, she said she couldn’t imagine a mother and daughter who could be closer than they were.

“When she died, I lost a friend as well as a daughter,” she said.

Jessica was a 2000 graduate of the University of Massachusetts and an accountant with the Boston office of PricewaterhouseCoopers. She was on American Airlines Flight 11 with her co-workers bound for a meeting in Los Angeles.

Jessica knew Jesus, her mother said.

“I was hysterical for the first 15 minutes after I heard the news, but my first clear thought after that was, ‘Thank God we know that she’s a Christian.’ We know where she is. That’s what’s gotten us through it. We know where she is now,” Karen Sachs said.

Last September, her father had said, “The only thing holding the family together is that we know Jessica is being held in the arms of Christ.” The family has clung to that hope for the past year.

After someone loses a loved one, Sachs said, people say that after five or 10 months it will be OK. He said that’s not true for him and his wife. They have a hole in their hearts that they’ll always carry with them, he said.

“Karen and I are in a gray zone in the middle. We don’t have any highs and we don’t have any lows. It’s a very flat plane of life we walk through,” Steve Sachs said. “Every time we think about Jessica, it hurts. Everybody tells us that someday down the road some joy will come back to those memories, but right now it hurts.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers set up a scholarship in Jessica’s name at UMass Amherst. Steve and Karen attended the awards dinner this past school year and said what amazes them is that they’re still so proud of her.

“The dean of the school of management sat with us at dinner, and one of his comments was, ‘I’ve never seen a student that was as spiritual as Jessica. Kids don’t come to college and keep their religion.’ Jessica walked with God,” Steve Sachs said.

In the first days after they received news of the crash, the Sachs imagined that Jessica had spent her final moments telling other passengers about Jesus. But since then, they’ve learned that because she was on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center, she probably didn’t know what was happening until seconds before impact.

“I don’t know what she was doing in her last minutes, but she was likely praying,” Karen Sachs said. “We’re just thankful that if she had to be involved, she was on the first plane and not the second because [the second] had longer to know what was going on.”

Steve and Karen were notified at the end of July that their daughter’s remains had been identified. They initially didn’t participate in DNA sampling because they assumed there wouldn’t be anything to find since Jessica was aboard a plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. Then authorities encouraged them to participate, and they sent a sample in April. The local chief of police and one of New Colony Baptist’s associate pastors delivered the news to the Sachs’ home July 29.

The Sachs held a small memorial service Aug. 16. Karen Sachs said it was a time for family and close friends to gather and spend some time with her remains in prayer, Scripture reading and sharing of memories.

“Death without a body is very difficult. This is one more step on the road to help us,” she said. “There will never be any closure for this, but it’s one more thing to help us accept it. It’s just something we need to do.”

Steve and Karen said they have learned important lessons through their trial and are telling Jessica’s story and how God is helping them deal with their loss because, as Karen said, they “don’t want Jessica’s death to have been for nothing.”

“In our normal life, we live with a lot of petty things, and we just don’t have time for them anymore,” Steve said. “We realize how precious time is and how precious family is. In a way we’re blessed because we have no regrets. We really did do what we think was right with our kids, so we don’t struggle with that. But when we see other parents with their children, we understand that they just need to spend more time with them.”

Losing a child, Karen said, is a horrible thing to go through, which she hopes others never face.

“But if you do, God will give you the strength you need when you need it to make it through. God gave us the strength. It’s not easy, but you get through,” she said. “If someone had told me before this happened that my daughter would be killed, I would have said I would have laid right down and died with her because I couldn’t handle it, but God has gotten us through.”

To those considering becoming Christians, Karen said, “It’s something that you just can’t put off. Jessica didn’t know when she got on that airplane that she was going to die.”

The Sachs ask that Christians continue to pray for the families who lost loved ones Sept. 11.

“This is something that isn’t going to end anytime soon. Sept. 11 never goes away, and it never will. We’re going to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Pray that God continues to strengthen us.”
(BP) file photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JESSICA SACHS.

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  • Erin Curry