Sept. 11 Widow Killed in Buffalo Plane Crash

February 13, 2009 - 8:56 AM
Just last week, Beverly Eckert, who lost her husband in the World Trade Center on 9/11, met with President Obama at the White House to discuss how the new administration would handle terror suspects.<br />

In this Friday, May 24, 2002 file photo, Beverly Eckert of Stamford, Conn., holds a picture of her late husband Sean Rooney who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. (AP Photo/Douglas Healey, File)

Washington (AP) - One of the victims of Continental Flight 3407, Beverly Eckert, was a Sept. 11 widow who put her never-ending grief to good use to make the country safer.
 
Just last week, Eckert was at the White House with Barack Obama, part of a meeting the president had with relatives of those killed in the 2001 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole to discuss how the new administration would handle terror suspects.
 
"She was such an important part of all of our work," said Mary Fetchet, another 9/11 family activist. She learned Eckert was aboard the plane from another close Eckert family friend now headed to Buffalo. Officials investigating the crash have not yet confirmed she was on board the plane.
 
Eckert was one of the most visible, tearful faces in the aftermath of the terror attacks.
 
She cried as she told the story about how her husband Sean Rooney -- her high school sweetheart -- was on the phone in the World Trade Center telling her he loved her when suddenly there was a loud explosion and nothing more.
 
She carried that grief to Congress as she tried to make the government do a better job protecting its citizens from terrorism.

With a section of the tail visible, firefighters spray and foam on the wreckage of a commuter plane that crashed into a house and burned in Clarence Center, N.Y., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. A total of 50 peple were killed, including one on the ground. (AP Photo by John Hickey)

Eckert was part of a small group of Sept. 11 widows, mothers, and children who became amateur lobbyists, ultimately forcing lawmakers in 2004 to pass sweeping reforms of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
 
They spent months walking the halls of Congress. All of the women were grieving, but Eckert seemed unable or uninterested in holding back her tears.
 
When it was over and they'd won passage of the intelligence reform law, Eckert vowed to quit her high-profile role "cold turkey." All she wanted, she said, was to go home, buy groceries, and return to something like a regular life.
 
"I did all of this for Sean's memory, I did it for him," she said, crying again. "There is a euphoria in knowing that we reached the top of the hill. ... I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else's Sean will get to come home."
 
Eckert was flying to her hometown Thursday night when the plane crashed on approach to the Buffalo airport. She had planned on celebrating her late husband's 58th birthday.
 
After the 2001 attacks, she co-chaired the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, a group of activists devoted to exposing government failures that led up to the 2001 attacks, and fixing them.
 
She pushed for a 9/11 Commission. She pushed the Bush administration to provide more information to the commission. And when the commission's work was over, she pushed Congress to adopt their recommendations.
 
It was not an easy role for her.
 
One night after a long day at Congress, she found herself in the New York City train station, without a connecting train to her Connecticut home.
 
"We slept in the train station. We had no place else to go. That's when you look at yourself and say, 'What am I doing? How can we possibly get this done?'."
 
As Congress hemmed and hawed, Eckert vowed to sleep there, too, if it would get the law passed.
 
After the law passed, Eckert turned her energies to Habitat for Humanity, helping build homes for low-income families.
 
"I'm in shock, I just can't believe it," said Carie Lemack, whose mother died Sept. 11 on one of the hijacked planes. "Beverly had a can-do attitude about everything, and she never gave up."