June 23, 2021

Lorie Van Auken is the wife of Kenneth Van Auken, who died at the age of 47 on Sept. 11.  Kenneth Van Auken was born in 1954 and worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, 105th floor, WTC Tower One – the North Tower. They lived with their children, Matthew and Sarah, at their home in East Brunswick, New Jersey. 

In an October 2001 obituary in the New York Times it was written that Kenneth Van Auken had “passions for carpentry and gardening” and “built the cedar-wood arbor in the yard where his widow, Lorie Van Auken, now goes to grieve. Mr. Van Auken had “finished the arbor a week before he died. Last week, the clematis plants that the Van Aukens picked out together for the arbor came in the mail. Mrs. Van Auken planted them with a friend at hand to keep her from crying too hard. Not far from where the pink flowers will crawl up the arbor, a big old maple stands dying, its leaves brown for months. But it is being allowed to stay for now. ‘My husband loved this tree,’ Mrs. Van Auken said. ‘We decided to wait till spring to cut it down. Give it one more chance to go green again.’ 

The New York Times obituary elaborated “While Mrs. Van Auken is gardening to confront her loss, their 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, has written and recorded a song, “Daddy’s Little Girl,” that has been played on pop radio stations. “Daddy, are you there? the song goes. “Cause I’ve, I’ve looked everywhere. Maybe you’ll appear, somehow whisper in my ear.”

Lorie Van Auken was a member of the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission. On July 22, 2005, she spoke before the Congressional Briefing convened by Cynthia McKinney titled “The 9/11 Commission Report One Year Later: A Citizen’s Response: Did The Commission Get It Right?” In her comments she recalled “On the morning of September 11th, I received the following message from my husband, Kenneth:

“I love you. I’m in the World Trade Center. The building was hit by something. I don’t know if I’m going to get out, but I love you very much. I hope I’ll see you later. Bye.”

“From his words, I knew that Ken survived the impact of the plane, so I tried to call him back, but there was no answer. I fell to my knees in a panic, still clutching the telephone. A moment later, when the phone rang, it startled me completely. I prayed that it was Ken , but it was my mother. She told me to turn the television on. I watched as the people ran from the World Trade Center, hoping for a glimpse of my husband.

“Then the second tower was hit. I continued to watch the breaking news, they showed the President in an elementary school classroom, juxtaposed with the footage of black smoke from the World Trade Center, along with people jumping to their deaths from the burning buildings.

“I screamed at the television. Get up, President Bush. Get up and do something, but he remained seated in a classroom of small children. I watched as Andrew Card whispered something to the President, and yet, still my President remained seated in a classroom of small children, when our country was so obviously under a terrorist attack….I also wondered why the Secret Service was letting the President stay in the classroom full of children.

“Why didn’t they whisk him away? It seemed as if every target in America was being attacked. So, wasn’t the President, the leader of the free world, in danger of being fatally attacked as well?

“After two days and hundreds of phone calls to New York City hospitals and to the Red Cross, receiving no guidance, and absolutely no answers, my husband’s employer, Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, recounted on a news program that no one who was in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald at the time of the attacks had survived. That meant that Ken was gone….For me, one horribly sad question had been answered, but many more questions would soon follow.”

On September 27, 2014, Jon Gold interviewed Lorie Van Auken. The interview was later published in his book We Were Lied To. Commenting on the Bush administration claim that the hijackings of Sept. 11th were a surprise, Van Auken told Jon Gold “you would have thought that if it was a surprise attack, that they themselves would have wanted to know how it was that they were able to—that the terrorists could succeed against this big nation of—with all of this budgeting for this very thing, you would have thought that they would have jumped at the chance to investigate this because it was incredible that 19 people could really defeat the U.S.—entire U.S. military.”

The casual way the 9/11 Commission was conducted, with few people taking oaths, and few people being subpoenaed, was vexing for Lorie Van Auken and others on the Family Steering Committee. She explained to Jon Gold, “The reason that we asked for the investigation was because we were told it would be very difficult to really have any kind of court action against anybody in the Government. So, this was sort of our only hope at getting at these answers, and to not have the questions asked in any fashion at all, and then to not have the follow-up questions asked, which after somebody answers something, there comes another question a lot of times that wasn’t asked either. It was really, it was very tough, because we would have rather have done all of this in a court of law. Where there are rules about stuff like this…”

Van Auken worked together with fellow Family Steering Committee member, Mindy Kleinberg, to assemble a report on how poorly the 9/11 Commission answered the families’ questions. It was titled “FSC Questions To The 9/11 Commission With Ratings Of Its Performance In Providing Answers.” 

In September 2012, Lorie Van Auken had a letter published in the Journal of 9/11 Studies. She commented on how the events of September 11th “remains in our lives on a daily basis. All of our experiences get viewed through the 9/11 ‘lens.’ This focus makes us see the world very differently than others do, and differently than we ourselves used to. 

Take the invasion of Iraq, for example. We were told over and over again that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Colin Powell testified at the United Nations with George Tenet, then head of the CIA, sitting behind him presenting an image of credibility and certainty. We were shown diagrams and photographs of where these WMD’s were hidden. None of it was true. Not a word. Yet we invaded Iraq based on these falsehoods. We were also told that Iraq might have played a role in the events of 9/11, which was later shown to be untrue as well. What was the real reason for the invasion of Iraq? That question has never been adequately answered. Prior to September 11th I wouldn’t have paid much attention, believing what I was hearing on the news. Post 9/11, I question everything that I am told.

Lorie Van Auken emphasized, “There are many ever-evolving and unanswered questions with regard to the day of September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Commission did not satisfactorily address the central issues, nor did The National Institute of Standards and Technology in its investigation into the World Trade Center collapses. Those are the politically influenced “investigations” into September 11th, which the American people and the world have had to live with for over a decade. A real investigation with evidence and experts is still needed if we are ever to understand what really happened on that tragic day.”

Thirteen years after the attacks, daughter Sarah – now 25 – opened a one-woman play in Manhattan in September 2014 titled This Is Not About 9/11. While the play does address the real pain of families who lost loved ones, Sarah Van Auken had a larger purpose for the play. “I want to highlight the fact that it isn’t about 9/11, it’s about us. We are all a part of what happened because it happened to all of us. What I’d like to encourage audiences to do is to involve and attune themselves to what’s happening in the post-9/11 world,” she said. She told CBS that the events of Sept. 11 have shaped her life, putting her choices to shrink or persevere into focus. She added, “and what I am choosing is perseverance.”

Lorie Van Auken has been co-chair of the September 11th Advocates. 

Ray McGinnis

References:
An Arbor Of Memories,” New York Times, October 24, 2001.
Lorie Van Auken, “Letters, September 2012,” Journal of 9/11 Studies, September 2012.
Margaret Eby, “The Daughter of a 9/11 Victim Makes a Powerful Statement,” Hellogiggles.com, September 11, 2014.
Dustin Slaughter, “Review: “This Is Not About 9/11”, Philly Declaration, June 22, 2014.
Jon Gold, “We Were Lied To About 9/11 – Episode 6 – Lorie Van Auken,” September 27, 2014.
Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Van Auken, “FSC Questions To The 9/11 Commission With Ratings Of Its Performance In Providing Answers.”
Lorie Van Auken, “Unanswered Questions and the Call for Accountability,” The 9/11 Commission Report One Year Later: A Citizen’s Response: Did The Commission Get It Right?, Washington D.C., July 22, 2005, page 10ff.
Video of the proceedings of The 9/11 Commission Report One Year Later televised on C-SPAN. Lorie Van Auken’s comments begin just after 17:00 of the coverage.