Sean Rooney and his wife Beverly Eckert met when they were 16 years old at a high school dance. They married and lived in an old Victorian house they restored in Stamford, Conn. Rooney’s hobby was carpentry and he crafted the kitchen cabinets and furniture for the home. Despite his long commute from the World Trade Center where he worked as a vice president at Aon, he always came home through the door asking, “Where is my hug?”
On Sept. 11, 2001 Rooney called his wife several times from an office on the 105th floor of the South Tower. At first, Sean called to say that an accident had happened in the neighboring North Tower and to assure her he was safe. Later, after a second plane crashed into the South Tower, trapping him, he called to say goodbye. The following is an excerpt of a recording Eckert made at StoryCorps, recounting these last moments:
There was a building in flames underneath him, but Sean didn’t even flinch. He stayed composed, just talking to me the way he always did. I will always be in awe of the way he faced death. Not an ounce of fear—not when the windows around him were getting too hot to touch; not when the smoke was making it hard to breathe.
By now we had stopped talking about escape routes. I wanted to use the precious few minutes we had left just to talk. He told me to give his love to his family, and then we just began talking about all the happiness we shared during our lives together, how lucky we were to have each other. At one point, when I could tell it was getting harder for him to breathe, I asked if it hurt. He paused for a moment, and then said, ‘No.’ He loved me enough to lie.
In the end, as the smoke got thicker, he just kept whispering, ‘I love you,’ over and over. Then I suddenly heard this loud explosion through the phone. It reverberated for several seconds. We held our breath. I know we both realized what was about to happen. Then I heard a sharp crack, followed by the sound of an avalanche. I heard Sean gasp once as the floor fell out from underneath him. I called his name into the phone over and over. Then I just sat there huddled on the floor holding the phone to my heart.”
Today, a white rose on the 9/11 Memorial marks what would have been his 66th birthday. In 2009, three days before her husband’s birthday, Eckert died in a plane crash outside of Buffalo, NY.
By Jenny Pachucki, 9/11 Memorial Content Strategist