Outlook features four lives shattered and transformed by Osama bin Laden: A woman whose mother was killed on 9/11; a Marine sent to war; a detainee held in Guantanamo; and a Muslim-American mistakenly put on a no-fly list.
Like most Americans, the first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden was on Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike everyone else, when I first heard his name, I had just hung up the phone after being told that my mother, Judy Larocque, had a reservation on American Airlines Flight 11 — which hours earlier had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
I was sitting at a desk in a dark room at the Cambridge Marriott outside Boston, where I’d been attending a networking breakfast before work. After I gave up the fruitless effort to call my mom, and after I called my sister, listening to her scream when I told her Mom was gone, it was my father who first told me the name of the man who killed her. I did not recognize it. It sounded foreign, unintelligible to me; I could not have even begun to spell it. But the name — and the evil and mystique it would eventually embody — would come to transform and animate my life in ways I could never have imagined.
There is no guidebook that prepares you to be a survivor of terrorism. No one tells you what you are supposed to do on Sept. 12, how you should respond. I was 26 years old, working as a high-tech marketing professional, with no experience dealing with government officials, journalists or grieving victims. Little I had done could have prepared me for a life of activism. I could only rely on what I knew. Mom was a go-getter, someone who saw a world full of solutions waiting to be found. She taught my sister and me to find them.
Within weeks of Mom’s murder, we had co-founded Families of September 11 alongside other families affected by the attacks, and we began an advocacy campaign that continues to this day. Our goal was simple: to meet the needs of the victims’ families and to make sure that what had happened to our loved ones would never happen again.
We did not know that our effort would entail a 14-month fight with the George W. Bush White House and some members of Congress to create an independent investigation into the attacks, as well as an ongoing battle to compel constant scrutiny of aviation security. I knew that bin Laden was still out there and still a risk to my family and others, and by engaging with world leaders and inserting myself into America’s national security debates, I was doing all I knew how to do to counter him.
It was not always simple, and at times, we needed to employ our own covert operations. At one critical moment during the fight to create the 9/11 Commission, a key member of Congress who did not want to answer our questions actually hid in his office. We explained to him that we could hear him breathing behind the closed door, and he was forced to open it and invite us in. Thankfully, he eventually supported our call for an independent investigation, and I learned that, to make the country safer, sometimes you have to be aggressive.