9/11 Aftershocks Rupture Virginia Family
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Almost four years ago, Craig Sincock watched from a parking lot as flames swept the west side of the Pentagon, where his wife, Cheryle, worked. A secretary, she was one of the scores of Defense Department workers to die on Sept. 11, 2001.
In the months after the attack, Craig served as an unofficial spokesman for the Sept. 11 Pentagon families and counseled many of them on avoiding the emotional pitfalls that can follow unfathomable tragedy. But now the ex-Army warrant officer has watched his own family collapse under the weight of the attack and its aftermath.
Accompanied by a phalanx of lawyers and spinning through courtrooms in Manassas and Alexandria, a two-year dispute over Sept. 11 money between Craig and his three stepdaughters has engulfed several families, thousands of pages of court documents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
For the 60-year-old grandfather, it is the ultimate irony. After counseling grief-stricken families on how to keep their families in one piece, Craig and the daughters whom he and Cheryle, who died at age 53, raised together are estranged.
"They can live their own lives," said Craig, his voice cracking, as he hunched over a cup of coffee in his Fredericksburg home only a few miles from where his stepdaughters live. "But they're going to have to live it without me."
His stepdaughters point to their stepfather as the source of the problems.
"If you claim to love your children, even if they're not your own, you don't put them through this agony," said Cheryle's eldest daughter, Debbie Templin, 39.
The dispute reveals the hidden legacy of Sept. 11, say those who have worked with victims' families. The billions of dollars aimed at aiding those who lost loved ones so terribly and so publicly can expose the fault lines of the strongest families. Even survivors, like Craig, who know all the rules for navigating the aftermath of tragedy can flounder.
"It's about power and memory, and it's about entitlement," said Paula Madrid, director of the Resiliency Program at Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, who has counseled many Sept. 11 families. " 'Who was I to the person who passed away? What am I entitled to because of how much I loved this person versus what you did for him or her?' "
Last month, the executor of Cheryle's estate settled the distribution of survivors' benefits -- over her husband's objections -- with her daughters. But the fighting isn't over. Other issues remain, says everyone involved.
For Craig, tall and lean with a gruff laugh and weathered face, the dispute has only added to the emotional trauma that has plagued him since his wife's death. An Army warrant officer at the time of the attack who worked near his wife's Pentagon office, he was attending a meeting in Rosslyn that day and sprinted back to the Pentagon after seeing a plume of smoke rise from the complex.
He spent most of the next two days at the site, watching the smoke and flames and praying for his wife. Her body was discovered shortly thereafter.