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Aussies get mum’s wedding ring back after 9/11

Seal Media Group, Australia

She turns her phone and TV off this time every year, not wanting to be reminded of that painful day, two decades ago, when at the tender age of 13 she lost her father to the 9/11 terror attacks.“I spent many years not talking about it, not dealing with it, not crying or anything,” Ms Gyulavary said from her home in Connecticut.“I was so traumatised and emotionally stunted.“It’s gotten more challenging for me because I’ve had therapy and time to process what happened (in recent years).”The challenge only intensifies today, as the now 33-year-old breaks her anniversary hoodoo and attends a 9/11 memorial for the first time in her Australian dad’s hometown of New York.Peter Gyulavary, who emigrated to the US in the 1970s from Geelong, Victoria, was just 44 when, like nearly 3000 others, he died in the al-Qaeda-inspired attacks.He had been working as an environmental architect for Washington Group International on the 91st floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when the second plane,United Airlines Flight 175, smashed into the building between the 78th and 84th floors.At that moment, Ms Gyulavary, who runs her own physical therapy business and is engaged to be married next year, said she “was robbed” of her father and often feels “really sad about that”.“As I get older there are certain milestones: getting married, starting a business, buying a house and it’s difficult as I would have liked to know what my dad would have thought and to talk to him,” she said.There have been “a lot of dark days” following the attacks, according to Ms Gyulavary, but her life is now in a “really good place”.Ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Maxar Technologies has taken a look back at satellite imagery of the attack sites from IKONOS, “the only high-resolution commercial imagery system in orbit” at that time. ‘TWINS’ TORMENT’Fellow Australian Andrew Knox was on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Centre’s North Tower when the terrorists struck.The 29-year-old had been working in the US as an industrial officer for an American company, and had just hosted his mum and dad, Marion and Tom, in New York.They dined with him just days before he was killed.They were on a Qantas flight home at the very moment his life was cut short.His heartbroken twin brother, former Adelaide school principal Stuart Knox, has been running a Facebook page in the past few years, sharing messages he’d written to the brother he grew up with in the Adelaide suburb of Modbury. “Happy Birthday Bro xxxxx,” he has previously written on their shared birthday on January 8.Twenty years after the tragic 9/11 terror attack, Stuart has opened up about his struggles with alcohol addiction as a coping mechanism.“There were things that were difficult over that 20 years in relation to trauma … for me I’ve struggled over the years with that pain around losing Andrew,” he said.“One of the challenges over that time has been issues with addiction and finding something to fill that emptiness, that hole inside, and that’s certainly been a struggle that I still face now.”Mr Knox said the birth of his son Hudson, now 17, helped with distracting him from the pain of his brother’s death.But the former principal’s life spiralled five years ago, when he endured multiple hardships in his life including the death of his mother and a relationship breakdown.He was admitted to a rehabilitation facility for three months in 2016, and again for a period this year.Now seven months sober, Mr Knox used his brother’s memory to fight the urge to relapse in the emotional lead up to the significant 9/11 anniversary.“Obviously this week’s been just a little bit more tough because of the fact that it’s like a countdown until the day, and that’s always hard. For me, it’s just about taking one day at a time,” he said.Mr Knox spent Saturday remembering his brother with friends and family. His next task will be to re-establish the Andrew Knox Foundation formed after his brother’s death, to assist people struggling with mental health battles, disability, and addiction.He remembers Andrew as a compassionate and loving man who always stood up for others.“He was just a really helpful loving person, who packed a lot into his 29 years,” he said.Mr Knox will continue to live every day with his brother by his side.‘WE HAD A BEAUTIFUL LIFE TOGETHER’Twenty years may have passed since 9/11, but Dorry Tompsett, now 68, said the day she lost her husband still “feels like yesterday”.Stephen Tompsett, 39, from Sydney, was attending a technology conference at the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the north tower when the first hijacked plane – American Airlines Flight 11 – tore into the 92nd and 98th floors, destroying all three stairwells. No one above the impact zone survived.“We had a beautiful life together,” Dorry said of her “soulmate” husband. “It was too short but in the 12 years of my marriage with Stephen – and 13 years of knowing him – I had more than most people have in a lifetime.“It feels like yesterday. It’s always been yesterday and forever for me.”The couple met in the late 1980s when Stephen worked for an Australian software company which had a contract with the financial information company where Dorry worked in the US. “When we got married I had the word ‘forever’ engraved on his wedding ring, and I meant that,” she said.Dorry and the couple’s only child, Emily, 30, are based in New York. Emily, who was just 10 years old when her dad was killed, is now a schoolteacher due to marry her fiance next year. “He’s missed so much of our only child,” Dorry said.“He was a wonderful husband and father … nobody could ever replace Stephen.”Dorry, who will walk her daughter down the aisle at her wedding, said the pair will mark the anniversary together, along with their dogs.‘WE FOUND MUM’S WEDDING RING’About two years after Australian comedian Simon Kennedy tragically lost his mum in the 9/11 terror attacks, a box from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) turned up at his Sydney homeInside was a book containing photographs of personal items recovered from the wreckage of Flight 77 after it was flown into the Pentagon, killing 59 passengers and crew on-board as well as 125 people on the ground. The images had been sent to families who lost loved ones at the crash site in a bid to identify what had belonged to who. Unbeknown to Mr Kennedy at the time, it would lead him to an invaluable find that he’s still at a loss what to do with 20 years on. Yvonne Kennedy, 63, was killed in the terror attacks. She had boarded Flight 77 in Washington DC that morning to fly to Los Angeles before catching a flight home to Sydney when hijackers took control of the plane and slammed it into the United States defence headquarters.“We were flicking through the book from the FBI and there was mum’s wedding ring,” Mr Kennedy said.“We had to nominate it and wait to see if there was a conflict but there wasn’t.”Soon after, Ms Kennedy’s wedding ring – which she had continued to wear “everywhere” following her husband’s death years earlier – was returned to her sons.It was dented and “marked with soot” but now even more precious than before.“That was quite a sobering thing to hold in my hand to know that was with mum,” Mr Kennedy added.Around the same time, Ms Kennedy’s “charred” purse, keys and some ID and credit cards “strewn in the wreckage” also made their way back to her boys who later donated all of the items to a museum, with the exception of their mum’s ring.According to Mr Kennedy, now 46, he’s “still not quite sure what to do” with it, 20 years on from the disaster.“It’s one of those things where I look at the life I’ve had since 9/11 and everything I’ve achieved and done, and I realise a big chunk – almost half – of my life has happened after it.“But there are also times where it feels like yesterday.” Ms Kennedy, a volunteer at the Red Cross for more than two decades, would have loved her grandchildren if she’d had the chance to meet them, Mr Kennedy said.“For them as young kids, it’s a historical event and like trying to get someone to make me understand the Vietnam War when I was little,” he said of his two boys, now aged 11 and 13.“They know that I miss my mum and even though they never met her, they do feel her.”On other occasions, the memories of that life-changing day are so fresh, it’s like no time has passed, according to Mr Kennedy.“People often say, ‘how do you get over something like that?’” he said.“You don’t get over it, you integrate it into your life. “It seems crazy but you have to live that way and otherwise you’re wasting the life that you have. I’ve learned to accept what happened. I can’t change it. “I focus on what I can do from here on. “The way that we lost her was very public and dramatic. “That part is easier now that those events are further behind us and I can more easily focus on just being a son that lost a mother. “It’s still a point of fascination for other people. For me, it’s just about me and my mum.”9/11 ANNIVERSARYMuch like last year, Covid travel restrictions meant many families were unable to make 20th commemoration events in the US, but their loved ones were still honoured.US President Joe Biden visited all three 9/11 memorial sites and paid his respects on Saturday.Mr Biden and his wife Jill attended the 9/11 commemoration at ground zero alongside former US presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Mr Biden then flew to the memorial outside Shanksville, where United Flight 93 was forced down. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at the Flight 93 National Memorial, praising the courage and the resilience of the American people.Former US president George W. Bush also spoke at the event, calling for unity.

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