The first person I always think about every 9/11 is Katie McCloskey. A graduate of South Bend Adams and Indiana University, she was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when the first plane hit.
She was just 25 years old and her remains were never found after the terrorist attack.
I talked to her family in her parents’ South Bend home the day after one of the worst days in our country’s history — and the worst day of their lives. They were getting ready to leave for New York to find out what they could while hanging on to hope. But with no communications from Katie, they knew the possibility of her still being alive was bleak.
Her office was almost exactly where the plane crashed into the tower.
A few weeks earlier, Katie had sent her family a selfie of herself behind her desk while looking out the window and capturing the Statue of Liberty in the picture over her shoulder.
She flashed her winning smile that had been voted the best in the Class of 1994 at Adams.
“She loved that she could see the Statue of Liberty from her office,” said Katie’s younger sister, Julie Gardner.
“And we can only assume that she was there in her office when the plane hit,” said Dick McCloskey, Katie’s father.
He gritted his teeth and tried to fight back the emotions that ripped at his insides. His wife, Anne, and their three other children — 32-year-old Leslie, 31-year-old Noah and 24-year-old Julie — were all there with them hoping and praying for a miracle.
Katie was working at the Trade Center for Marsh Insurance Agencies as a computer help-desk technician. She also was a part-time waitress so she could make ends meet in New York City.
She loved her job. She loved her life. She loved being 97 floors high — as if she were on top of the world. She at least felt that way.
And then the unthinkable happened.
“Katie works this weird work week that starts on Saturday and ends on Tuesday,” said Leslie McCloskey. “So when I heard the news (of the terrorism), I had to stop and think what day it was. And then my heart sank.”
It was a Tuesday — Sept. 11, 2001. It was a day that will live in infamy, a day when the World Trade Center was destroyed, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., was badly damaged in terrorist attacks that used hijacked airliners as their suicidal weapons.
Katie McCloskey — who played tennis and volleyball at Adams … who loved the beach … who drove a Mustang convertible with her sunglasses on and her hair flying … who was called Catastrophe Kate by her family for her endearing clumsiness … who romped with her dog, Spencer … who had hundreds of jokes and zillions of friends — ended up being one of the victims.
The first plane hit the north tower about 8:45 a.m. EDT at a spot that appeared to be just below where Katie worked. At 10:28 a.m., that tower tumbled into a mound of rubble — 40 minutes after the south tower came down.
“Katie was supposed to fly home today (Wednesday) and then go to a friend’s wedding this weekend,” her dad said. “We were going to pick her up at the airport this afternoon.”
They never got the chance. After family members traveled to New York the next day, they couldn’t find anything about her in their emotional and pain-staking search. Like the towers, she was gone.
But she always will be remembered — on 9/11 and on so many other days when her family and friends think back to the sweet girl with the big dreams, good heart and golden smile.
Contact Bill at [email protected]