Family remembers American Airlines flight attendant

Close-knit community helps healing process

MELISSA NELSON
Associated Press Writer
Published Wednesday, September 11, 2002

BATESVILLE -- It is a mother's most precious possession, a silver-and-lapis lazuli ring her daughter wore when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

The ring, tarnished and twisted by heat after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, dangles from a black cord around Bobbie Low's neck. It last was worn by Sara Low, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11.

Recovery workers found the ring with another of Sara's rings in the World Trade Center rubble and returned them to the Low family in New York last month.

"After our trip to New York, my daughter and I just kept staring at the rings and then looking at each other, we couldn't say a word. The rings truly were a gift," Bobbie Low said.

The silver-and-blue ring is from a set of three that Mike Low gave his wife and daughters after a trip to Santiago, Chile. Bobbie Low prefers to wear Sara's to her own; Sara's sister Alyson owns the other one.

Alyson, 31, wears around her neck another ring recovered from the rubble. The silver-and-gold band was a souvenir the sisters bought together on a trip to the Southwest. Sara gave the ring to Alyson to keep her from being homesick during a long European trip. Alyson had recently returned the ring to Sara.

"When she worked, Sara wore both of the rings together on her right hand," Bobbie Low said.

The Low family chose to cremate Sara's remains while in New York. They carried her ashes home to Batesville wrapped in one of the 28-year-old's flight attendant uniforms and an American flag.

With more than 20,000 human remains being kept in refrigerated trailers awaiting further DNA testing, the family could make additional trips to New York if there are more matches to Sara's DNA. The process is expected to take another year.

"It's not like a normal death, it's so public and so constant," Mike Low said. He and Alyson spent Father's Day at New York's Memorial Park visiting the trailers where the DNA testing is being done.

It was one of many trips east the family has made from their hillside Arkansas home since Sept. 11.

Mike Low says that, sometimes, he thinks the grieving process might be easier if he was living in New York or Boston where he would be one of thousands of victim family members and survivors.

At other times, he thinks his family couldn't have made it through without support from the close-knit community.

Either way, he cannot escape images of his daughter's death, which have been replayed on television and shown in photographs for the last 11 months.

"After a month or two, the videos of the planes did not hurt anymore," he said.

The father's grief fuels his support of the war in Afghanistan.

"It's part of the human drive to seek justice -- I call it revenge -- it drives all of us."

Low arranged for a set of American Airlines flight wings, given to him by a flight attendant and a former roommate of Sara's at a memorial service, to be worn into battle in Afghanistan.

In a ceremony at Fort Campbell, Ky., members of the U.S. Army Special Forces who carried the wings into war returned them to Low. A print with a plaque commemorating the Night Stalkers' missions hangs in Low's office at the Batesville limestone quarry he owns.

"Sara Elizabeth Low's spirit lives on and it is in her memory, represented by these wings, that we find a heightened sense of purpose, unwavering commitment and strength to continue to fight for freedom. Night Stalkers Don't Quit," the plaque reads.

Low has compiled a book with copies of e-mails and letters from Pentagon officials arranging for the wings to be flown into battle, stories about the Fort Campbell event and pictures of Sara.

The book includes a Nov. 8 response from Lt. Col. Abbott C. Koehler to Col. Allen S. Baker's request that the wings be taken to Afghanistan.

"Wilco! Sir consider it done -- Hooah," Koehler wrote.

Low's desire for revenge also prompted his request to the U.S. Attorney's office to testify in the possible sentencing phase of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the attacks.

Representatives of 30 families will be selected to testify.

"I would like to do it as a symbolic gesture," he said.

From cell phone calls and cockpit transmissions on Sept. 11, Low has pieced together some of his daughter's last moments. Flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney contacted ground personnel at Logan and gave them an account of what was happening. Sweeney said hijackers had slashed a passenger and two other flight attendants and were in the cockpit.

Low said his daughter was working the section of the plane where Mohammed Atta, who commandeered the plane, was seated. She was not one of the two flight attendants attacked by the hijackers.

"She was trained in the old method of passive control. She was never trained for active resistance," he said.

Support from other families of Flight 11 victims and from the airline has helped the Lows make it through.

Bobbie Low says a letter she received last month from one of Sara's co-workers was especially meaningful.

The woman talked with Sara as the two were signing in for their shifts the morning of Sept. 11.

The woman said she had waited to contact the family because her memories of the morning were so painful. She told the Lows about Sara's vibrant smile and her excitement about her new apartment.

"It meant so much because we have tried to find out everything we could about that morning," Bobbie Low said.

Mike Low's shrine to his daughter is his office, where his walls are filled with letters from politicians and military officials, flags and commemorative books.

Bobbie Low's shrine is on the refrigerator in the kitchen of her Batesville home. It is covered with pictures of Sara as child, Sara as an adult, and other family photos.

Bobbie Low had returned to Batesville Sept. 3 after an eight-day visit to Boston, where she helped Sara move into her new apartment. It was the first time Sara, who had worked for American in New York and Boston since 1998, had lived on her own without a roommate.

"She had lived with 28 different flight attendants in many different apartments. Then she found this tiny place in Beacon Hill. She had called me at the end of July to say she thought it was time she found a place of her own," Bobbie Low said.

"It had wood floors, two fireplaces and looked out on Garden Street."

She remembers helping her daughter, who liked her things kept neat, hang her clothes in the bedroom closet. Sara always wore neutral colors, nothing too bright, and hung her clothes according to the seasons they would be worn.

"When we finished hanging the clothes, she commented that the hangers didn't match," Bobbie Low said.

Along with Sara's move to her own apartment, she made another change -- a close-cropped haircut.

"I remember we had a special dinner out when I was up there and Sara was so animated talking about her life," Bobbie Low said.

Less than two weeks after she left her daughter in Boston, Bobbie Low returned to clean out the apartment and bring Sara's belongings back to Batesville.

The clothing and other items remain in boxes in the family's garage.

Bobbie Low remembers her daughter in the photos that are stored in boxes and plastic bags throughout the house. The photos show Sara and her sister wearing nightgowns sitting on the family's sofa as children, Sara in her Brownie uniform and her cheerleading uniform, receiving a ninth-grade citizenship award, at her high school prom, graduating from the University of Arkansas and from flight attendant school and attending her 10-year high school reunion.

The photos include a picture of Sara in front of a Manhattan skyline with the World Trade Center towers over her shoulder. The photo was taken by Bobbie during a July 1998 mother-daughter trip to New York.

Mike Low, a longtime pilot, remembers his daughter's love of the skies. He often flies his Beechcraft Baron twin-engine aircraft over the Rocky Mountains and recalls the family's annual Christmas ski trips to Steamboat Springs, Colo.

He remembers one especially rough landing when Sara, who was a child at the time, ended up with her head in her lap and her older sister laughing at her reaction to the turbulent skies.

The family returned without Sara for Christmas 2001. Mike Low took Sara's ski pole along with an urn of soil from the World Trade Center site and left the items on top of Mount Werner.

"This is a new process. I thought I wouldn't do things of a symbolic nature like that but I find myself doing them," he said.

The family hasn't decided what it will do Sept. 11, 2002.

Sara's childhood room remains much the same as it did when she lived in the home. Mike Low said he sometimes kisses her picture before leaving for work in the mornings to help him deal with his pain.

"I'm not sure that it has eased," he said.




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