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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Tragedy Touches UMB Student

Michelle Pirog was at the doctor’s when terrorists attacked the US nine days ago. Not near a television or radio at the time, the UMB senior left the appointment with her sense of security still intact. That peace of mind abandoned her later when she watched tape of the twin towers and parts of the Pentagon collapsing.

As Pirog browsed Beadworks in Harvard Square after her check-up, she heard people talking about the “national crisis.

“At first I thought, ‘There’s always a national crisis,'” Pirog said. “I thought it was a movie they were filming and something went wrong. Then it dawned on me that my uncles and cousins live and work near there [the World Trade Center]. I thought, ‘Oh my God. Are they dead? Is my family dead?'”

Pirog immediately tried calling home, but the sheer number of people dialing tied up phone lines. Her stomach in knots, she Instant-Messaged a friend in Manhattan and asked him to call her relatives.

“I was freaking out,” Pirog said. “I was screaming. I couldn’t get to my family.” Originally from New York, Pirog, 30-years-old, is the only member of her family who currently lives out of state.

As the harrowing day continued, Pirog’s kin accounted for each other. The shock had sent her father into a diabetic coma, but he soon recovered in one of New York City’s crowded hospitals. One of Pirog’s cousins, a corporate attorney who had worked in Tower 1, the first struck, missed his train and perhaps injury or death by minutes. One of her uncles, who also worked in the area, had taken the day off. Another cousin was in Paris on her honeymoon.

One of her cousins-in-law, however, a fireman recently promoted to a desk job, had been called to field duty. He was one of the first rescue workers at the scene, said Pirog, who surmised that he rushed inside one of the besieged buildings. As September 11 drew to a close the family still hadn’t learned his whereabouts, even after checking with the fire department and hospitals. For four days they remained at this impasse, keeping phone lines and hearts open to his call, every ring full of promise and terror.

“Seven firefighters were rescued,” said Pirog a couple of days after the attacks. “Maybe he was one of them.”

The Saturday after the attacks, however, hope was extinguished. Pirog got word that her cousin-in-law, Martin Egan, captain of Division 15 of the New York City Fire Department, had been found.

“Unfortunately he wasn’t found alive and [was] identified through fingerprints,” Pirog said.

The previous Saturday, Pirog’s relatives gathered in the Bronx for the wedding of one of her cousins. It was the last time she saw Egan. “I said to them, ‘My God you’re so handsome, both of you, meaning him and my cousin Diane,” said Pirog. “He was so happy on Saturday, so handsome…Everything was so perfect that day.

“[Marty] is a family-oriented person,” Pirog continued. “He calls you up to see how you’re doing. He’s the first to every family function. He has one of the most glowing smiles, especially when my cousin Diane is around.” Pirog added that he has two children, Sean, age 5, and Kerry, 3. “They’ve been screaming for their daddy.”

Unable to get to her family because of transportation breakdowns in and out of New York City, Pirog, who lives in Quincy, has been trying to focus on her classes. Although her family has told her to go to school, she says she wishes classes had been canceled for at least a week. It’s not surprising that the events of September 11 eclipse her studies and the way she now sees the world.

Two days after the attack she said, “I ate my first meal today.” She pointed out the sun, fiery orange, sinking beneath a cloudy horizon. “It’s the source of universal power and it’s setting.”

At a teach-in about the attacks on campus that day, Pirog told the group that a member of her family, a firefighter sent to the World Trade Center, was missing, but since she didn’t know the facts, she didn’t blame anyone. She walked out, tears in her eyes.

“Most people are not politically involved,” Pirog said in an interview later. “Why should anyone, American, Muslim, Jewish, be condemned because a few people have political interest to kill and control? No one asked us what we wanted. My family was targeted for something they had nothing to do with.

“Ninety-nine percent of the Muslim nation didn’t do anything,” Pirog added. “The last thing we need is people passing judgment. Marty wouldn’t want people to hate. He wasn’t like that. Hating isn’t going to bring him home to his babies.”

Pirog said that when she reaches New York City, she plans to hold her relatives and tell them she loves them. Her family issued the following statement:

“Marty is the type of person who always puts others before himself. The tragedy on Tuesday was just another example of his kind heart and his passion to save lives. We all miss and love him very much. We will always keep him close to our heart. It is there we always know he is home.”