The stories of 6 of the 30 SU alumni who were 9/11 victims

UPDATED: Sept. 16 at 3:40 p.m.

Thirty Syracuse University alumni died as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Here are six of their stories, as told by their friends and family members.

Wendy Faulkner G’96

Lynn Faulkner met his wife in an English class his freshman year at Onondaga Community College. He and Wendy had butted heads the first three classes of the semester, but one day Lynn realized she was the most fascinating girl he’d ever met.

“I am who I am, at least the good parts, for having met her,” Lynn said.

The couple later coordinated the completion of their graduate studies at Syracuse University around starting a family. Lynn graduated in 1986 and Wendy in 1996.

On the night of Sept. 10, 2001, Lynn spoke to his wife on the phone. She was traveling to New York for business meetings.

“We said goodnight. The last words that we said to each other were that we loved each other,” Lynn recalled.

The next morning started out like any other, as Lynn watched the news. Then, he learned a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

“The craziest part about 9/11, for me, was that I did not put together where my wife’s meetings were, and so, for the longest time, I was like everybody else to the extent that I was watching a news event,” he said.

Shortly afterward, Lynn’s mother-in-law called, reminding him that Wendy was in New York City. It was around that moment the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

“That was a weird transformation … to it becoming a very personal thing,” he said. “That is what always comes back to me.”

Five days after the attacks, Lynn began to realize his wife was probably never going to come home. He and their two daughters sat down to discuss the possibility of having a memorial.

Wendy was the daughter of missionaries and spent most of her childhood in the West Indies. She carried that philanthropic lifestyle into her adulthood, which her family took into consideration when deciding how to memorialize her. On Sept. 16, 2001, they established the Wendy Faulkner Memorial Children’s Foundation, which they continue to run today.

Lynn said he’s uncomfortable with using the words “disaster” or “tragedy” to describe the events of 9/11.

“It was premeditated murder — it was intentional. To call it anything other than that, I think, does a real injustice to the people who were murdered that day,” he said.

The community in Mason, Ohio, where the Faulkner family lived 20 years ago, unveiled a memorial on the 15th anniversary of the attacks that features a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. Wendy’s name is inscribed on the memorial.

“In some ways, it’s nice to know that your loved one is still thought of but … it can be kind of hard too,” Lynn said.

In Remembrance

Eric Evans ‘91

Syracuse University basketball often acts as a uniting force, one that enables strangers to bond over bleeding orange. This was the case between Oswego, New York native Keith Carlson and Eric Evans, a member of the SU Class of 1991.

Keith and Eric became friends while working for sister organizations in the same building — Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, respectively. As their friendship grew, Keith began to view Eric as a role model.

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Keith heard the news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. His mind immediately went to Eric’s girlfriend, who worked in New York City. And, later, Eric, when he was reminded that his friend had recently taken a position in the city.

“We were on pins and needles all day, trying to make cellphone calls. Of course, no calls were going through or anything,” Keith said.

Around 7 p.m., Keith’s house phone rang.

His wife recognized the phone number as Eric’s, and she began to cry as she handed the phone to her husband. The voice on the other end of the receiver belonged to Eric’s girlfriend, who told Keith that Eric was missing.

Fifteen years after Eric’s death, Keith still explains to his children why Sept. 11, 2001 is so important, but said he is afraid that over the years, the events of that day have become too politicized.

“People have lost the idea that we lost over 3,000 regular citizens that day — they are the ones that should be honored and remembered,” he said.

Keith remembers Eric through his oldest son, named Evan Eric after the friend he lost. He is also involved with the Eric Evans Memorial Fund, which hosts an annual golf tournament and donated $40,000 to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation this year. The foundation partners rescued dogs with first responders to find people buried in the wreckage of disasters, according to their website.

“We try to make the best of it,” Keith said. “But you know the pain of losing him just really never goes away.”

Steven Weinberg ‘81

Steven Weinberg bled orange.

“He graduated and it felt like he never left,” said his wife, Laurie, of New City, New York. “He wore T-shirts and scarves, took (the kids) to Madison Square to watch the basketball games. Syracuse was a part of him. They grew up seeing that.”

When Steven and Laurie’s sons attended Syracuse University, Laurie said it was strange for them to know their father lived in the same residences halls, walked through the same pathways and sat in the same lecture halls.

Although Laurie had attended SU for two and a half years herself, she didn’t meet Steven there. They were set up on a blind date by Laurie’s aunt and uncle. Steven had been an accountant at her uncle’s medical practice.

“Immediately I said this was the one,” Laurie said. “There was just something about him. He had a winning personality, he was adorable, he was funny and a gentleman, and everything I liked about it from the first date.”

Thirteen days after Laurie and Steven celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary, Steven was killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He had been working as an accounting manager at Thomson Financial and was on the 78th floor in the south tower of the World Trade Center.

In the 17 minutes between the plane strikes of the north and south towers, Laurie spoke to her husband.

“He called me and said he was fine and it was the other tower,” she said. “And shortly after, the plane hit on his floor.”

She knew he didn’t make it.

Rabbi Paul Kurland of the Nanuet Hebrew Center in New City rushed to the Weinberg home as soon as he found out what had happened.

“I really didn’t have the time to think about what it meant to me,” he said. “All I could think about was Laurie, his wife and children, and I ran to their house right away. There must have been 50 people at the house.”

Laurie and Steven’s children were ages 11, 8 and 6 at the time of his death. The first few years after his death were “horrendous,” Laurie said.

“I had three small children that I was raising on my own and everything, and our lives were thrown into a blender,” she said.

Even though it’s been 15 years since her husband’s death, Laurie said his memory is still a daily presence in her life.

“I still think of him every day,” she said. “There are photographs throughout the house, almost there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look to a picture of him and (think) you are missed, and we try to keep him alive in our memories all the time.”

Courtesy of Laurie Weinberg

(from left to right) The Weinberg family: Sam, Laurie, Jason, Lindsay, and Steven.

Morton “Morty” Frank ‘92

Rhonda Smith was standing in a New York City schoolyard one September morning after dropping off her children for the first day of a new school year. Her friend gazed upward, pointing out a plane that was flying unusually low, but the two thought nothing of it.

Rhonda began her usual jog around the reservoir in Manhattan, where she ran into a friend who told her a plane struck one of the Twin Towers. As Rhonda continued her run, she saw crowds of people, standing with their necks craned toward the smoke-filled sky.

At that point, Rhonda did not realize the enormity of the event, but her mind drifted to her brother, Morton “Morty” Frank, a Class of 1992 Syracuse University alumnus who worked in the city.

Rhonda ran back to the school, where she used the phone, but attempts to reach her brother were unsuccessful. She then dialed her mother, who was screaming as she watched the events unfold on TV.

It was at that moment that a second hijacked plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.

New Yorkers like Rhonda and her mother watched the 9/11 attacks happen right in front of their faces, she said. And 15 years after the loss of her brother, that day is still clear in Rhonda’s mind.

“You forget so much in your life, but some things you just remember every minute of the day and that truly is one of them,” she said. “He had the spark … he was always the fun one.”

Rhonda said she doesn’t fear the day will be forgotten, but hopes those who don’t have to remember it, don’t.

“It was a horrible, horrible time,” she recalled. “And in the months afterwards, the smell in the city, it smelled like smoke for months and, you know, people running to the streets looking for … their family members, I think people still remember.”

Smith was involved with a golf outing held in Frank’s name for about 13 years. The tournament raised scholarship money for students who went to the high school Frank had attended.

Still living in New York City, Smith said the anticipation was palpable in the weeks approaching Sept. 11.

“The feeling in the city … you feel it in the air, people just recognize it in the city, nobody forgets.”

Craig Montano ‘84

Caren Mercer had arrived early for class registration. The year was 1980, and she was a freshman at Syracuse University.

Craig Montano had arrived late. He approached Caren and her roommate and asked to join them in line, and they let him.

Although Caren didn’t know it then, she had just met her husband.

Caren and Craig signed up for many of the same classes. After a first date at a football game in Manley Field House, the two officially became a couple.

Throughout college, they would have a whirlwind of dates and adventures. They would go to the Jabberwocky, or “The Jab,” a well-known bar in the basement of Schine Student Center. They attended basketball games in the Carrier Dome. Their senior year, they even skipped part of graduation because his ultimate Frisbee team was in the final, and ended up winning the game.

“I think I always knew there was something special to him,” Caren said. “He had that way, he had a way — whatever was going on, it was better when he was around.”

Caren said Craig loved teamwork, from playing ultimate Frisbee at SU to working on Wall Street. But it was at Cantor Fitzgerald, where he worked as a bond trader, that he lost his life on the 104th floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Caren had been at home in Glen Ridge, New Jersey with their then-9-month-old son, Liam. Their other kids, Christa and Lukas, were 7 and 4 years old, respectively.

“It feels like it happened so long ago, and on the other hand it feels like it’s just yesterday,” Caren said. “It’s been 15 years now, so much has happened that sadly my husband wasn’t here for.”

Their entire family went to One World Trade Center in New York City last weekend, where Lukas read Craig’s name. The memorial was over four hours long, she said, but was an appropriate tribute complemented by the beautiful, clear weather that day.

On Sept. 11, Caren said it’s important for their family to all be together. It’s a day that means family, she said, and a reminder to treasure loved ones and make the most of every day.

“I guess the most important thing is that, you know, no matter what the love never stops.”

David Laychak G’92

Like many Americans, Jim Laychak first heard about 9/11 through the TV. That morning, he and his wife were at home, watching the “TODAY” show on NBC. They heard about the first plane crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

“The first plane seemed kind of weird, but when they showed video footage of the second plane, we knew that something was wrong,” Jim said.

About a half hour later, they felt their windows rattle and shake.

“I told my wife I bet, I wonder if that was the Pentagon that was hit,” he said.

Jim — who lived a few miles away from the Pentagon — was correct.

One by one, all of Jim’s family members that worked at the Pentagon were reached — his father; his brother, Mike; and his uncle. But David, Jim’s younger brother who graduated from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management in 1992, never called.

“I kept thinking he would walk up because, you know, he didn’t have a cell phone … He carpooled into work, so his car wasn’t there. And everybody was just kind of leaving the area,” Jim said. “The longer it went on, it got worse. It wasn’t until the second or third day that we knew nobody was coming out of the building.”

Fifteen years later, Jim said he is often still thinking about David, a civilian budget analyst for the Army, and the memories they shared. But he said when he thinks about how much time has passed, he thinks more of what he has done with the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

Shortly after 9/11, 10 victims’ family members formed a steering committee to act as advisers for a memorial project, which included a juried design competition.

By March 2003, a separate selection committee chose a final design and the Pentagon took over to manage the construction aspects. Soon after, the original steering committee decided to create the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

The fund raised over $23 million dollars to build the memorial, Jim said. Now, they are raising money to build an accompanying visitor education center, for which they raised about $4 million so far. Jim, who is president of the fund, said the Pentagon Memorial is one of the few memorials honoring an event where it actually happened.

“We have a unique place and a unique responsibility,” he said. “The more kids that are born every year, the more people that weren’t alive on 9/11.”

Each of the victims in the memorial are arranged by their age, Jim said, something that often resonates with visitors. For example, middle schoolers often gravitate around the stainless steel benches of the three sixth grade victims.

The victims are also arranged by the location of where they died — when you read David’s name at the end of his bench, Jim said, you see the Pentagon.

“We wanted a place to make people think, but not tell them what to think,” Jim said.

Jim said his work with the fund is his way to honor David and the other victims of Sept. 11. He said David is now in a better place, and because of him he is always thinking about how he can live a more fulfilling life.

“We know that’s what Dave would want,” Jim said. “He would not want us to be sad and dwell, (but) go live our life the best we can.”

Courtesy of Jim Laychak

(from left) Dave and Jim Laychak

Banner video by Amanda Caffey and Clare Ramirez

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the city in which Keith Carlson is from was misstated. Carlson is from Liverpool, New York, not Oswego. The Daily Orange regrets this error.