Fourth in a series

For several hours, before they knew, Sally Tartre and Donna Hart watched their brother die on an endless television loop.

James Roux, a Portland attorney, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, the second of two commercial planes that were hijacked by terrorists and steered into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Tartre, who was in Kennebunk at the time, and Hart, who was in California, did what everyone did that morning 20 years ago when they heard about the first plane. They turned on the TV.

“That clip you see over and over again, we watched it like everyone else,” Tartre said.

It remains one of the most indelible and horrifying images of that day. The north tower has already been hit and black smoke can be seen billowing from all sides. The second plane careens low toward the Manhattan skyline and seemingly disappears into the side of the south tower. Flames, massive plumes of smoke and debris shoot out from all sides.

Advertisement

The sisters knew Roux was flying that day – he was always flying somewhere – but it didn’t occur to them to connect him to this unprecedented attack on U.S. soil. It wasn’t until much later in the day that they learned he was among the dead.

“All of a sudden, this major world event that became a touchstone for everyone was something extremely personal,” Hart said. “It’s the day our brother was murdered. It was the day our family changed forever.”

Tartre didn’t have a cellphone and when she returned home from teaching, her husband’s car was there, which was strange. He was supposed to be Boston.

Donna Hart, left, and Sally Tartre hold a photo of their brother, James Roux, who was a passenger on Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center towers. Behind them is a quilt that was made in his honor. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“He had found out and so he drove home so he could be the one to tell me,” she said. “It was the worst moment of my life.”

Roux, an Army veteran and divorced father of two sons, was among six Mainers who were killed on 9/11. He left Boston early that morning intending to fly to the West Coast and then on to Nepal, where his law firm had an international office. He was 43.

Roux was one of 56 passengers, including the hijackers, and nine crew members on Flight 175. The youngest victim was 2; the oldest, 80.

Advertisement

Every time September comes around again, Tartre, Hart and the rest of Roux’s family have to share their grief with the rest of the country.

“Other people want to talk to us about it,” Tartre said. “He became a 9/11 poster child.”

Things got so difficult for Hart, who was teaching in California, that she switched schools.

“I couldn’t take it. I was everyone’s social studies project,” she said. “You realize as a nation everyone is mourning and so you accept that … but it got to be too much for me.”

The trauma has lessened some over the years, but it’s still there.

“I think all of us spent many years trying to work through it in our own ways,” Tartre said. “But it does creep up on you. You never know when those images might show up without any warning.”

Advertisement

“It was so visual. There are still so many images and videos,” added Hart. “People react differently, but I’m struck by how visceral it is for some people.

“People lose people tragically all the time, but for some reason, because this is such a big part of history, it’s different.”

Tartre said one of the most profound moments for her in the aftermath was going to Ground Zero when the names of victims were read aloud.

“You were just surrounded by all these families, and they all lost someone,” she said. “That was powerful for me. It was hard, of course, but you felt like you were part of this group, you know?”

In recent years, Roux’s family has marked the date by remembering him less as a victim of one of this country’s biggest tragedies, and more as the brother and uncle who sadly didn’t get to watch his nieces and nephews grow up.

“He’s just a piece of the puzzle that’s missing,” Tartre said. “It’s there with us at every family function, even still.”

Advertisement

Coming tomorrow: Afghan immigrant faces backlash, then helps the U.S. military

Read Sunday’s profile: Ticket agent struggles with guilt, trauma over two decades

Read Monday’s profile: Watching 9/11 attacks from classroom sparked social activism

Read Tuesday’s profile: Soldier from Portland knew that 9/11 attacks would change his life

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: