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"We realized that we needed to get together and help each other out because there was no benevolent group looking out for us," says Lemack, whose mother, Judy Larocque, was a passenger on American Flight 11.

In the months since, the group has grown to include more than 300 survivors in 26 states, and it has become much more than a simple e-mail chat.

The family members have become increasingly outspoken on a range of political issues, including the distribution of compensation funds to victims' families and the debate over whether to create a memorial at Ground Zero.

Lemack is vigilant over who participates in the dialogue. Prospective members first join the Yahoo e-mail group and get a password, and then they have to pass Lemack's muster. She asks them to identify whom they lost in the tragedy before agreeing to activate their account.

"It seems intrusive, but it's essential that it only be open to family members," she says.

Once in, they can read and send messages for the whole group — often as many as 30 per day — or they can send mail directly to individual members.

"It's grown so fast, and there's so much to do," says Lemack. "Now we have to deal with a lot of the logistical stuff. Little by little we'll get there."

Already, their public suffering has earned them access to lawmakers like Sens. Edward Kennedy and Patrick Leahy. Both have met with members to discuss the organization's political agenda.

Seeking more visibility in Washington, the group is in the process of opening a headquarters in Falls Church, Va. But for now, day-to-day operations are still run from Lemack's mother's house in Framingham.

On Dec. 20, Kenneth Feinberg, who oversees the victims' fund, announced how the victims' money would be distributed, prompting some outraged responses from members of the e-mail group.

Many of them stand to get little or nothing after insurance and death benefits are subtracted. Some reserve the right to file wrongful-death lawsuits against the airlines and have exchanged lawyers' phone numbers.

The organization's Web site also provides members with links to groups offering emotional support as well as charities.

"When I'm having a bad day, I let people know and I get a bunch of e-mails back," Simpkin says. "It's a place I can go and there's other people out there that can understand just what I'm feeling."

She hopes the relationships she's made through the group will endure after the shock and sadness of Sept. 11 has started to heal.

"It's a very bittersweet experience because I've connected with some amazing people," she says. "Out of this tragedy of losing my sister, I have this family of people that I'll never forget."

—The Associated Press

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