On Sept. 11, 2001, 3,000 families lost parents, friends and loved ones. With the 15th anniversary of the most devastating attack on U.S. soil just days away, partners of five of those victims told ABC News what life’s been like without their significant others, revealing what they wish their loved one knew if they were given a chance to say goodbye.
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Here are their stories.
KATRINA AND KENNY MARINO
Katrina and Kenny Marino met while Katrina was a flight attendant at TWA.
The couple had been married for just over three years and had two children when the 9/11 attacks happened.
Kenny, who was 40 at the time, worked as a firefighter for New York City Fire Department’s Rescue Co. 1.
“Kenny was all guy, very ‘New York,’ Italian, he took care of everything,” Katrina of Bradford, Massachusetts, told ABC News of her husband. “It was the first time in my life that I let go of the reins. It was the first time I felt taken care of, in a way. I just felt so secure."
Kenny was a devoted dad, she said. "He loved the holidays. He was very family-oriented. He made the Easter baskets for the kids with the bows and everything. It was so funny. He was very manly, but he just loved all of that. Kenny was very loving, loyal and kind. He really was.”
'It Was Just Another Day in the City'
On Sept. 11, 2001, Katrina, now 50, brought her two kids Tyler, now 16, and Kristin, now 18, into Manhattan for then 3-year-old Kristin’s modeling gig.
They stopped by Kenny’s firehouse for a visit before taking off near 26th Street and Sixth Avenue.
“We saw a plane and being a flight attendant, I was surprised they had permission to go overhead,” Katrina recalled. “We heard fire trucks right after and my son stopped. I said, 'Yup, that’s probably Daddy, but we have to go to an appointment.' By the time we got to out of the appointment, they said a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center. The whole thing was surreal.”
Kenny and Rescue 1 responded to the scene that day. Katrina was later informed that he was last seen over 70 stories high inside the North Tower.
Kenny's body was never found.
What Katrina Wishes Kenny Knew: 'How Much We Miss Him'
“It’s,‘Where are you? I wish you could be here,’” Katrina said of what she’d say to her husband today. “Now, we need him. We miss him.”
She added: “I used to say to him when he was here, ‘When they’re teenagers, it’s all you!’ and now they’re in their teenage years. Well, this is the time to miss him. It’s been trickier now without him in the fact that my son needs a male figure. My son is all Kenny. I tell him that.”
Katrina describes her husband as baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.’s No. 1 fan. Griffey Jr. later hit a home run in honor of the late firefighter. “If Kenny was looking down at all, it would’ve been such a big thing for him," she said.
Katrina has not married again. For the past 15 years, she’s focused on raising her children, and now, she's pursuing a college degree and considering moving back to New York.
Since Sept. 11, Kenny’s firefighter helmet has been found at Ground Zero. Katrina keeps it in a cabinet on display in his memory.
JACK AND LAUREN GRANDCOLAS
Jack Grandcolas met his wife Lauren while both were attending the University of Texas at Austin.
The couple were married June 15, 1991, and had celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“She was a friend to everybody,” Jack Grandcolas, 53, of San Rafael, California, told ABC News of his wife. “She was just a compassionate preacher and was funny. She liked to make people laugh, even at her own expense. She was as cute as can be. She had the most gorgeous eyes — strong as can be, too, feisty and fun.
He continued: "I’ll read you something I just found that described her best. She liked to keep a notebook with lists."
Jack shared the following list of Lauren's with ABC News:
Things That Make Me Happy
Daylight savings time
Bathing with bubbles
Good friends, good talks with friends
Fred Astaire in anything
A good cry
Snow from a window
A good head rub!
'She Said I Didn’t Need to Go'
Lauren, 38, worked in the marketing business and was pursuing her dream of publishing her first book.
On Sept. 11, she was flying from Newark, New Jersey, back to San Francisco after attending her grandmother’s funeral. Lauren was three months pregnant at the time.
Jack said his wife suggested he stay behind.
Lauren was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which eventually crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The plane was hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists on board that day.
Lauren left a message for her husband on the couple’s answering machine amidst the terrifying ordeal.
“I often thought to myself, ‘How would have I reacted? What would I have done? What would I have said?’” Jack said of his wife’s phone calls. “You spend your whole life trying to protect your loved one and having that be out of your hands is probably one of the most helpless things."
He continued: "She was so brave and strong that she would’ve been comforting me. I’m sure of that. I think that message she left speaks volumes to that."
Jack said Lauren’s message let him know there was a “problem” on the plane. She also told him she loved him and her family.
“She stops herself from saying, ‘I’ll call you back,’” Jack recalled. “I feel she didn’t want to leave me a haunting promise.”
What Jack Wishes Lauren Knew: 'She Left a Legacy That Is Inspiring to Others'
“As to what I would have said to [Lauren], I’ve thought about that a lot," he said. "If I had picked up the phone, I’d say, 'You got robbed of raising a baby and having a long life and family.' I would just focus on the positive. She always wanted to stay positive. [If] she had been here, she would have continued to do these things she found inspirational. If I spoke to her now, I’d say, 'I’m sorry you couldn’t do those things because of this incredibly horrible day.'”
He added: “I think she’d be very happy with the woman I’m with now. I think just overall, living a happy life is what she’d want most for me and be proud of me for.”
TANYA AND SERGIO VILLANUEVA
Tanya Villanueva Tepper and Sergio Villanueva, both from Flushing, Queens, met in 1994 through mutual friends while Tanya was living in Miami.
“He was a cop and was on vacation,” Tanya, now 48, said. “He went back to New York and I was head-over-heels in love. I don’t think he was at the time, but a year later, I decided to move back to New York and pursue him. By the summer of ’95, we were living together.”
The couple got engaged on June 30, 2001 — the seventh anniversary of their first kiss.
“I just loved everything about him,” Tanya said of her fiancé. “He was very romantic. He was very affectionate and fun in that we just liked to make each other laugh a lot. [I miss] doing absolutely silly things like a crazy ballet across our co-op floor, just ridiculousness in all its glory. He was sentimental, but super macho because he was an Argentinian, Queens boy.”
She added: “He was just a really bright spirit. He was definitely one of those people that you remembered. He had an open heart.”
'We Don't Belong Here'
By the time Sept. 11 approached, Sergio, 33, had become a firefighter in Brooklyn with Ladder 132. That day, Tanya was at home watching the attacks occur on the news. She called Sergio at the firehouse, but there were only busy signals.
“We didn’t hear from him and when I saw the towers collapse, I kind of convinced myself that he was down helping with the search and rescue efforts.”
Tanya said she joined FDNY families at Fort Totten’s fire training facility to wait for more information.
“We were there and a woman was notified that her husband was gone,” Tanya recalled. “Obviously there was a lot of emotion behind that. She collapsed on the floor and was screaming. I said, ‘No, we don’t belong here because Sergio’s coming home.”
Sergio never returned. He is thought to have last been seen with his fire company in the Marriott World Trade Center located below the towers when the structures collapsed. Tanya held a memorial for Sergio 10 days after the recovery efforts at Ground Zero in 2002. One month after the attacks, Tanya took her late fiance’s name, she said.
What Tanya Wishes Sergio Knew: 'How All of Us Are Still Carrying Forward With His Memory'
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Tanya has been a part of Project Rebirth, where she shares her story and talks to kids about the events of that day.
“I’ve gotten so many cards and letters from kids saying they’ll carry Sergio with them, that he was a hero,” Tanya said. "I wish he would know he’s inspiring people he's never even met with his life and sacrifice.”
Tanya recently celebrated 10 years of marriage to her husband Ray. The couple have two daughters, Mimi, 9, and Sami, 8.
HOPETON AND VENESHA RICHARDS
Hopeton and Venesha Richards met through a mutual friend after Hopeton gave them both a ride home from work one night.
The couple were married in July 1998 and gave birth to a daughter, Kayla, on Oct. 24, 2000.
“I loved everything about her,” Hopeton of Berlin, New Jersey told ABC News. “She was the greatest, most wonderful woman that you could’ve ever met. She had a very outgoing personality. You met her the first time, you’d love her forever. She meant business. She was a hard worker, dedicated, family-oriented and when she set her mind on something, she was determined to get it done."
He added: "Great smile. Her smile was the biggest asset for her. When she smiled, you had no choice but to love her."
Venesha, 26, was a claims representative at Marsh & McLennan on the 100th floor of the North Tower.
'I Never Stopped Trying to Reach Her'
On Sept. 11, Richards, now 45, had been working in New Jersey when he heard two airplanes hit the towers. He attempted to call his wife, but never got an answer.
“You start getting that sick feeling that perhaps maybe something happened to her, or maybe she didn’t have a signal,” Richards said. “You start to draw your conclusions and assumptions just to give that ray of hope that she’s OK.”
Venesha’s remains were eventually identified amidst the recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
What Hopeton Wishes Venesha Knew: 'I Would Give Anything ... [to] Bring Her Back'
“If I could say anything to her, we wouldn’t have enough time in the world,” Hopeton said. “I would give the last breath in my body if that meant that she would be here today.
"In this kind of situation you wouldn’t have just one thing to say," he added. "You’d ask,‘Why did it happen? Why you? If you were here today, what would life be like?' If [we] knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t be done telling her I loved her, or wouldn’t be done hugging her long enough. Giving her the world wouldn’t even be enough, if we knew this was going to happen. It’s just an unbearable pain that you have no explanation for, or no logical reason for. It’s disappointing. Life doesn’t excite you in that way anymore. It’s a horrible feeling.”
After his wife’s death, Hopeton focused on raising his daughter Kayla, now 15, and on being surrounded by his friends and people from his church, where he met his current wife, eight years after losing Venesha.
“My daughter has been pretty much what my source of strength was,” Hopeton said. “She needs me around and I have to be there for her. That’s what’s kept me going. Looking at her, she’s a replica of her mother. It’s a constant reminder, but in a good way. I thought I lost everything, but every time I look at her, I remember the gift that was given to me. My wife’s spirit is living through her each and every day and that’s something I will never, ever take for granted.”
GINA PINOS AND JIMMY PAPPAGEORGE
Gina Pinos and James “Jimmy” Pappageorge met while Jimmy was working as a personal trainer in Queens, New York.
The pair dated, separated, then rekindled their relationship and got engaged in 2000.
“When he came back into the picture, I heard a doorbell ring and I ran outside to see who it was,” Gina, now 44, told ABC News. “He was dressed in this strange outfit and so, during this time he went through school to become an EMT. He said I was his motivation. He said he wanted to have something to offer me."
She added: "He had dedication and passion and he was just the biggest sweetheart. He was dedicated to us — to me, to my son Justin, to work and to working out. Life, I feel, gave him the opportunity to be a dad to my son. Even though he wasn’t his own, he treated him as if he was. He just loved him so much.”
Jimmy, 29, became a father to Gina's son, Justin, from a former relationship. The couple was to be married on Sept. 11, 2002 — one year to the day after the attacks.
'At Least We Got a Chance to Say Goodbye'
On Sept. 11, 2001, Jimmy had been working his new job as a firefighter for Engine 23. That day, Gina took her son to school, then took a train to her marketing job from the couple’s home in Yonkers into Manhattan.
When she saw that two airplanes hit the World Trade Center, she phoned Jimmy at his firehouse.
“I said, ‘Do you see what’s going on?'” Gina recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, they’re sending us down there. I have to go. I love you, bye.’ And that was it. He hung up.”
Jimmy was inside in the Marriott World Trade Center when the towers collapsed. His remains were later identified.
“I have never been able to love the same way ever again,” Gina said. “They say, 'You’re young, you should move on, you should stop dwelling,' but that doesn’t ever happen. Life changes, you can try to adapt, try to enjoy it, but you never really move on. The heart is grand and you have the capacity to love other people, but I guess I just haven’t been fortunate to find another love like that.”
What Gina Wishes Jimmy Knew: 'That We Were Going to Have a Baby Together'
On Sept. 10, 2001, Gina discovered she was pregnant. She had been planning on sharing the good news with Jimmy, but he died in the attacks the following day.
“When I called him on the phone, I was hoping to tell him because I know how he was on rescue scenes,” Gina said of her call to Jimmy’s firehouse. “My hope was if he saw it was that bad, he wouldn’t go deep in. If he knew I was pregnant, maybe he would’ve been more careful.”
She added: “I unfortunately lost the baby because of all the stress on my body. So, 9/11 ended up taking both of them away.”
Gina remarried once, but it didn’t work out, she said. She has since welcomed two more sons.
“At least I have them, they’re my loves,” Gina said of her children. “I don’t think I’ll be able to ever love anyone the way I loved Jimmy. It was a mature love, too, because I felt like I could come and go as I pleased, he could come and go and at the end of the day, we would always have each other to snuggle with. I’m just trying to make the most out of my life and trying to live every day like an adventure. I’m sure he'd want me to enjoy my life.”