Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 7 News List

'New York Times' exposes Sept. 11 survivor as fraud

AFP , NEW YORK

The sacked head of a 9/11 survivors network came under fire on Friday, accused of betraying Sept. 11 victims after a report alleged she invented her tale of living through the attacks on the twin towers.

"We were, I thought, close friends and what she has done is not just betrayed our friendship but also the whole Sept. 11 community," Richard Zimbler said.

He took over as head of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network after Tania Head was removed from the board two days ago.

She was sacked from the prominent survivors' group on Wednesday, a day before the New York Times ran a front-page story that said "the pieces just didn't fit" in the repeated tale of her ordeal to escape from the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

CELEBRITY

Head rose to mini-celebrity status with her vivid description of crawling through smoke and flames on the 78th floor of the south tower, being saved by a volunteer firefighter, and losing her fiance in the attacks.

She was interviewed in the media, invited to university conferences and to contribute to publications.

But when she canceled interviews with the Times on three occasions, the paper sent reporters to take a closer look at her story, and they picked holes in it, sparking disbelief and dismay in people like Zimbler.

"There was no reason to doubt her story," said Zimbler, who joined the survivors' network in 2005, when Head was co-chair.

"She looked the part. She had a badly injured arm that appeared to have burn scars and her story was very, very realistic," he said.

"And why would I question the veracity of the chairperson of the organization?" said Zimbler, who was in an office building across the street when the twin towers were struck by two airplanes hijacked by terrorists.

`VERY, VERY SAD'

Aaron Zimmerman, executive director of the New York Writers' Coalition, which has published two poems by Head in volumes of writings by survivors of the attacks, called the accusations "very, very sad."

Like Zimbler, he said he had no inkling that Head might be a fraud.

"The first impulse when you work with survivors or people who have experienced trauma and loss is compassion rather than suspicion ... There was nothing that sounded the alarm bells," said Zimmerman, who met Head numerous times.

Zimbler was struggling to understand what motivated Head to create a persona around the tragedy of Sept. 11.

"There is no accusation about money being involved, and I can tell you from my own experience that she spent a lot of her own money ... This was not done for financial gain," he said.

Psychologist Bella DePaulo said Head probably "did it for something deeper."

"She wanted what most liars want ... which is to change the way other people look at them, to be loved and respected and valued and cared about," DePaulo, who teaches at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said on CBS television.

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