Tue, Jan 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Five faces, all immigrants, added to 9/11 memorial

NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Katherine Lotspeich was stopped cold by the front page of the New York Times on Sept. 11 last year. She was about to leave her home in Washington to teach a Sunday morning yoga class.

However, she could not take her eyes off a photograph depicting a portrait gallery of victims in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center.

Where a portrait of Antonio Dorsey Pratt was supposed to be, the photograph, by Angel Franco, showed a panel with an oak leaf, its veins turned yellow and its lobes tinged in russet.

The accompanying article described how the museum was searching for the missing portraits of seven people, Pratt included, to complete its gallery of all 2,983 victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993. The oak leaf panels were merely place holders.

Wasting little time, Lotspeich sent an e-mail to her boss, Tammy Meckley: How can we help?

She had a hunch they could help because they work for the Immigration Records and Identity Services Directorate, part of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security.

And five of the seven missing victims were immigrants.

The next day, Meckley, the associate director of the directorate, assigned two records specialists, Teddy Davis and Mike Quinn, to search the agency’s archives, including what are still known as “A files,” for “alien.”

Their search ended up extending well beyond Washington and below — 18m underground to be precise, to a limestone cave at Lee’s Summit, Missouri, that serves as a repository for the nation’s largest collection of inactive immigrant records.

Stored there were “A files” on Gregorio Manuel Chavez of the Dominican Republic, who became a permanent resident in 1999 and worked at the Windows on the World restaurant; Kerene Emeline Gordon of Jamaica, who became a US citizen in 2000 and worked for Forte Food Service in Cantor Fitzgerald’s cafeteria; Michael William Lomax of Britain, an executive at Aon who had been a permanent resident since 1996; and Ching Ping Tung of Hong Kong, an employee of First Commercial Bank and a US citizen since 1996. They were all killed on their jobs at the World Trade Center in 2001.

There was also a file on Wilfredo Mercado of Peru, who was naturalized in 1987 and killed in 1993.

“Those files need to be expedited to me,” Meckley told her associates.

The folders were on her desk two days later.

“I got a chill,” Meckley said. “My gosh, these are the records that the museum is looking for. Please let there be photos.”

There were. In each folder.

The immigration agency furnished the museum with all five head shots.

“It was an extraordinary windfall,” said Alice Greenwald, who on Sunday became the president and chief executive of the museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, succeeding Joseph Daniels.

“Tammy, you connected the dots,” Greenwald told Meckley on Thursday.

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