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Floridians suffer agonizing waits and final calls that say: I love you

By THOMAS C. TOBIN and ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001


photo
"The tragedy is so great," says Joan Poznick, a Long Island native who lives in Tarpon Springs. A friend of her family is among the missing.
When two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center on Tuesday, Ann Ragiel of Clearwater sat glued to her TV, awestruck yet safely detached. She could think of no one who worked there.

Then the 69-year-old Queens native got a phone call from her sister. Did she know that their niece, Jill Campbell, worked on the 78th floor of one of the towers?

After that, the news struck like body blows. Ragiel and her tightly knit family joined thousands of Americans who have felt the grief and the uncertainty of Tuesday's attacks.

She called her daughters, who grew up with Campbell, 31, the mother of a 10-month-old son. One daughter, a local lawyer, "just burst out crying" and was unable to finish a deposition, Ragiel said. The other, an employee of Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, cried, "Jilly! Jilly."

In New York, Campbell's mother was so distraught that relatives kept her from the television, Ragiel said. Campbell's husband, a New York City police officer, was so upset his supervisors kept him away from the scene and took his gun. On Wednesday, Campbell's father searched hospitals and morgues for his daughter.

But for all their despair, no one knew for sure whether Campbell was dead or alive.

"We're just waiting, and it's the hardest thing in the world," Ragiel said.

For five hours, Donna Lynch of St. Petersburg knew the feeling.

The nurse, 41, had gotten a brief call early Tuesday from her husband, who was to be in a meeting at the World Trade Center, which had just been hit by the first plane. He was standing outside the tower.

"He said, "I'm okay,"' Lynch said.

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[Family photo]
Trapped in his World Trade Center office, Jimmy Gartenberg called his wife, Jill. He also spoke with a close friend in Chicago and to ABC News.

Then the now-familiar chain of disasters followed -- the second plane crash and the collapse of the twin towers. All the while, Lynch agonized over the fate of her husband, Edward Lynch, 44, a Florida Power executive.

"I was at St. Raphael's Church praying, just asking God not to take him from me," she said. "For five hours I didn't know whether he was dead or alive."

Meanwhile, Edward Lynch had taken a ferry to New Jersey and called relatives there. Donna Lynch finally got word from the relatives. Though she knows her husband is safe, she said Wednesday she will feel much better when he is back in Florida.

"It's still really tough, even knowing he's okay," she said.

In Spring Hill, which is home to a large community of New York transplants, many residents have friends or relatives who worked in or near the World Trade Center.

"There's a lot of people just sitting by phones today, praying," said Kathy Doyle, 57, whose family was touched by the attack.

John Sharf, the son of Doyle's sister-in-law, called from the 103rd floor of the center to tell his parents he loved them.

"That phone call, that's John," Doyle said. "He always thinks of family."

Relatives suspect that Sharf, an ex-Marine who was working for an electrical contractor, perished in the building. But they held out hope he survived.

In Clearwater on Wednesday, Joan Poznick had begun to assume the worse.

The Tarpon Springs resident was grieving for a close friend of the family, whose husband was trapped on the 86th floor of one of the towers.

"The tragedy is so great," said Poznick, a Long Island native.

Poznick's daughter has been best friends with Jill Gartenberg, the missing man's wife, since the girls were 2 years old.

Trapped in his commercial real estate office, Jimmy Gartenberg called his wife about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. Debris blocked his access to a staircase. He could tell his building was on fire.

Jimmy Gartenberg also spoke with a close friend in Chicago and to ABC News, telling them that there were people trapped on his floor who needed to be rescued. Then the towers collapsed.

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Flight attendant CeeCee Lyles called her husband from the jet that crashed near Pittsburgh. She told him how much she love him and theirs boys.
The attacks left other Floridians already knowing the fate of their loved ones.

Lorne Lyles of Fort Myers could not have imagined the call he got from his wife Tuesday morning.

CeeCee Lyles was calm and poised when she dialed her husband on her cell phone from the doomed Boeing 757 that crashed near Pittsburgh.

As passengers screamed and cried in the background, the 33-year-old flight attendant told her husband, a Fort Myers police officer, how much she loved him and their boys.

The call came at 9:58 a.m. Seventeen minutes later, the hijacked United Airlines jet crashed.

Lyles, a former police officer, was among seven crew members and 38 passengers aboard the plane.

In an interview, Lorne Lyles, 31, said he was eternally grateful to have had the chance for that last two- or three-minute conversation.

"Just hearing my wife saying she loved us through all that chaos on that plane is just embedded in my heart forever," he said. "That's my baby."

-- Times staff writers Dan DeWitt and Christina Headrick contributed to this report.

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