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    Mother recounts horror of phone call

    When an East Lake couple first heard the news about their son at the World Trade Center, they wanted to travel to Manhattan at once but decided against it.

    By JULIE CHURCH

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 27, 2001


    EAST LAKE -- Judy Feeney had just returned from her morning walk and was watching Good Morning America at her Lansbrook home the morning of Sept. 11 when she got a call from her son Garth and greeted him with a cheerful "hi."

    "This isn't that kind of "hi,' Mom," he told her.

    Feeney, 28, said he was at Windows on the World Restaurant on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower. The building had been hit by what Feeney first thought was a bomb, but soon learned was an airplane.

    The floor was filled with very dense smoke. Feeney and 70 other people had been ushered into a corner of the building where there was less smoke. He said he wasn't sure he would make it out of the building. He told his mom he loved her.

    "That was the last we heard from him," Mrs. Feeney said Wednesday.

    Garth Feeney is one of the more than 6,300 people reported missing and presumed dead in the World Trade Center attacks.

    Feeney grew up in East Lake and graduated in 1991 from East Lake High School. He worked in Manhattan as director of corporate development for Data Synapse Inc., a New York City software company about a mile from the World Trade Center.

    The company was participating in a conference at the World Trade Center, and Feeney's boss was scheduled to speak at noon that day. Feeney and three co-workers had gone ahead to staff a booth at the conference.

    Mrs. Feeney, 57, and her husband, also named Garth, 56, have waited two weeks for word of their son. They have heard nothing.

    "Our question has been, "Why, on that particular day, did he have to be in that building?' " Mrs. Feeney said. "We've been in shock thinking this can't be real, but as time goes on, you have to accept the fact that he and 6,000 other people are gone."

    At East Lake High, Feeney was captain of the varsity swim team and played soccer and tennis. He was in the National Honor Society and was named the Army Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1991.

    "He was every inch a gentleman and brought so much to class," said Linda Manning, Feeney's high school economics teacher. "He was one of those rare students who would stay behind after class to discuss a concept or current events."

    Feeney graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he received dual bachelor's degrees: one in engineering, the other in business from the prestigious Wharton School.

    While in college, he served as a literacy tutor to adults and established an after-school program for underprivileged children.

    He had been with Data Synapse less than a year.

    "He was extremely bright and had a very, very strong work ethic," said Peter Lee, chief executive officer of Data Synapse and Feeney's supervisor.

    Lee said he communicated with Feeney and his co-workers through a series of terse, well-composed e-mails the morning of Sept. 11. He and other Data Synapse employees communicated facts about the attacks and tried to help them decide whether to break a window. The company called local emergency officials and were told to advise against breaking any windows because it could have helped the fire spread.

    The company lost communication with Feeney at 9:30 a.m.

    When they first heard the news about their son, the Feeneys wanted to travel to New York immediately but decided against it.

    "We didn't want to add to the confusion," Mr. Feeney said.

    They have not watched any news reports on the attacks or read the newspaper in the past two weeks, saying it's too painful.

    The couple plan to attend a memorial service in New York next week for their son. A local memorial service will be held at George Young Memorial United Methodist Church in East Lake at 10 a.m. Oct. 5.

    Garth Feeney had last been to visit his parents in July, when he attended his 10-year high school reunion. He also had been to Florida in May to see his brother Matthew, 24, graduate from Saint Leo University. Mr. Feeney said MSNBC's Chris Matthews was the Saint Leo graduation speaker and said some things that now remind him of his son.

    "He said, "Live your daydream,' and that's what I believe Garth did," Mr. Feeney said. "He did in 28 years what most people would do in a lifetime."

    In addition to his parents and brother Matthew, of Palm Harbor, Garth Feeney is survived by a brother Michael, 24, of San Diego, Calif.; grandmother Agnes Madill, Clarkston, Mich.; five uncles; five aunts and 18 cousins, and his girlfriend of 31/2 years, Mercury Schroeppel of Manhattan.

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