A MOTHER’S PAIN: One 9/11 Victim’s Mother’s Tale of Sorrow and Triumph
Talat Hamdani of Lake Grove can barely speak a few sentences about her son Salman without choking up.
A former New York City Police cadet, Salman vanished on Sept. 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers collapsed. A 23-year-old Pakistani-American with a love of science who dreamt of becoming a doctor, he was last seen heading to his job as a lab assistant in Manhattan.
“He was so tender,” Talat tells the Press, her voice carrying a soft, gentle resonance that quietly drifts then fades.
Salman was but one of the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives on that clear September morning 10 years ago this Sunday—nearly 500 of whom were Long Islanders. Talat is but one of the thousands of grieving mothers and family members who lost sons and daughters, spouses, parents and grandchildren that horrific day. What makes her son’s story exceptionally devastating for Talat, however, is what happened in the wake of his disappearance.
About a month after the tragedy, a black-and-white flier displaying a grainy image of Salman began circulating among members of New York’s Finest.
“Hold and Detain,” it proclaimed in handwritten notes alongside her son’s photograph, according to The New York Times. Other versions included: “NYPD Police Cadet Missing Since Attacks. Joint Terrorist Task Force Seeking Him. Has Chemistry Background!!”
A New York Post headline at the time also read: “Missing—Or Hiding? Mystery of NYPD Cadet From Pakistan.”
Rumors insinuating Salman was somehow involved in the plot that leveled the World Trade Center continued to persist, she says, making it even more difficult for her family to mourn such a great loss.
“It was a difficult time,” Talat laments. “People distanced themselves from us.”
Since her son was also a registered EMT, Talat believed he did what hundreds of other brave New Yorkers did that tragic day—run to the two burning towers and help anyone they could.
Her suspicions were confirmed March 2002, when authorities matched Salman’s DNA with a body discovered amid the rubble—remains actually recovered a month after the attacks, she later learned.
“That was a validation that, yes an injustice was done to my son,” Talat says of the falsehoods that surrounded Salman because he was a Pakistani-American who studied science. One of three sons, he was an avid reader who could digest a 500-page novel in three days, Talat recalls. He was compassionate, humble and gentle, she explains.
“He was a very different soul,” she adds.
A diehard Star Wars fan who was also a vegetarian, Salman, left a lasting impact on his mother, who no longer eats meat.
“‘What you’re eating Mama, one time was alive,’” she recalls him saying, her voice cracking under the pain of 10 long years without him.
In recent years, Talat has been at the forefront of what she calls a “civil rights movement” to protect the rights of American-Muslims and stand up for her religion, which she says was also hijacked by the 19 terrorists who carried out the attacks.
She has made trips to Washington D.C., met President Obama and spoken out against hearings on the “Radicalization of Muslim-Americans” held earlier this year by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the Homeland Security Committee chairman.
Salman’s story brought a Democratic congressman from Minnesota to tears during the first controversial hearing, as he recalled the false rumors that spread after the attacks.
“He should not be remembered as a Muslim, but as an American who gave everything for his country,” said Rep. Keith Ellison. Teary-eyed, he departed the chambers mid-testimony.
Talat calls those words and a recent visit with Obama after Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals the “turning point” in her life.
“I am very much at peace,” she says, adding, “I’m not angry anymore.”
By: Rashed Mian