Sean Rooney spent his final minutes telling his wife, Beverly Eckert, that he loved her until the floor gave way.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 9, 2021
When the phone rang at Beverly Eckert's home in the morning on September 11, 2001, she was waiting by it. It had almost become certain it would be the last time she would hear her husband Sean Rooney's voice. The hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 had just crashed into the World Trade Center and Rooney was stuck on the 105th floor with no means to leave the building. Rooney had called and exchanged messages with her after the attack. She headed home immediately and waited for his call. He told her the stairs were filled with thick smoke and there was no way out. He told her he had little time left and spent his last minutes recalling their happiness and telling his wife, "I love you" over and over. Beverly Eckert was his high school sweetheart. They had met when he was just 16 at a high school dance before eventually getting married. Eckert held on to the phone tight, aware that this was their last moment together.
She shared her story with Storycorps. "There was a building in flames underneath him, but Sean didn’t even flinch. He stayed composed, just talking to me the way he always did. I will always be in awe of the way he faced death. Not an ounce of fear—not when the windows around him were getting too hot to touch; not when the smoke was making it hard to breathe. By now we had stopped talking about escape routes," she said.
"I wanted to use the precious few minutes we had left just to talk. He told me to give his love to his family, and then we just began talking about all the happiness we shared during our lives together, how lucky we were to have each other. At one point, when I could tell it was getting harder for him to breathe, I asked if it hurt. He paused for a moment, and then said, ‘No.’ He loved me enough to lie," she recalled.
"In the end, as the smoke got thicker, he just kept whispering, ‘I love you,’ over and over. Then I suddenly heard this loud explosion through the phone. It reverberated for several seconds. We held our breath. I know we both realized what was about to happen," she said. She then heard a loud crack. It was the sound of the floor beneath Sean's feet giving way. The building was collapsing on itself. She heard one last gasp from Sean and that was it. Beverly Eckert screamed his name into the phone again and again but there was no answer. The line had gone dead. "Then I just sat there huddled on the floor holding the phone to my heart,” she said.
After the 9/11 attacks, Beverly Eckert shared her story and became a lobbyist to fight for better protection against terrorism. She was part of a group called 9/11 Family Steering Committee, which turned into a lobbying group that helped force lawmakers in 2004 to pass reforms of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. It worked to expose government incompetencies that led to the 2011 attacks. "I did all of this for Sean’s memory, I did it for him,“ she said, reported The Independent. “There is a euphoria in knowing that we reached the top of the hill. ... I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else’s Sean will get to come home."
Beverly Eckert tragically died in 2009 in a plane crash while flying to her hometown to celebrate what would have been her husband Sean Rooney’s 58th birthday.