Sweeney's voicemail has become one of the most powerful artifacts from September 11, 2001, in the years since.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 11, 2020.
It's been more than two decades since the tragic events of 9/11. However, the terrorist assault on the United States was so devastating that the events of that fateful day 21 years ago remain as fresh in our minds as if they were yesterday. Year after year, we remember the thousands of innocent lives lost when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were intentionally crashed into the north and south World Trade Center towers. Among the 2753 people who were killed by the era-defining attack was Brian Sweeney, a passenger on one of the hijacked planes, who left a powerful voicemail for his wife minutes before the aircraft went down.
Your breath is checked, for a second, reading this. pic.twitter.com/jSgt335PoS— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) September 11, 2017
A few years ago, a partial transcript of Sweeney's moving voicemail went viral on Twitter after being posted by British publisher Stig Abell. "Hey Jules, this is Brian," the 38-year-old former U.S. Navy pilot from Massachusetts told his wife Julie Sweeney Roth. "I'm on an airplane that has been hijacked... if things don't go well, and they're not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. I'll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye, babe, hope I will call you."
Speaking to CNN in 2004, Roth revealed that her late husband and other passengers on board the doomed United Airlines Flight 175 had planned to resist the hijackers. "We assume he was calling from the back of the plane, because he said, 'They might come back here. I might have to go. We are going to try to do something about this,'" she recalled. Sweeney also called his mom, Louise, while on the plane but the grieving mother preferred to keep her son's last words to her private.
“If things don’t go well, I want you to know I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye babe,” Brian Sweeney’s message from a hijacked plane 3 minutes before hitting a tower on 9/11— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) September 12, 2018
Good night, New York #NeverForget pic.twitter.com/lSl4LJP9hA
"Whether he was doing something or whether they [the hijackers] were coming back, I don't know that. It was more speculative than fact as far as why he hung up the phone quickly — whether it's because they were charging the cockpit or whether they were coming back to where he was and he didn't want to be seen on a phone," said Roth. "Do I believe Brian went down swinging? Absolutely. Do I believe it was too late? Absolutely. Regardless of 'what if, what if, what if,' it won't change the outcome."
On this day, the deadly 9/11 attack claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City and damaged a part of the Pentagon in Washington. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was made in response to the attack. pic.twitter.com/NMLuZ0Xii2— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) September 11, 2020
Sweeney's voicemail has in the years since become one of the most powerful artifacts from September 11, 2001. So much so, that the National September 11 Memorial & Museum even dedicated an installation around the recording for visitors to listen to his last words using a telephone. However, for Roth, the message remains a lasting gift from the man she loved. "I was lucky Brian called and spoke to me on that message," she told PEOPLE. "He told me what he believed and I grasped onto that with all I had, and I’ve embraced life — I am living it as I know he would want me to do."
The 9/11 attack on the Department of Defense headquarters killed 189 people and may have killed more if not for the actions of civilians, service members and first responders that day. https://t.co/AMkrQygOrt— HISTORY (@HISTORY) September 8, 2020
Roth explained that her late husband wouldn't have made the call unless he knew the flight was doomed. "The priority to him in those moments was to let his loved ones know that he loved us and that it was okay to move forward and do what we needed to do," she said. "Though he believed he would see us again, he wanted us to know it was all going to be okay no matter how it turned out." Roth decided to make the voice message public in January 2002 with the hopes of bringing some sense of comfort to others who had relatives on the flight. "There are still times when I cry and I listen to his message," she said. "It's still a part of me and there's probably still a lot of healing I have to do."