UPDATE 9/11/14: Thinking of Carie and her family today
UPDATE 9/10/13: Thinking of Carie and her family on this 9/11/13
UPDATE 9/10/12: Thinking of Carie and her family on this 9/11/12
By Stacey Gualandi/August 12, 2011
It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since 9/11. I remember a panicked phone call I received that morning from my office. I went to work (for Inside Edition) and covered the events that unfolded, never fully comprehending what had taken place or how the country would move forward from such tragedy.
“My life’s mission is to live a life that my mom would be proud of. And that’s what I try to do everyday.” Carie Lemack
Now as we approach the tenth anniversary, we meet Carie Lemack, one woman who never stopped working tirelessly on behalf of survivors of terrorism and their families.
Her mother, Judy Larocque, was on American Airlines Flight 11 that tragic day. Carie’s devastating loss took her on an unprecedented journey to make sure no one else suffers as she has.
In 2009 she formed Global Survivors Network, an organization that helps people directly affected by terrorism to reach out across the globe in hopes of preventing future terror acts. Their first documentary short, “Killing in the Name,” received an Oscar® nomination last year. The film will be making its television debut on HBO this Fall.
UPDATE 9/9/11–“Killing in the Name” about one person’s mission to expose the true cost of terrorism debuts Sept. 14, exclusively on HBO2. It can be seen there on other playdates during September.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary, Carie spoke candidly to me about her loss, her work, and the new face of terrorism…
EYE: What progress have you made with Global Survivors Network?
CARIE: We had media training for terrorism survivors in June at the United Nations.
Ten people from all over the world gained resources and education on how to use the media to build campaigns and initiatives that they can use in their own country and about how best to speak out about terrorism.
“Our elected officials owe it to the American public to make us feel we are as safe and secure as we can be.”
EYE: You were instrumental in pushing for the creation of the 9/11 Commission and for passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. This past May you went to Capitol Hill to attend a hearing about intelligence reform. Can you tell me what was happening there?
CARIE: The reform is part of the 9/11 Commission recommendation that I and other 9/11 families helped push Congress to implement back in 2004. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was doing a review.
I wanted to make sure to be there to watch the hearings, to show them that we’re still interested and engaged. Our elected officials owe it to the American public to make us feel we are as safe and secure as we can be.
EYE: Do you feel you have to do this to ensure that the work gets done?
CARIE: Absolutely. I’ll never forget just after 9/11 seeing an article about two women whose sons were killed on the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in ’88.
They had been fighting to improve security for 13 years at that point and yet 9/11 still happened. They were quoted as saying our sons’ murders were not enough. I looked at my sister and said mom’s murder has to be enough.
EYE: Before 9/11, did you know your purpose in life?
CARIE: Ha! I was 26. I don’t know if anyone knows their purpose at 26. What I’ve learned is that your life can change, and you have to be willing to be flexible. But I think if you had asked me ten years ago who the most important people in my life were, I would have said my mom and sister…and now my two adorable nephews. They mean everything.
“There are so many amazing people doing phenomenal things.”
EYE: What was it about you that motivated you to say “I’m going to go out and make changes to make sure this tragedy doesn’t happen again?”
CARIE: I’m not the only one. There are many others out there advocating and speaking out in their own way and one thing I’ve learned is that everyone grieves differently. You can’t judge it. This is how I grieve. I try to be productive and make things happen.
There are so many amazing people doing phenomenal things. As one woman who lost her husband on the same plane that my mom was on said to me, “They are the best group of people I never wanted to meet.” And I couldn’t agree more.
EYE: You recently met President Obama. He gave you a hug. How was that experience?
CARIE: The President is a good hugger, I can report that. Since Osama bin Laden has been killed and can no longer harm anyone else, it’s very difficult.
I’m still trying to process it all, but it’s been a hard time for me and my sister Danielle. It doesn’t bring our loved ones back. My mom’s not coming home. I don’t get to hug her. Meeting the President is an honor and a privilege. I wish more families of terrorism victims got to meet him as well.
He is someone who was elected to keep our county safe and secure, and while it’s an honor to meet him, there have been other Presidents and there will be more after him too. The thing that separates us is they’ll all go on to do other things in their lives, and we’ll still be here doing this.
CARIE: I wish I looked up the definition of justice. I don’t know what the law says, but I can tell you how it feels and it still feels painful, it hurts, and it doesn’t make it go away or make it ok.
There’s not a lot of comfort to be drawn from what happened. It’s just relief that no one is going to suffer like we have at the hands of bin Laden. But there are others like him still out there.
EYE: You wrote recently “it changes everything and nothing all at the same time.” Do you believe we shouldn’t let our guard down just because bin Laden is dead?
CARIE: There are far too many people who still believe in him and what he stood for. I really do think now it’s not about the man; it’s about the myth that he’s become. That’s why we created Global Survivors Network, to get out the voices of the victims of terrorism, not just in the U.S. but all over the world.
I really do believe that if people in places where they are sympathetic to the grievances expressed by terrorists, if those people can hear the voices of victims who look like them and who pray the same way they pray, then maybe they’ll reconsider killing innocents to address their grievances.
“We should talk about the victims who are going on and trying to live their new lives…”
EYE:Is there a shift taking place now with a focus back to the victims?
CARIE: Oh, gosh, I hope so. I think we still have a long way to go. We should talk about the victims who are going on and trying to live their new lives, who are heroic, who are suffering with a lot of pain, some who have been injured forever, and some who have lost loved ones…those are the people I focus on, who inspire me, and remind me what it’s all about.
EYE: Is it hard for you to be at Ground Zero?
CARIE: For me it is. Not all families would agree. For me I don’t find a whole lot of solace being there.
The first time I went was six weeks after 9/11, and I went thinking I would be closer to mom, but instead I just felt her absence.
It was very difficult. I just don’t like going down there although I do know families who do find comfort going there. I’m from Boston. Bostonians and New Yorkers probably have a love-hate relationship based on sports, so I think being a Red Sox fan and going to New York is not easy. Ha!
EYE: Were you amazed at your documentary short “Killing in the Name” receiving an Oscar nomination? (trailer below)
CARIE: Absolutely! You can’t ever be upset about getting nominated for an Academy Award®. It was the first film I ever worked on and so we went about as far as we could go. It was such an honor, truly; I was so touched.
But winning really wasn’t the point. The point was featuring Ashraf Al-Khaled, a Jordanian man whose wedding was bombed, killing 27 members of his family. It was about his story and his journey to meet with terrorists and recruiters.
The fact that he was able to come all the way from Jordan to walk the red carpet with his wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time. My sister was with me; it all felt really special.
EYE: Did you know you had the ability to be a documentary filmmaker?
CARIE: No! My mom taught me and my sister we could do whatever we set our minds to. We had to make a film, and I knew we were going to do a great one.
EYE: It’s a chilling film. You certainly made a lifelong friend of Ashraf…
CARIE: He’s a phenomenal man; he now has two children. They are a wonderful family. We got very lucky; we worked with a great filmmaking team, and I obviously believed in the subject and the content.
I just knew that getting the voices of the victims out there was so important. Bin Laden had his voice out there; the terrorists get their voices out there. Why shouldn’t we have ours out there too?
EYE: You helped form the Families of September 11 to spread awareness of negative effects from graphic 9/11 images used by the media. But you have said that there was no guidebook to help you in the aftermath of 9/11…do you think you could write one now?
CARIE: Probably. So many others have been through this, and there have been a lot of experiences to have drawn upon- whether it’s running around the Hill trying to get bills passed or dealing with the Academy or learning how to cope when you’re sitting around on a Sunday night and someone calls and says “turn on the TV.”
It was my sister’s birthday the night we heard about bin Laden’s death, and we were having a nice relaxing birthday celebration and suddenly it turned into “oh my goodness, Mom’s murderer is gone.”
That sort of trauma is very difficult. I hope we don’t ever have to make a guidebook because we don’t want any more victims out there. We’ve been through a lot, and we’ve come out the other side trying to be stronger.
EYE: Do you have more films that you want to make?
CARIE: I hope to, but we have released a series of short films on victims of terrorism in Pakistan. And we actually were invited to show our short films at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s just really impressive for this new organization Global Survivors Network that within a year and a half of starting, we’ve had a film at the Academy Awards® and at Cannes.
The other great thing is that we have empowered the people in these videos. For the Pakistani films that we made, there were five people who really felt hopeless and didn’t have a voice. Now we’ve helped them find their voice and to get it around the world which is very inspiring.
“How can you complain about what your lawmakers are doing if you haven’t told them what you want them to do?”
EYE: Should we feel safer now from terrorists in the wake of the death of bin Laden this year?
CARIE: I don’t like to live in fear and hope people don’t, but that being said, the threat is still real. We still need to be asking all our elected officials and others to be doing all they can.
I hear people complaining that they don’t want to take their shoes off at the airport…whatever it may be, and I said to them when was the last time you called your Senators or Congressmen, or the White House, and they say what are you talking about?
And I have to say to them, how can you complain about what your lawmakers are doing if you haven’t told them what you want them to do?
EYE: Do you think your life’s mission will be to continue to fight these terrorists?
CARIE: My life’s mission is to live a life that my mom would be proud of. And that’s what I try to do everyday.
EYE: Where do you hope to be on 9/11?
CARIE: I will be with my family in Boston.
EYE: I love this quote: “My mom saw a world full of solutions waiting to be found.” Do you feel that you are that much closer to finding a solution to terrorism?
CARIE: I hope so. While we have come far in the last ten years, we do have a lot further to go. I would ask that we all do acts of community service to honor those who we have lost — it’s a way to honor my mother – to commit to your community, to others in need, help out, and to give back.
EYE: I thank you for your inspiring thoughts. Your mom would be very proud. You can hear Carie’s interview on this Women’s Eye podcast.
Carie sent us some wonderful photos of her mom and family that she said we could share with our readers. The captions are in Carie’s words:
“In winter, 2001, Mom (on right) did the Avon 3 Day Breast Cancer Walk, training for months. In May 2001, she walked 60 miles and was so proud not even to get a blister.”
“Mom holding her puppy, Naboo, the day we took her home in July, 1999.”
“We went on safari January ’98 to Tanzania. There was lots of flooding, and we got stuck in the mud. Mom thought it was a hoot. True to form she got out and started digging.”
“My sister and I threw a surprise 40th birthday party for Mom, October 27, 1990.”
“Mom, my sister, and me at Christmas about 1984.”
“Mom, my sister (age 3), and me (7 months) in our front yard, June, 1975”