For the Family of Sneha Anne Philip, Closure

Sneha Philip
Sneha Philip and her husband, Ron Lieberman. Photo: Courtesy of the Philip Family

On the afternoon of September 10, 2001, Sneha Anne Philip, a physician who lived with her husband in Battery Park City, went shopping for shoes, linens, and lingerie at Century 21, directly across the street from the World Trade Center. She was never seen again.

Her family has spent much of the last five-plus years trying to prove that Dr. Philip died the following day in the World Trade Center attack — most likely a hero, running into the crumbling building to administer aid — and not one night earlier under the potentially tawdry circumstances, involving drugs, alcohol, and an unhappy marriage, that a New York State Court judge suggested three years ago. (New York reported on the mystery surrounding her disappearance in June of 2006.)

This afternoon, her family won. A Manhattan appellate court ruled that Sneha Philip officially and legally died on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center. She is the 2,751st official victim of the World Trade Center attack.

In a 4-1 decision by an Appellate Division, First Department, panel, the fight was finally won. In a decision written by Justice David B. Saxe, the majority sided with Sneha’s family, confirming not just their view of her death, but their image of her life. Based on, among other things, evidence of Sneha’s “predisposition to help others according to the highest calling of her medical profession,” the panel found that it was “highly probable” that she died at the World Trade Center on September 11. “[O]nly the rankest speculation,” Justice Saxe wrote, “leads to any other conclusion.”

“While it is logically possible that the decedent died by some other means on that date, either by random violence or at the hands of someone she met the night before, there is no factual basis in the evidence for that conclusion, while the demonstrated facts strongly support the inference that her death occurred in the context of the World Trade Center attack,” Justice Saxe concluded.

Reached by phone, the family’s attorney, Manhattan solo-practitioner Marc Bogatin, said the family finally had what they wanted.

“They wanted to have closure,” Mr. Bogatin said. “The [court] has given a date and location and a reason for her death. She will be on the official list, she will be on the memorial at the site. This appeal had nothing to do with insurance or anything else. It had to do with the family seeking to have her restored to the official list of victims. Before this decision, she would not have been on that list.”

More than six years after she disappeared, Sneha Anne Philip has officially transformed from the victim of an unsolvable crime, in which her own reckless life may have played a role, into a hero, a doctor who likely died as she lived, “upholding the highest calling of her medical profession,” running into the falling towers. —Mark Fass

The Mystery of Sneha Philip [NYM]

UPDATE: This post has been corrected from the original version, Sneha Philip was the 2,751st victim of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Felicia Dunn-Jones, an attorney who died of lung disease in February 2002, was the 2,750th.