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Last Seen On September 10th

A young doctor goes missing. No body, few clues. Her family believes she died a hero in the World Trade Center, but cops tell a very different story. The mystery of the 2,750th victim.

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One of the flyers distributed after Sneha disappeared; Sneha and Ron in 1999, at their Chicago Medical School graduation.  

On Monday, September 10, 2001, Sneha Anne Philip had the day off. After her husband, Ron Lieberman, left for work at about eleven, she had their sunny, one-bedroom Battery Park City apartment to herself. Just her and the kittens, Figa and Kali. She planned to spend the day tidying up—the apartment was a mess, and her cousin Annu was coming over for dinner on Wednesday. She repotted four purple-and-white orchids that had arrived from Hawaii and placed them in the bathtub to dry out. At about 2 p.m., she sent her mother an instant message that mushroomed into a two-hour electronic conversation: “You should have seen Ron play guitar this weekend!” On Saturday, they had gone to a party where Ron, an emergency-room intern at the Jacobi Medical Center, jammed until midnight with his co-workers. Sneha also wrote about her plans for the week. She’d been wanting to check out Windows on the World, where an old friend was getting married in the spring. Finally, about 4 p.m., Sneha signed off so she could run some errands.

The 31-year-old internal-medicine intern changed into a brown short-sleeved dress and sandals, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail. After dropping off some dry-cleaning, Sneha headed to Century 21, the discount department store a few blocks from their apartment, just past the Twin Towers. Just after 6 p.m., she used Ron’s American Express card to buy lingerie, a dress, panty hose, and linens. Then she headed next door to the shoe annex and bought three pairs of shoes.

Ron came home from work that night to an empty apartment. Although it was almost midnight, he wasn’t all that surprised. Sneha was supposed to call when she stayed out late, and she hadn’t. Again. He petted Figa and Kali and went to bed. He had to leave for work by 6:30 A.M.

When his alarm clock went off Tuesday morning, Sneha still wasn’t home. Ron was irritated, though still not particularly worried. Perhaps she’d spent the night at Annu’s place a few blocks away or ended up in the West Village with her brother John—she did that sometimes. Resolving to talk to Sneha once more about her habit of staying out all night without checking in, he sleepily made his way to the Bowling Green subway station, where he caught an uptown 5 train in time for his 8 A.M. meeting at Jacobi in the Bronx.

When the meeting ended at nine, Ron saw his co-workers gathered around a television. A plane had just struck the north tower of the World Trade Center, about two blocks from his apartment. He called home immediately—Sneha didn’t have a cell phone—and got the machine. He left a number of messages that morning, but Sneha never called back. He called her mother and brother—neither of them had heard from her, either.

Now Ron was worried. The city was in chaos, and he had not spoken to his wife since he kissed her good-bye the previous morning. Where was she? Because Sneha had no reason to be in the Trade Center, the possibility that she was trapped in the towers barely crossed his mind. But other horrifying images ran through his head: Had she been kidnapped off the street while running errands Monday afternoon? Had she been hit by a car and sent to a hospital, unidentifiable without her I.D.? Had she stopped for a drink on the way home and sidled up to the bar next to the wrong stranger?

At 3 P.M., Ron decided to stop wasting time waiting at Jacobi for the Twin Tower casualties that never materialized and to hitch a ride downtown with an ambulance to look for Sneha. The ambulance ride, against the stream of frantic people fleeing lower Manhattan, took six hours. When he finally reached Tribeca about 9 P.M., the NYPD had cordoned off the area. Still wearing his scrubs, he talked his way past the police line, then raced past burning cars and overturned fire trucks toward their Rector Place apartment. Without electricity, the front doors to the 23-story building wouldn’t open. Eventually, he gave up and walked to a friend’s place in the West Village, where he spent a sleepless night on a couch before heading home early the next morning. This time, he got inside. Gray soot from the fallen towers had poured in through an open window. Paw-print trails from the kittens crisscrossed the floors, but there was no sign of Sneha. No one has seen or heard from her since.

More than 9,000 people were reported missing on September 11, though the NYPD quickly whittled down the list. Officials discovered names that had been listed more than once. People called to say they had heard from “missing” loved ones. Investigators uncovered numerous cases of fraud. But years later, a few stragglers remained, people whose fates had never been resolved. Did they die on September 11? If not, what happened to them? In January 2004, the medical examiner’s office announced that it was removing the last three names from the list of 9/11 victims, leaving the total at 2,749, where it still stands. Sneha’s was one of those three names.


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