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Last Seen On September 10th

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The family has finally stopped looking for clues to Sneha’s whereabouts. “I don’t have even a grain of hope that she’s alive or that anything else happened to her,” Ansu says. “It’s more peaceful for me to think she died in the World Trade Center than . . . I cannot bear to think that somebody killed her.”

What they’re looking for now is official recognition, if not proof, of what they’ve come to believe. Or, as Ansu calls it, “closure,” a word the family repeats like a mantra. “There is no final closure for me,” says Philip, breaking his silence in frustration. “She cannot just disappear in the air. There should be a body, an accident report, there should be something. How can they say she died on the 10th?”

Although they’ve been counseled that the odds are exceedingly slim, they intend to appeal Judge Roth’s death-certificate decision. It’s not about money, Ansu says; with the Victim Compensation Fund closed, Ron’s claim is worthless no matter what the decision. It’s about getting Sneha’s name added to the coming memorial. It’s about proving wrong the insinuations that alcohol and adultery might have led to her death.

“They’re trying to fabricate a picture,” says Ansu, “making Sneha look so bad. It looks like she’s some kind of confused, mixed-up, horrible person. She’s far from it. So kind, compassionate, beautiful inside, beautiful outside.”

If the mystery is to be solved, it will likely be through DNA evidence. As recently as a few months ago, it appeared that the city would not be able to identify any additional victims via DNA. But a recent advance in forensic technology—the use of a reagent that helps retrieve a higher percentage of purified DNA from bone fragments—has convinced city officials to send samples of the 9,069 still-unidentified remains back to a laboratory in Virginia for a new round of testing. In January, the process made its first 9/11 identification.

Sneha’s family, however, has pinned its hopes on her jewelry: her wedding band, engagement ring, diamond earrings, and the minnu she always wore. The melting point of diamonds is more than four times higher than that of bone, which turns to ash in just a few hours at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. A body trapped in the depths of ground zero (where the fires burned at 2,000 degrees) would leave virtually nothing behind, but a diamond could survive essentially unscathed. The city property clerk has recovered 1,350 pieces of jewelry from the ruins, only about two thirds of which have been returned to victims’ families. For the Philips, the remaining jewelry represents more than 400 chances to prove that Sneha was a hero.

They cling to a reply from the property clerk’s office like a life preserver. It says that they may have Sneha’s jewelry and requests photographs for confirmation. “When I got the letter,” Ansu says. “I was just so, like, hopeful that there was something.”

But, more than a year after she and Philip sent the clerk photos of Sneha’s jewelry, they have received no answer and have become increasingly frustrated by the delay. When I called to find out the status of the match, a spokesperson for the property clerk’s office said that the letter the Philips received was essentially meaningless. “If you sent in a letter about a plain piece of jewelry, a Timex watch, if there was one of them, we sent you back a letter that there’s a possibility,” he told me. “We had no idea if there could even be a match. But everybody got those letters.”

I ask Ansu what she would do if, hypothetically speaking, they didn’t find a match to Sneha’s jewelry. “I’d be very disappointed,” she says. “I know in my mind, part of her is in the ashes. There’s some kind of peace in that.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her.


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