I will preface this with... I know the obvious story for September 11th is the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, instead of just giving you an overview of an event that al of us have been taught about every year since it happened, I figured I'd go for a mysterious 9/11-related disappearance instead.
Sneha Anne Philip was a doctor who was last seen on September 10, 2001 via a surveillance store camera in Lower Manhattan. Because she lived close to the World Trade Center, and because of her medical training, her family believes that she died trying to help victims of the attacks the following day.
Her disappearance was investigated by her husband, Ron Lieberman, and a private investigator/former FBI agent Ken Gallant. They initially believed that her disappearance may not be at all connected to the attacks, but eventually concluded that it was the most likely scenario.
However, the NYC police investigated, as well, and a year later they found evidence of a double life: a history of marital problems, affairs with other women, job difficulties, alcohol and drug charges, and a pending criminal charge in the months leading up to her disappearance. This led the police to conclude that she may have met a different fate.
Lieberman, as well as Sneha's family, dispute much of the police report, believing the police fabricated some evidence. Though no physical evidence exists to suggest she was killed in the attacks, many victims were never found. Though the evidence originally led to her name being denied as a victim of the attacks, in January of 2008, it was declared that she was a victim of 9/11, an her name was added as the 2,751st victim of the collapse of the Twin Towers.
SNEHA PHILIP'S LIFE AND DISAPPEARANCE
Sneha was born in the Indian state of Kerala, and moved with her parents to upstate New York. She attended Johns Hopkins University, and decided to pursue a career in medicine. While attending the Chicago School of Medicine in 1995, she began dating Ron Lieberman. He was a year behind her, so she took a year off to travel to Italy so they could graduate together.
They married in 2000, combining his Jewish and her South Indian Christian traditions.
On September 10, 2001, Sneha was off of work and she planned to spend the day cleaning her apartment. At 4, she went to drop off some clothes at the dry cleaners, and then she went and bought some lingerie, a dress, some pantyhose, bed linens, and some shoes. Security cameras at the store captured her, and those videos along with her credit card records are the last confirmed records of her.
When Ron Lieberman returned after midnight that night, he believed that his wife had just stayed out all night, which she had been doing recently. He went to bed, preparing to wake up early the next morning for work. He woke up the next morning at 6:30 and Sneha still hadn't returned home. When she was ultimately reported missing, she was one of hundreds of people to be reported as such. Flyers were posted all over the city for her, and for other missing victims of the attacks, in an effort to find them. Though it was never confirmed, her brother claimed to the media that the last he heard from her was during the attacks so he could gain and maintain media interest.
Her husband called American Express, who informed him of the credit card purchases at the store the day before. He posted flyers in that area. Police were originally unhelpful, likely because they were dealing with the worst terrorist attack on American soil in modern history, and so he hired a private investigator.
Ken Gallant, the PI, found 2 pieces of evidence that suggested that she came home the morning of September 11. The first was a phone call from the couple's home phone to Lieberman's cell phone, and the second was video from the cameras in the lobby. Timestamped at 8:34 AM, around when she would often return from nights out, a woman enters the building. Though it is impossible to see her face, it shows her silhouette, and her hair and dress were consistent with her outfit from the day before, along with her mannerisms. She was however not carrying any of the bags from her shopping trip.
Originally, Gallant believed that she had utilized the attack as a way to flee her mounting personal problems, and to start a new life under a new identity. But no evidence was found to suggest she was planning to do such a thing, and her glasses, passport, driver's license, and credit cards being left behind made him think otherwise. The conclusion was, eventually, that she had witnessed the attack, and as a doctor, rushed to the site to help, where she was killed.
Once the police were able to properly review the case, they found various personal issues in Shena's life from before September 11 that suggested she may have even been dead before the towers fell.
Earlier in 2001, she was told that, due to chronic tardiness and alcohol issues, her hospital was declining to renew her contract. When she went out drinking that night, she ended up in jail. She reported to police that a fellow intern groped her, but eventually, she admitted to reporting a false incident.
After she was dismissed from work, she would spend her nights at gay and lesbian bars in the city, where she would often leave with women she met in the bars. Police claim that her brother discovered her and his girlfriend having sex, though he disputes that this happened. She got a new job as an intern with the internal medicine department at St. Vincent's Medical Center, but quickly ran into similar issues with substance abuse, which got her suspended.
On the morning of September 10, she had been formally arraigned on criminal charges.
Her husband, brother, and family dispute much of the police's interpretations of evidence. They said she was fired not because of substance abuse, but because she had been a "whistleblower" who complained of sexual and racial bias in the hospital, though a hospital spokesperson claimed they had no records of such reports. Her husband claimed that the groping she reported was real, and she would go to lesbian bars to avoid the same thing happened again. "She never had sex with the women she went home with, he claims, and they would often merely listen to music, sleep, or paint." That sounds very nice, but also like a man who isn't willing to admit his wife was cheating on him with women.
Her brother claimed the report of him catching her with his girlfriend was completely false, and he never even spoke with the detective who reported it.
COURT PROCEEDINGS TO BE DECLARED AN OFFICIAL VICTIM
In 2003, the police had concluded their investigation, and Lieberman filed a petition for his wife to be declared a victim of the attacks, regardless of their report. He believed his wife's profession and passion for helping others would have led her to rush to the World Trade Center at the first sight of danger if she was in the vicinity. Her mother testified that the day before, her daughter had told her she was planning some shopping at the Trade Center's mall, further solidifying that she may have been there.
The guardian ad item Ellen Winner argued that there was no clear evidence that she was near the attacks. On June 29, 2006, it was ruled that she could not be an established victim of the attacks. Her official death date was set as September 10, the last day she was ever seen.
The family appealed the ruling, comparing her case to that of Juan Lafuente, another victim that had similar circumstances, but was accepted. He had recently lost his job and was struggling with depression. But as a volunteer fire marshal, it is believed he may have also rushed over to help because of his profession. His wife was the mayor of Poughkeepsie, and the Philip's family believes that is why his petition was accepted.
Lieberman and the family went ahead with an appeal, and though the chances of overturning seemed slim, on January 31, 2008, the decision was reversed. They found that the most likely scenario was probably what happened - that she went to help at Ground Zero.
They dismissed the claims of the police report, calling the hearsay. They believed it was unlikely that she would have deliberately disappeared, as there was no evidence of any sort of preparations. She was declared the 2,751st victim of the Twin Towers' collapse.
Though the decision will not provide her family with any money from the victims' fund, as they closed payments in 2003, her name will be added to all official memorials of the victims. An urn full of ashes from Ground Zero were buried near her home in place of her body, as no physical remains were ever found.
One weird thing I am stuck on is her shopping bags. Did they ever turn up? If she saw the planes crash and rushed into action, she probably would have dropped them and ran. Any evidence of those bags could prove she was in the area during that time. Also, she had to have slept somewhere that night. If she often slept with women from local gay bars, wouldn't they have come forward to help put a timeline to her disappearance? If the items in the shopping bags would have been gifted to a lover, it makes sense why they weren't found, but why wouldn't that person come forward? That is the weird thing to me - if she stayed somewhere that night, someone should have known.
But on the other hand, if she used 9/11 as an excuse to escape her life with no prior planning because of various things happening in her personal life, some trace of her would have had to have turned up by now. She had no passport, no credit cards, no stuff, no ID. How far could she have gotten? You can't put together a plan to disappear as soon as a plane crashes into a building and succeed. She had no preparations.
One Reddit user had the same question as me: if she stayed with someone that night, why didn't he or she come forward? To that end, they say there are 4 likely scenarios: 1, she was alone that night and was the victim of foul play, and died before the towers were even hit. 2, she killed herself, and her body wasn't found. 3, she was with a friend, but when she found out she was considered missing, she took it as a chance to develop a new identity and move on from her life. And 4, she and the person she was with on 9/10 went to the towers, and both died. (I don't think that is necessarily needed - I think she could have stayed with someone, and gone alone, and the other person just didn't come forward for some other reason).
But the user makes a good point - doctors and nurses were needed at hospitals, not at the Trade Center itself, and no other doctors or nurses perished at the Towers. Because they believe this theory is unlikely, they believe that she was murdered, or committed suicide, the night before. (Though, boy would that be convenient for her killer to basically have her husband fight for 9/11 to be considered the perpetrator.)
But I do like their assertion that the decision to leave was after she was reported missing. It wasn't "oh, chaos is abound, I'm out", it was "chaos is abound and my husband already thinks I'm missing or dead, I might a well just start over". Still, without resources it may have been hard, but as a smart and pretty young woman, perhaps she could have talked her way into starting a new life.
But another user points out it would not have been able for her to just up and leave, not because she had no resources, but because a terrorist attack had just happened. Sneha was a brown woman from India, which people were deeply suspicious of. Flights were grounded. Toxic dust covered bridges. She couldn't have just snuck away and hopped on a flight (especially with no money or ID) because there weren't any flights for days. It would have been extremely hard for her to traverse around the city in the next few days - she wouldn't have just jetted off to a new life.
One comment on Reddit made me think that her husband could have been involved, though I don't actually think it. But the user said: "In the months after the attack, when there were stories about all of the various women widowed by the attacks, a woman I worked with said 'You know, there has to be at least one widow who is relieved that bastard is finally dead'. I asked her what she meant, and she said she just couldn't believe that every person who died was a saint, and that it was very likely someone who was widowed in the attack had been in the process of trying to leave their abusive husband. It made me wonder how possible it was that 9/11 was a convenient way to cover up a murder that happened on September 10."
It is interesting. It is mysterious. Is it likely? Not really. He murdered his wife that night and the next day, the Twin Towers just happened to go down? I mean, it would have to be the most convenient story that happened in the history of true crime. It isn't impossible, no, and it is interesting to think about, but the man who fought so hard to find what happened and tried to get her name declared as a victim just doesn't strike me as a killer. Then again, that could be what he wants you to think...
To me, it seems like this is just a common case of looking too far into a missing person's life to try to make sense of it. There were probably many victims of the attack who had affairs, who had drinking problems, who were in legal trouble, who lost jobs. But we know what happened to them, so we don't need to poke around in their lives. But in an effort to find out what happened, a lot of baggage was opened up, baggage that doesn't go to show what happened to her, only that she was a human going through a rough time. That doesn't mean she was killed or committed suicide or started a new life. It just means that imperfect people can still die normal deaths. She likely ran to help when she saw the chaos, and died. Only 60% of the remains of the victims have been recovered, meaning it isn't crazy at all to believe hers could be among those.
As we do every 9/11, I am remembering the victims today. Those who died, and those who loved those who died. The imperfect victims. The people who may have been secretly relieved that one of the victims didn't come home that night. The fathers, the sisters, the mother's, the brothers, the sons and daughters. The squeaky clean victims and the ones with baggage, with personal issues racking up, who very well may have had their entire lives dug through if it wasn't obvious what happened to them. Wonderful people, shitty people, regular people in between, loved people, hated people, friendly people, rude people, rich people, poor people and every in between died during the horrifying attack 19 years ago today.
And, as of 2008, Sneha Philip's name was added to that list. She is remembered as a victim of the attacks, and thus I believe that she died trying to be a hero. Someone who ran into the fire, into the danger, to help others. Someone who lost her life because of it. Because I chose to believe that imperfect people can still be good people.
Rest in peace to Sneha Anne Philip, and the 2,976 other people who lost their lives that day. May those who loved them get to remember the wonderful parts about their life instead of dissecting the last days of it. And 19 years later, may those who still live with crushing heartbreak find peace.