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What we really lost

In this photo from 1986, Donna Marsh O'Connor of Liverpool sits with her daughter Vanessa. Vanessa was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

In this photo from 1986, Donna Marsh O'Connor of Liverpool sits with her daughter Vanessa. Vanessa was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

— Vanessa Langer was a New York girl, through and through.

“Her favorite song was ‘New York, New York,’” recalled her mother, Liverpool resident Donna Marsh O’Connor. “There is actually a wedding video from a woman she used to work for where she and her boyfriend at the time were dancing to ‘New York, New York.’ She just loved the city.”

That love showed in her apartment, decked out with gear from the Giants and the Yankees – “She called Paul O’Neill her future ex-husband,” O’Conner joked – and in her job, located on the 93rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Langer was an office manager for Regis Business International, an office furniture supplier.

Langer – a stunningly beautiful 29-year-old wife who always wanted to be a mother, O’Connor’s only daughter, best friend to her then-14-year-old brother James – was at work on Sept. 11, 2001 when the planes hit. She was somewhere between four and five months pregnant; reports from her obstetrician and the New York medical examiner differ.

Langer’s was one of just 283 bodies pulled whole from the rubble; her mother is thankful for that one small mercy, pitiful though it is. Many families – 1,717 – got no remains at all to bury. She was found on Sept. 24, 2001, but given the volume of remains rescuers and morgue workers had to identify, her family wasn’t notified until the first Monday of the new year, Jan. 7, 2002.

‘Not an activist’

In the months and years since she lost her little girl, O’Connor, a writing instructor at Syracuse University, has become much more politically active than she ever imagined she would be.

“I never expected to know as much as I know about the greater political system and how corrupt it is,” she said. “I was never really interested in class theory or economics. It kind of dropped on me. I was more a writer of creative non-fiction and art. I was more interested in an artistic genre with not even social criticism but what I would call social admission of our collective weaknesses. My area of interest was really race relations.”

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