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Tears, remembrance for state's 9/11 victims

Updated 7:22 am, Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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  • Christopher Gardner, 15, of Darien, places a flower on his father's memorial stone at Connecticut's 9/11 Living Memorial during the annual 9/11 Memorial Service Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn. His father, Christopher Samuel Gardner, worked at the World trade center and died on 9/11. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    Christopher Gardner, 15, of Darien, places a flower on his father's memorial stone at Connecticut's 9/11 Living Memorial during the annual 9/11 Memorial Service Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn. His father, Christopher Samuel Gardner, worked at the World trade center and died on 9/11. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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WESTPORT -- Emma Kathryn Hunt's soft blue eyes widened as she ran her fingers over the simple silver plaque that bears the name of "William Christopher Hunt age 32 Two World Trade Center" of Norwalk, and a location, N.2.37, where his name is inscribed on a flat stone.

This is as close as Emma will ever come to her dad's grave -- near the water at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport. It is where hundreds of people watched the billowing smoke 50 miles away from the twin towers as the nation witnessed the 9/11 attacks. And it is the place where Emma, her mother and grandparents returned Tuesday to mark the 12th anniversary of that day.

"What do I remember about my dad? Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Emma said. Who can blame her? She was only 15 months old.

"Everything I know about my dad I know because someone in my family tells me things about him," she said. "Mostly, it's my grandma. She tells me stories about him when he was a kid. Or how I'm like him. But I don't really know, because I can't remember him."

Twelve years later, Emma said, it's still tough for her mother to talk about her husband. They were newlyweds. Emma was their first baby. Maybe they would have had more. They had a home in Norwalk. A happy baby girl with a round face, a wide smile.

That day, William Christopher Hunt went to work on the 84th floor of the South Tower at EuroBrokers, where he was vice president.

"One of his friends, named Shane, called him at work after it happened, and my dad told him he was all right, that he was going to get out," Emma said. "And there was this lady, though, that was scared. She was hiding under her desk. And my dad told Shane that he had to help her get out. Only she didn't make it out. Neither did my dad."

What relatives and family friends who grew up with her fatheer in Massachusetts tell her is that he was a hero, the kind of guy they looked up to, a natural born leader, a scholar-athlete, a cool head under pressure.

Through most of the service Tuesday at Sherwood Island, an event that featured remarks by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy; Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman; Rabbi Daniel Sklar, spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Westport; and Amanda Ostrove, of the Congregation Church of Easton, Emma kept her composure. She tucked her bright orange-red hair away from her freckled face and listened to each speaker.

Then came the reading of the names of the 161 victims of 9/11 with Connecticut connections in alphabetical order. "Laurence Abel ... Allen Patrick Boyle ... Sandra Campbell ... Judith Florence Hofmiller ..." Emma grabbed her mother by the knee and squeezed. Two more names before the 71st name. Emma leaned into her mom. Her shoulders shook. "William Christopher Hunt." Her body convulsed. And the tears poured out. Her mom rubbed her back and pulled her adolescent half-girl, half-woman body toward her, whispering to Emma.

The teachers at her middle school don't talk much about the 9/11 attacks. And Emma sometimes wishes they did. But she worries about what they might say.

"I'd like someone to really, really explain why this happened," she said. "And I'd like it if the kids at my school, who are all nice and all, had more empathy. Most of them have never lost anyone in their family, not a grandfather or a grandmother and not a parent. I've lost my dad. Last October, my grandfather died. And in February my dog died. It's a lot of loss."

Though she has attended the memorial service here every year of her life, it is hard, she said, to hear her father's name and not be able to recall anything about him.

"I have this picture that's from just after my first birthday," she said. "I'm wearing a blue shirt. And I'm standing in my dad's shoes and he's off to the side, sitting in a chair, holding me, supporting me, so I'm standing up in his big shoes."

It's one of the last pictures she has of him.

"I keep it in a special place. It's on my bedside table," Emma said. "It's the last thing I look at night. And I tell him, `Good night, daddy. I love you. I love you always.' "

mgbrown@ctpost.com; 203-330-6288; twitter.com/MariAnGailBrown