- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009


Until the very last moments of her life, Sept. 11 widow Beverly Eckert poured her grief into action - pushing presidents, lawmakers and even herself to do more to make the country safer.

Mrs. Eckert was on a commuter plane approaching the Buffalo airport Thursday night when it nose-dived into the ground, killing all aboard and one person on the ground.

President Obama, speaking in the White House’s East Room on Friday, said Mrs. Eckert “was an inspiration to me and to so many others, and I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead.”

Just a week before her death, Mrs. Eckert met with Mr. Obama at the White House as part of a group of Sept. 11 families and relatives of those killed in the bombing of the USS Cole, discussing how the new administration would handle terror suspects.

She was traveling to Buffalo to celebrate what would have been her late husband Sean Rooney’s 58th birthday.

“The fact that it was a plane crash, it was fire, it was reminiscent of 9/11 that way, that’s just very difficult,” said Carol Ashley, a retired schoolteacher from Long Island whose daughter died at the World Trade Center.

Mrs. Eckert pushed for the 9/11 Commission. She pushed the Bush administration to provide more information to the commission. And when the commission’s work was over, she pushed Congress to adopt its recommendations, including sweeping intelligence reforms.

“I did all of this for Sean’s memory, I did it for him,” she said, crying once. “I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else’s Sean will get to come home.”

Another prominent passenger on the doomed flight, Alison Des Forges of Buffalo, was senior adviser for Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. Considered one of the world’s leading experts on the genocide in Rwanda, she testified at 11 trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as an expert witness. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1999.

Mrs. Des Forges, 67, was returning home to Buffalo after a trip to Europe, where she briefed diplomats on the situation in Rwanda and Africa’s Great Lakes region, said Emma Daly, spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. She sent an e-mail to colleagues from the airport before boarding the plane.

“She was working till the end,” Ms. Daly said. She had a “tremendous commitment to human rights” and was “a thorn in everyone’s side, which is a testament to her integrity.”

The plane also was carrying two members of trumpeter Chuck Mangione’s band who were travelling to Buffalo for the band’s Friday concert with the city’s philharmonic orchestra.

Jazz guitarist Coleman Mellett, who grew up near Washington, had been touring with Mr. Mangione’s band for the last several years. Gerry Niewood was a childhood friend of Mr. Mangione and had been making music with him since the two were boys. He played saxophone, clarinet and flute for some of the biggest names in pop music from Frank Sinatra to Sinead O’Connor, among others.

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