- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. — The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, turned them into widows and the four “Jersey Girls,” as they became known, turned themselves into activists.

A decade after the attacks, at least two of them are still trying to make change in public policy. In doing so, they’ve broadened their focus from post-attack truth-finding, the cause that brought them together nearly 10 years ago.

Lorie Van Auken is now a beekeeper who is pressing the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban a pesticide that some blame for Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been killing honeybees.

Kristen Breitweiser blogs on politics and national security. Though those are issues tied to 9/11, she doesn’t write just about the attacks.

“I think a lot of times when people suffer tragedy or go through something in their own life, they feel compelled to turn it into something better,” Ms. Breitweiser said.

The four stay-at-home moms who lived relatively carefree lives in suburban Monmouth and Middlesex counties became some of the most visible faces of the families of the dead and their main cause at the time: pushing the federal government to study the attacks whether there was intelligence that could have prevented them, and whether the response once they began was adequate. They were subjects of scores of articles, multiple books including a memoir Ms. Breitweiser published in 2006 and a documentary film, “9/11: Press for Truth.”

The fame and the civic engagement, born of tragedy, came fast.

“I had a very complacent life: We voted, we paid taxes, we volunteered. That was it,” Ms. Breitweiser said. “That was the extent of our contribution.”

Two of the Jersey Girls, Patty Casazza and Mindy Kleinberg, did not respond to requests for interviews for this article and have not granted any interviews for the last few years.

All four had husbands working in the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

After 9/11, they united over their mounting frustration that the whole story wasn’t being told.

For more than a year, they parked their children with family and drove to Washington in Ms. Breitweiser’s SUV dubbed the “widowmobile.”

Armed with thick binders of documents, they met with members of Congress and held rallies asking for a full government inquiry. They gave interviews by the score. They recognized that journalists were hungry for stories about the real people affected by the attacks.

Finally, in November 2002 14 months after their husbands and nearly 3,000 other people were killed President George W. Bush signed the law to create the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission. It spent more than a year holding hearings and made a series of recommendations to strengthen national security. Most of them have since become law.

One of Jersey Girls’ champions in Congress was U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a Republican from New Jersey. He said they did their research and came prepared in small ways.

“The Jersey Girls were, in my opinion, the reason the commission came into being,” Mr. Smith said.

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