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Central Standard

Five Missing 9/11 Memorial Photos Found In Lee's Summit Cave

Jin Lee
9/11 Memorial & Museum
The memorial picture wall at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum showing all the victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

At the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, there’s a giant wall showing photos of all 2,983 people who died in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of Feb. 26, 1993, and Sept. 11, 2001. For a long time seven of these portraits were missing. But recently, five of the missing pictures turned up in a limestone cave in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

The cave is actually the underground archives for the National Records Center. The photos were discovered after an Immigration Records and Identity Services Directorate employee in Washington, D.C. read a recent article in the New York Times about them. This employee asked Associate Director Tammy Meckley if the directorate might have any information on those individuals.

“I immediately, that same day, sent the information to a couple of my immigration record experts in another part of the directorate,” Meckley told KCUR’s Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann. “They came back and immediately mentioned that they were able to identify the unique identifier that we used, known as the ‘A-file number,’ to these individuals. So we did in fact have records on them,” she added.

Credit Jin Lee / 9/11 Memorial & Museum
9/11 Memorial & Museum
Workers install portraits of victims of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Meckley immediately called up Terry Sloan, director of the National Records Center in Lee’s Summit, to “physically search the cave in Lee’s Summit to find these records … so we could review them and determine whether or not there were, in fact, photos in those files,” Meckley said.

Sloan says Meckley’s request for the files was put in the front of the queue, ahead of thousands of other file requests, and received “special handling.”

“When the files from the Nation Records Center arrived, they were placed on my desk and it’s probably one of those memories that will stay with me for a very, very long time,” Meckley said. “I immediately had a smile on my face.”

“I was very pleased when I opened the files and started to look through them that immediately we identified photos in every single one of the files,” Meckley said.

After confirming that each file contained a photo of the missing individuals, Meckley reached out to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum’s Senior Vice President of Collections & Chief Curator Jan Seidler Ramirez. Meckley brought the photos to the museum in October 2016 and went through them again with Ramirez to confirm that the photos could be shared without violating any privacy concerns.

Ramirez said finding the photos is important to humanizing the atrocities of the World Trade Center attacks.

“We believe that statistics are never anonymous when it comes to terrorism. Although the victim count was staggering for a single day, each and every one of those deaths represented a personally-felt loss to family, to a neighborhood, to a company, to the little league team someone had coached, and so forth and so on. Our obligation is to make sure people never forget the individuality of each and every person,” she said.

Diane Krauthamer is the digital intern for KCUR 89.3.