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New York family observes birthday, searching

'I am going to hope until they inform me.'

Abner Morales -- his wife Norma clings to hope and faith:
Abner Morales -- his wife Norma clings to hope and faith: "He's my best friend. He's my husband. He's my everything."  

By Christy Oglesby

(CNN) -- The tense is tricky: "Is" or "was?"

Juggling faith and resignation, Norma Morales uses both.

Her husband, Abner Morales -- who was to celebrate his 38th birthday on September 21 -- has been missing since Sept. 11 when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center. His office at Fiduciary Trust was on the 97th floor.

“He was very serious about his responsibilities, his work. That was his way,” she says with certainty. But then hope halts her voice and breaks her words. “He’s my best friend,” she struggles in speaking. “He’s my husband. He’s my everything. I have been married for 17 years, and I've been with him for 20.”

There are two children, Michael, 2, and Katie, 11.

Daily, Norma Morales and a cadre of family members call and comb New York hospitals, despite the absence there of John Does. “They've all said that everyone there has been accounted for, either identified or deceased,” she says.

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But on Abner Morales’ birthday, his relatives continue the search.

One of the last people to see him was his best friend who worked with him at the banking company. That friend escaped the building and told Norma about their last exchange. It was after a hijacked plane ignited the north tower -- but before terrorists struck the south tower. Abner, an assistant vice president of computer programming, had ushered a number of his co-workers, including the friend, into an elevator.

“He said, ‘Come on, Abner.’ And he told him, 'I'll meet you when I get everybody out,’” Norma Morales recounts. It was her husband’s duty to evacuate his department during emergencies, she says.

“He took that very seriously. He would talk about it at home. He'd say, ‘We had a drill today,’ or something like that,” Norma Morales says. “I strongly believe if he did not have that responsibility, he would be here.”

Hilcias Morales, Abner’s oldest sister, says she agrees. “He had to make sure everyone was accounted for, that everyone got down the stairs or on an elevator safely before he went down,” she says. “When he told them to go without him, he went back to make sure no one was left behind.”

Given his previous scare in that building, Abner Morales, likely would have left with his friend if he weren't obligated to oversee the evacuation, his family members say. He began working at his company in 1991 and was on the lower levels of the World Trade Center when a terrorist’s bomb exploded in the basement in 1993, his wife says.

Morales escaped uninjured from that attack and quickly helped reestablish his company in New Jersey. But “ that affected him for a while,” says Hilcias Morales. “He used to have anxiety attacks. He had gotten better. He was a very strong person mentally.”

Since then, the company moved back to the Trade Center. Having his co-workers nearby mitigated her husband's fears about being in the building, Norma Morales says. “They were his family away from us,” she says. “When he didn't have us, he had them.”

"To tell you the truth, ignorance is bliss." John Kneeley, CEO of Martin Progressive,   says not knowing the gravity of what had happened to the north tower of the World Trade Center helped him and his colleagues escape the building.

For his birthday, Norma Morales says she and Abner had planned to celebrate only with the immediate family. But the uncertainty of his fate has brought Hilcias and her seven siblings together. Some are searching in New York, others are comforting their mother in Massachusetts. And all note an odd coincidence: Last year, on Sept. 11, their father died of illness.

Norma says that this week she's beginning to realize that a family trip to Disneyland planned for October won't happen. “I guess that will never be,” she says, her voice quaking. “He’s still missing and they say there’s no hope for finding him.”

But faith still steadies her words.

“I am going to hope for him,” she declares. “I am going to hope until they inform me.”

• American Red Cross
• Fiduciary Trust
• Federal Emergency Management Agency

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