Skip to main content

My son died as a first responder on 9/11

By Talat Hamdani, Special to CNN
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
Mohammad Salman Hamdani at graduation in June 2001.
Mohammad Salman Hamdani at graduation in June 2001.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Talat Hamdani: My son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, was killed on 9/11
  • Hamdani: What I want is a recognition that he died as a first responder
  • Given his training and aspirations, he rushed bravely to help those at WTC, she says
  • Hamdani: Salman's name should be reflected and listed on the 9/11 Memorial

Editor's note: Talat Hamdani is a retired high school teacher living in Suffolk County, New York.

(CNN) -- More than a decade after that dreadful day, 9/11 memories are still fresh for me. The intense, flesh-cutting urgency of the pain has diminished. I am no longer a grieving mother. I have learned to live with the loss of my son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani. But I am still waiting for justice.

What I want is not complicated -- a recognition that, when Salman died beneath the rubble that day, he died as a first responder. His name should be reflected that way at the 9/11 Memorial, properly listed among the other first responders who rushed bravely toward the flames.

On that terrible day, my husband Saleem and I could not know where Salman was. Nor could his brothers, Adnaan and Zeshan, know what had become of their Bhaijaan, the Urdu word for a beloved and revered elder brother. As anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 knows, that uncertainty was cruel and crushing. We couldn't know it then, but what had happened to Salman that morning, along with the events of the following months, changed everything for our family, bringing unbearable pain into our lives and suddenly making us public persons.

Talat Hamdani
Talat Hamdani

In the months before 9/11, Salman had served as a cadet in the New York Police Department. He was also a trained emergency technician. At the time of his death, he was working as a lab analyst at Rockefeller University's Howard Hughes Medical Institute, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He was working there because it was a path toward becoming a doctor. Salman was determined to keep trying to get into medical school. If he couldn't, he planned to join the NYPD and work toward becoming a detective, using his scientific skills. It was a momentous time of decision in his life.

Opinion: After 9/11, how we honored our son's memory

On that crisp and glorious morning, I drove away from our home in Bayside, Queens. I dropped off Zeshan at Queensborough Community College, then continued on to Catherine & Count Basie Middle School 72, where I taught English. When Zeshan and I left the house, at about 7:15, Salman was still sleeping. He had been up much of the evening, first polishing up his medical school application, then providing medical care to his father, who was feeling ill. Finally, Salman went up to bed at 3 a.m. in the bedroom he shared with Zeshan.

After Zeshan and I had left, Salman would have pursued his usual routine, catching a bus and then the 7 train to Manhattan. As we have since deduced, he must have seen the flames at the World Trade Center from the elevated train, then rushed downtown to try to help. Clearly, he did not make that decision and take that fatal detour as a lab analyst, but as the first responder he was trained to be.

Family: Son slighted at 9/11 memorial
Where is an iconic American flag?
2013: Time-lapse: New WTC tower

In the months that followed, in addition to uncertainty about Salman, our family had to endure suspicion pointed at him. Before anyone knew where he was, a flyer circulated around the city, saying that my son was wanted for questioning. And the New York Post ran a story with Salman's photo and this hateful headline: "Missing -- Or Hiding?"

It wasn't until late March that the police told us that Salman's remains had been found beneath the pile -- in 34 pieces. Ultimately, what we would get to bury was nothing more than a body bag filled with all that was left of our son.

At Salman's funeral, the many mourners included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and our congressman, Gary Ackerman. The Patriot Act, enacted in response to the terror attacks, specifically refers to Salman as a 9/11 hero. Yet, at the 9/11 Memorial, his name is grouped among the miscellaneous victims, not among the first responders who sacrificed their lives, where it belongs.

Salman responded to the call of duty, transcending the barriers of race, faith and ethnicity. Yet, sadly, he is not getting his due place in history. Salman is not here to defend himself. But I will speak for him. He is my strength, and I am his voice.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Talat Hamdani.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT