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Sixteen years after 9/11, Catonsville family remembers daughter

For years after Elizabeth Wainio died on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, Ben Wainio, of Catonsville, would call his daughter’s cellphone so that when it went to voicemail, he could hear her voice.

“And a couple of years ago, I called and the message was gone,” Wainio said. “That was devastating to me. I couldn’t hear her voice anymore.”

But this time next year, a reminder of Elizabeth’s voice, and 39 others, will ring out over the fields where Flight 93 crashed.

Wainio and other families of those killed on Flight 93 traveled to Somerset County, Pa., to attend a “soundbreaking” for the Tower of Voices, a monument at the entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial that marks the place where Elizabeth and 39 others died.

The 93-foot tower, designed by architect Paul Murdoch, whose projects include Constitution Gardens on the National Mall, will stand on a breezy hill at the entrance to the park. It will hold 40 wind chimes, one for each passenger and crew member on the plane. Each chime will be 5- to 9-feet long and will have a different tone. The nearly $6 million tower is being funded by a grant from the National Park Foundation.

“It’s a way to hear their voices,” Wainio said. “You listen to those bells and you can pick out one sound and say, ‘that’s my daughter. Or that’s my husband,’ or whoever your loved one was. It’s keeping them alive.”

At the ceremony, held the day before the 9/11 anniversary, organizers unveiled a single chime, then played an audio simulation of what the wind chimes will sound like together. The full structure is scheduled to be completed for a dedication ceremony on Sept. 11 next year.

“The goal was to create tones that had some dissonance to them,” said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93. “So you get the peaceful tones of the chimes … But it also adds some dissonance, to help remind us that our loved ones perished fighting.”

On Sept. 11, Flight 93, flying from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco, was one of four planes that were hijacked by terrorists, killing thousands at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

The four hijackers on Flight 93 steered the plane toward Washington, and may have intended to target the White House or the Capitol, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. But when passengers found out about the other attacks through phone calls to friends and family, they took action, charging the cockpit. Rather than relinquish control of the plane, the hijackers crashed it into an empty field, according to the commission’s account.

Elizabeth, who was 27 years old and traveling to San Francisco for a business trip, called her stepmother, Esther Heymann, shortly before the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, in an area that Wainio said is about 30 miles from where his mother — Elizabeth’s grandmother — had lived.

“Elizabeth told my wife from the plane … she said, ‘I’m gonna be with Grandma,’” Wainio said. “If I had to choose the plane she’d be on that day, it’d be Flight 93. I feel like she’s home.”

Wainio and his wife, he said, often drive the two-and-a-half hours from Catonsville to visit the crash site. The two of them, along with Elizabeth’s sister Sarah and brother Tom, were among the families involved in building the memorial, lobbying Congress and helping choose the architect, building relationships with others who lost loved ones.

The Tower of Voices is the last piece of the memorial park — when it is finished, the memorial will be complete.

“For 16 years, we’ve really been involved,” Wainio said. “So when it’s done, it’s gonna be like, what do we do now? But I’m not getting any younger. I’m 73, and I want to be around to see it done.”

At home in Catonsville, Wainio and his family carry on his daughter’s legacy. Every year, he said, he writes Elizabeth a note on her Legacy.com obituary page, to “let her know what’s going on and that we miss her.”

In October, the month of Elizabeth’s birthday, they will hold a fundraiser with Elizabeth’s alma mater, Towson University, for a scholarship in her name.

The Honor Elizabeth Wainio '95 Communications Scholarship Fundraiser will be at Ropewalk A Federal Hill Tavern starting at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14. The $50 entrance fee will raise funds for students in Towson’s mass communications program.

At Catonsville High School, Wainio said, Elizabeth was involved in so many things — cheerleading, student council, field hockey, musicals and plays — that she was pictured in her senior yearbook more than 15 times.

Elizabeth was a die-hard Orioles fan who wore O’s gear even after moving to the New York area, “just to irritate” the Yankees fans, Wainio said. But she was also kind, he said — Elizabeth attended a friend’s wedding in Italy shortly before she died, and knowing that another friend could not attend, on the day of the wedding she sent the absent friend a dozen roses. Elizabeth loved the beach, and Wainio said she would call her parents from Ocean City to let them listen to the crashing waves.

Wainio said that once the memorial park is complete, he may not return every year for the 9/11 ceremonies — “it’s hard to feel like you’re going to a funeral every year,” he said. But when the Tower of Voices is constructed, the chimes will symbolically carry his daughter’s voice across the park every day.

“The winds are incredible up on the hill,” Wainio said. “Their voices will be heard, forever.”

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