EASTON, Conn. "I don't know if it's ever different on Sept. 11 than any other day. The pain never goes away," said Lee Hanson, who lost son Peter, Peter's wife Sue Kim and their daughter Christine in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Christine, 2, was the youngest victim, and the Hansons were the only family to die together that day.
Lee, an Easton resident, spoke to his son on the airplane twice that day. The first time, Peter told Lee the plane had been hijacked and he thought a stewardess had been killed. "I couldn't process that right away. I said, 'Well, I wouldn't worry too much. They'll probably land the plane and make some demands.' He said, 'I don't think so, dad,'" said Lee. "He said they're talking about flying into a building and kept talking about Chicago."
Peter asked his father to call United Airlines and let them know what was happening. "He said everyone was OK but make the call," said Lee.
Lee said he waited for what felt like a long time, but was only minutes, for the next call from Peter. In that time, he could not get through to United Airlines. He reported the hijacking to the Easton Police, which called the FBI. The police told Lee to turn on his television and he saw the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. "I said, 'That can't be Peter's plane ... I was just talking to him," said Lee.
Then his phone rang. "He said, 'I do think they're going to go into a building.' He said, 'Don't worry though. If they do that, it will be quick.' That was very shocking," said Lee. Peter told Lee the plane was going up and down and people were getting sick. He said it was "pretty chaotic" but "Sue and the baby are fine."
Then Lee heard a woman scream in the background, and the phone went dead. Lee turned toward his television and saw a second plane hit the World Trade Center. "We knew that was their plane. We didn't want to admit it. I don't know what we said to each other ... we just sat there," said Lee, who watched the events with wife Eunice. The FBI arrived at his house about two hours later. It wasn't until 5 p.m. that United Airlines called and confirmed it was his family's flight and the three were presumed dead. "We both knew our lives changed. Nothing was the same," said Lee.
Lee said Peter and Sue were "made for each other," and he remembers their life together. Peter had called his mother to go to Boston to help him pick out an engagement ring. Peter went to New Jersey to pick Sue up from the airport to introduce her to the family for the first time. "He drove the wrong way on the New Jersey Turnpike and ended up in Delaware on the way to Connecticut. I knew he was smitten then," said Lee.
Sue received her master's degree at Boston University and, while working at the laboratory there, was offered a job and tuition to pursue her doctorate. "Sue could light up a room with a smile. Peter's sister loved her," said Lee.
Peter received a degree in English from Northeastern University. "I never knew how highly they thought of him there until I read the poetry and notes [after Sept. 11]," said Lee. He received his master's degree in business from Boston University and took a marketing job after.
Sue had finished her lab work and dissertation when Peter had a business trip to California. Sue's relatives were in California, and the family decided to make a vacation out of it and go to Disneyland. An old friend of Peter's was getting married the following weekend, and Peter was to be the best man.
"Suddenly, everything was all over," said Lee.
The hardest thing for Lee was to collect DNA samples at his son's house in Groton, Mass. As Lee and his brother-in-law crossed into the town, "that's when it hit me," said Lee. "It suddenly hit me what I was doing. I was going to invade their privacy. I stopped the car and I cried. My brother-in-law didn't say anything. He just let me cry. It was the hardest thing to go in and do that to pick up a hairbrush or toothpaste."
They never found anything from Sue or Christine. A piece of Peter's leg was found. Lee and Eunice felt it was important to have it and have a place to grieve for their children who were lost on Sept. 11.
Check back on The Daily Easton on Friday afternoon for a second part of the family's story.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.