A 9/11 Love Story

8:39 PM, Sep 9, 2011   |    comments
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Beverly Eckert and Sean Rooney

Buffalo, N.Y. - It was only fitting that on their first date, Sean Rooney and Bev Eckert went to see the movie Camelot, because for 34 years their lives together had the feeling of a fairy tale.

They met when they were 16 at a high school dance.

"She thought he was cute and he waited until the last dance to ask her to dance and then asked for the telephone number," said Beverly's sister Karen.

The two went to Sean's prom together at Canisius High School, and then, well they were just always together, so much so that the two became one.

Scott Brown: "Did it become Sean and Bev- kind of one word?"

Cynthia Blest, Sean's sister: "Absolutely, more quickly said though- SeanandBev."

Karen Eckert: "It was one word, they were together, so compatible and adventuresome, curious about life and wow yeah they were together."

The only thing that Beverly thought could ruin what she and Sean had was marriage and so they waited for 14 years before deciding to have a ceremony in the backyard of her sister Susan's house in East Aurora.

And it was there where the girl from Sacred Heart and the boy from Canisius made official what had simply been a fact for a long time - that they would spend the rest of their lives together.

Susan Bourque, Beverly's sister: "They had family and very close friends. They had the food they wanted, they had the ceremony they wanted, it was exactly what they wanted.

Karen Eckert: "My memories- radiant- Beverly smiling, Sean smiling. She picked out a dress and it was just happiness everywhere."

And after the wedding, Sean and Beverly simply continued on together.

They had a zest for life, a love of family, and most of all, they had each other.

Cynthia Blest: "I think they were the happiest when they were together, I think the second happiest they were when they were together with family."

Sean was a gourmet cook, and an amazing handyman- he renovated the homes they lived in and even built some of their furniture from scratch.

The couple loved to travel - Italy, The Isle of Capri, Cape Cod, Morocco, and in every picture of them you can see how they just adored each other.

Susan Bourque: "They had an amazing relationship. It was always like they were dating still, it was always kind of like a fresh relationship."

They both had good jobs in the insurance industry and had a beautiful home in Connecticut.

And they gave back, volunteering at soup kitchens and donating to charities.

Susan Bourque: "I think they really appreciated how fortunate they were in many ways. They had jobs they enjoyed, they had the freedom to do things, the financial ability to do things, talent and family, good friends, I mean they had so much."

Karen Eckert: "She always felt their life was like Camelot."

In February of 2001, they celebrated Sean's 50th birthday.

And late that summer, Sean and Beverly had some eerily prophetic conversations.

Scott Brown: "I read someplace that one night they were together and Sean said 'you know what, if I die tomorrow I've led such a full and happy life, I'd have no regrets.'"

Karen Eckert: "Yeah it could have even been before the night before September 11th, they were sitting in their sun room and Beverly said it was a beautiful summer night. She said they had several conversations that summer that they had everything, it was almost like a drum roll of what was going to happen."

Two days later, Sean was at work in Tower Two at the World Trade Center when he called and left Beverly this message, four minutes after the first plane struck.

Sean Rooney, September 11th, 2001: "There's been an explosion in World Trade One. That's the other building. It looks like a plane struck it, um on the 90th floor and it's, it's horrible."

Four minutes later, a plane hit the second tower, in the floors below where Sean worked.

He tried to take the stairs to the roof of the building but was trapped.

With smoke filling the stairwell, he called his love.

Karen Eckert: "She was on the phone on the floor and she had the phone cradled to her while she was talking to him."

A few years later, Beverly recounted that last heart breaking conversation with Sean for National Public Radio.

Beverly Eckert from 2005: "He told me he was on the 105th floor and he'd been trying to find a way out. He told me he hadn't had any success and now the stairwell was full of smoke. I asked if it hurt for him to breathe and he paused for a moment and then said no. He loved me enough to lie.

"We stopped talking about escape routes and then we just started talking about all the happiness we shared during our lives together. I told him that I wanted to be there with him but he said no, no he wanted me to live a full life. And as the smoke got thicker he just kept whispering 'I love you over and over'. I just wanted to crawl through the phone lines to him and hold him one last time.

"Then I heard a sharp crack followed by the sound of an avalanche, it was the building beginning to collapse. I called his name into the phone over and over, but I just sat there pressing the phone to my heart."

Susan Bourque: "I think she probably would have traded places with him if she could have, their love was so deep and I don't think she could conceive of life without him at that point."

Scott Brown: "For Sean to say 'I want you to have a good life', what did that mean when he said that?"

Karen Eckert: "That was so Sean, so much like Sean, worried about her and worried about the effect of all, but 'have a good life' and she did that, she did that with a vengeance."

Beverly became one of the founders of the Voices of September 11th- the families' group that pressured the government to investigate how the attacks happened and to develop ways to prevent future attacks.

And as she thought about Sean's words to her about living a full life, Beverly decided one of the ways to do that was to give back and so she became involved with Habitat For Humanity.

Karen Eckert: "And the reason is it does a lot of good things, but also Sean and Beverly had three houses in their life, old houses and they would always redo them top to finish.

"Beverly worked along side of him, so she said what better way I can feel close to him doing Habitat, I can do something good. She used his tools. And it became something loving of her to give back to the world and she said 'I feel close to Sean when I'm doing that', beautiful."

In the years after Sean's death, their love affair continued.

Karen Eckert: "Sean never left her thoughts or her heart or anything. You could tell in the way that she carried on afterward and carried that love forward, it was just burning bright in her the whole time."

On what would have been Sean's 57th birthday, Beverly wrote him a letter. We had her sisters and Sean's read a part of it:

"Something I've come to realize over the past six and a half years Sean is that death has no power over our hearts. Neither yours, nor ours. I want you to know how much you are loved and remembered. You are with us still. All my love, all my life, Beverly."

One year later, on February 12th, 2009, Beverly was flying to Buffalo to celebrate what would have been Sean's 58th birthday, which included a scholarship dinner in his name at Canisius High School.

She was on flight 3407 that crashed in Clarence.

Karen Eckert: "It's almost like a movie script. The irony, the insult, to have her killed in a completely preventable plane crash when she had focused her wrath on the airline industry after 9/11. It's just unbelievable to us. Can you find solace now she doesn't have the pain, now they're together? I don't know, sometimes we think like that too to be honest with you. I don't know."

Scott Brown: "What do you think they're doing now together?"

Karen Eckert: "When I think of them together now I think of them smiling, Neither one ever left, you feel them. I can't explain it, you just feel them everywhere."

Susan Bourque: "My image of the two of them will always be of them sitting outside, maybe in some dappled sunlight with a glass of wine each. And having a good time."

Scott Brown: "Do you think what they had together even though it ended much too soon is something that a lot of people never have?"

Karen Eckert: "Oh absolutely, it's probably one of the most special relationships I've ever been witness to, and for 34 years they had it. And it's like, wow."

And so we end our fairly tale story as we began it.

"We just wanted a happily ever after like Camelot, and I think we did pretty well," said Beverly in an interview after Sean died.


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