Brett Eagleson of Durham has become the voice for the 9/11 families who have fought relentlessly for answers and justice for their lost loved ones.
“It’s obviously a hard time of year for our family and thousands of other families around the country,” he said this week. “The anniversary compounds the sadness and pain, because here we have 20 years later, and the families still have not had justice, accountability and closure.”
Eagleson’s father — John Bruce Eagleson — worked for Westfield Management Corp. on the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. Bruce, as he was known, was on a temporary assignment away from his duties as manager of Westfield Meriden Mall. He died helping 13 co-workers escape the burning building, before it eventually collapsed.
Compounding the family’s pain, his remains have never been found.
After seeking help from four presidential administrations, the Eaglesons and other 9/11 families hopes the Biden administration will follow through with its promise to release the summary file from Operation Encore, a decade-long investigation into the role of the Saudi Arabian government in the terrorist attack. The families were cautiously optimistic this week that they will see something before the 20th anniversary ceremonies begin.
“We’re done with the sad stories,” Brett Eagleson said. “Now this is a story about being pissed off. They’ve never given us a good reason for withholding the documents.”Awful realization
Brett Eagleson was a sophomore at Coginchaug Regional High School entering his second period math class when he heard the news that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers in Manhattan.
“That's when my heart just dropped," he told the Record-Journal in a 2011 interview at the Middlefield home where he and his mother Gail lived. "I was like, 'Oh no. My dad's in the World Trade Center. In class, people were unsettled, talking and waiting for more news when an announcement came on confirming the airplane strikes in New York and at the Pentagon.
American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower at 8:46 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m. Although a loudspeaker announcement in the south tower at 8:55 a.m. said the building was secure, one Westfield employee said Bruce Eagleson had started evacuating people before the tower was struck.
Eagleson helped his coworkers to the stairwell, but he turned back to retrieve some two-way radios. His eldest son, Kyle, reached him on his cell phone and told him to leave the building. He promised he would, once he finished getting people out.
That was the last his family heard from him.
The south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., the north tower at 10:28 a.m.
That he went back for the radios "didn't make me happy, because I wish that he had just got out," Gail Eagleson said in 2011. "You wouldn't get the radios if you were wanting to walk down the stairwell and get out.
"I was angry for a long time, for just a long time," she said.
Gail Eagleson spoke to her son Brett prior to the building collapse.
"She said they had talked to my dad, and I started to cry because I was so happy," Brett said. "And she said, 'I'm going to come get you.' I said, 'OK.'
"My mom said my brother had talked to him and he was getting people out of the building," Brett continued. "Kyle had called and said, 'Dad, get out, get out.' And he had said he was going to get people out, and as soon as he got everyone out he himself was going to get out. So I hung up the phone with her and I was so relieved I was breaking down, crying tears of joy."
But his tears soon turned to trepidation when he heard an office employee say that one of the towers had just fallen. Brett said the worker didn't know his father was at the trade center.
"Once I heard the news that the towers had fallen, that's when I kind of knew that things weren't good," he said. "All I had known was that my dad survived the initial hit, and that he was there in the building, and the building was still standing and my brother had talked to him. He was working with people from the Port Authority and people from the Fire Department, helping coordinate the evacuation, but when I heard that the tower had fallen, I was very upset." Demanding answers
Working on memorial scholarships and other community projects helped the Eagleson family get through the dark years following the death, but the mystery behind the government’s knowledge of how the attacks could have happened without help gnawed at the family. Gail Eagleson has compared it to a murder investigation and has told media outlets that if her husband had died in Middlefield, she would have been able to see the case file.
They started demanding answers from government officials and sought help from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who became a family friend and advocate.
“In light of evidence that Saudi officials may have aided and abetted the 911 attackers,” Blumenthal said, “there is documents and evidence the government has implicating the Saudis and they need it to have a fair day in court.”
Blumenthal garnered bipartisan support to change the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and led a successful effort to override President Barack Obama’s veto.
His help cleared the way for the Eaglesons and other victim families to file a federal lawsuit to determine if Saudi Arabia can be held responsible for the attacks.
“To get real justice, they need information kept secret by the U.S. government,” Blumenthal said. “It’s a matter of simple justice for them and the American people and the administration has given no reason why the information should be concealed.”
But Eagleson recognizes the U.S. relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and doesn’t know how much of the Operation Encore summary will be redacted. A 2004 probe did not publicly blame the Saudi government but said unofficial help from Saudi nationals could have aided the hijackers.
Brett Eagleson authored a letter to the Biden administration in August that was signed by more than 2,000 family members of 9/11. It stated the president he was not welcome at the Ground Zero memorial unless he made good on his campaign promise to declassify the documents.
Last week, Biden took steps to release the documents and the family hopes to get the results.
“We could see 50 to 60 percent redacted,” Brett Eagleson said Thursday. “We don’t know how genuine they are going to be. There is no justification to withhold that information. If there is information about Saudi Arabia, there is no reason the American people shouldn’t know that.”Acknowledgement
Brett Eagleson and others would be satisfied with a full accounting of Saudi involvement and acknowledgement its government aided an attack on the U.S.
“They were facilitating these bad actors and they knew what they were doing,” Brett Eagleson said. “A recognition by the kingdom is a big win for the familiies.”
The Eagleson family continues to gather at 9/11 memorials in Middlefield and in Middletown to remember Bruce Eagleson and others who perished. His three sons Kyle, Tim and Brett have children of their own and the family has expanded.
“This is a tough time of year,” Brett Eagleson said.”It brings back memories. It’s always hard. We have a lot of grandchildren, that brings a lot of joy in our lives. The family is growing every year. We surround ourselves with family and have the support of the larger community.”