‘A hole in our heart’: Parents of UMass grad who died on 9/11 reflect

  • Jessica Sachs graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in December 2000. PHOTO COURTESY OF VOICES CENTER FOR RESILIENCE

The Rochester Post Bulletin
Published: 9/11/2021 3:46:13 PM

There is no such thing as closure for the Sachs family.

Stephen and Karen Sachs’ youngest daughter, Jessica, was on the first jetliner to crash into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Twenty years after her death, there is no diminishment of pain or anguish. Milestones like the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the coming trial of a 9/11 architect won’t bring their daughter back.

“It’s at the point where our minds, to keep our sanity, pushes that stuff away,” Stephen said. “Finally finding whether he is guilty or not, it isn’t going to change, as Karen would say, we have a hole in our heart.”

The Sachs, who at the time lived in Minnesota but moved to Missouri in 2003, will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 by placing flowers on a bench bearing their daughter’s name and pausing for a moment there.

Family and friends will call and then in the evening, they’ll see their son Eric and his family. The couple had hoped to travel to Boston and mark the day with 190 other families who lost loved ones that September day, but the ongoing pandemic stopped those plans.

Jessica Sachs graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in December of 2000.

Karen Sachs said she tries to catch the moment of silence on television broadcasts from the memorial in New York City marking when the first plane hit — the plane carrying their daughter. But after that, the television goes off. Karen and Stephen don’t watch the programs and documentaries about the day.

“We lived it, we do not watch the programs,” Karen said. “It hurts too much.”

They also haven’t been to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. They went to ground zero a few months after Jessica died.

Having a nation mourn with them does bring them comfort.

“After 9/11 it became comforting to me to know that we weren’t alone, there were a lot of people out there who were grieving with us,” Karen said.

Jessica was a 1996 graduate of John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota. Her family called Rochester home for more than a decade. On Friday, the high school held a moment of silence for Jessica as part of its 9/11 commemoration.

After high school, she went to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse before her family moved to the East Coast and Jessica transferred to the UMass.

It was during her sophomore year that Jessica came home and told her parents she decided she would major in accounting.

“And she said, ‘Someday I’m going to work for one of the top accounting firms in the country,’” Karen said. “And she did it.”

In 2001, Jessica started a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston and was heading to Los Angeles on business when the jet she was on — American Airlines Flight 11 — became the first of two hijacked jets to crash into the World Trade Center in New York.

Her parents were on a camping trip that day and decided against leaving the night before in order to get Jessica to the airport. She was, after all, an intelligent 23-year-old woman working at the No. 1 accounting firm in the nation right out of college — she could get herself to the airport.

Jessica called her parents from the airport as she was boarding and she laughed with them about the time difference between their home in Billerica and California. The town of Billerica is holding a ceremony Saturday and will place a wreath at a memorial garden in Jessica’s honor at the church her family attended.

Karen and Stephen were out on a walk the morning of Sept. 11 and heard a radio playing on the beach.

“We heard these crazy things happening in New York,” Karen said, adding they decided to head back to their RV and turn on the television. Jessica was in the air. Her plane wasn’t supposed to go through New York City.

“For some reason, I knew it was her plane,” Karen said.

When her suspicion was confirmed, Karen said her thoughts turned to her faith.

“The first rational thought I had was, ‘thank God, I know where she’s at. She loves the Lord, she’s a Christian and I know where she’s at,’” Karen said. “And that is what has sustained us over the years, our faith, and only that someday, but we believe we’ll see her again.”

“I don’t think a day goes by that we don’t think of her,” Stephen said.

Like any family grieving the unexpected death of a loved one, the Sachs still ask “why?”

“My thing still is, why did you (God) choose us for this. It has been to some extent, living a nightmare, the first bunch of years were,” Karen said. “I don’t know, I guess God thought we were strong enough to handle it.”

Over the years, the couple has used their grief to help others.

“She was a very strong individual. She was very, very strong in her faith,” Stephen said.

Jessica’s faith was not something she kept to herself. At a memorial service following her death, Stephen said the dean of the School of Business at the UMass told the family that many kids go to college and walk away from their faith for four years.

“And his comment was Jessica was one of the few that got stronger every day as a Christian,” he said.

Jessica’s strong faith brings her family comfort, too.

“She was my friend, as well as my daughter,” Karen said. “I miss her so much and I think her faith is what stands out to me. She was a better Christian than I am.”




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