DERRY — When the planes hit the World Trade Center that sunny September morning 20 years ago, millions of people across the nation watched in horror as the news of the day unfolded, many wondering if friends and family members were safe.
Those who knew Derry’s Ellen and Louis “Neil” Mariani were worrying about that very thing.
The couple, living in Derry at the time, were taking separate flights out of Boston’s Logan Airport that morning, en route to a daughter’s wedding on the West Coast.
Neil’s flight left after his wife’s, but made that unscheduled U-turn and headed back to New York City. Ellen’s flight made it to Chicago.
The Eagle-Tribune covered the news that Neil Mariani, 59, had been one of the victims on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower at 9:03 a.m., one of three hijacked airlines ramming into buildings that day. A fourth plane crashed into a rural field in western Pennsylvania.
Reporter Chris Dornin wrote in the Sept. 14, 2001 issue of the Derry News, a sister publication to The Eagle-Tribune, that the local community was saddened by the news and the constant images they were seeing.
“Television has since burned Mariani’s plane into the common mind from every angle,” Dornin wrote. “It enters the building in slow motion, over and over. Despite the loss, the Mariani family was going forward with the wedding in Los Angeles.”
In Chicago, Dornin reported that Ellen was booked into a Chicago hotel that night to await news about her husband. A local Mormon family invited her to stay with them. Her family had strong connections to the Mormon faith.
His daughter, Lauren Peters, was living in Merrimack, New Hampshire, at the time of the attacks.
“On live television we saw that second plan strike the tower,” she told a reporter days later. “I didn’t know that was my dad’s plane. No one knew anything at that point. I figured my dad was safe on a plane somewhere.”
Other family members reached out to Ellen in Chicago prior to the official news of what happened, all hoping for the best outcome.
The confirmation came that night around 8 p.m., Peters said.
Upon arriving back in Derry the following week, Ellen found her neighborhood and house laced with flowers, flags, and candles with many friends and supporters ready to welcome the widow home.
Ellen Mariani became an activist for 9/11 survivors in the years following and eventually moved west to be closer to family.
In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, she offered a message of hope to family members and friends who lost loved ones that day.
“We’ve got to weave a rope,” she said. “All these people, they are not suffering alone. The separate strands of a gold necklace are woven together and it’s strong.”