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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Faux 9/11 survivors: The fantasists who pretended to be there

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An up-and-coming comic hoping to advance his profession, a Spanish MBA scholar with a love of all issues American, a firefighter who advised of pulling our bodies from the smouldering rubble at Floor Zero.

From exaggerations to outright fabrications, the 9/11 terror assaults attracted numerous pretend tales of heroism and survival, of slim escapes and misplaced family members.

Whereas some sought proximity to the assaults for sympathy or consideration, others appeared to turn into so connected to those false narratives that they got here to imagine their very own lies.

So frequent would these deceptions turn into among the many sufferers of New York scientific psychiatrist Jean Kim that she got here up with a time period for it: the “9/11 signal”.

‘The lady who wasn’t there’

In 2001, Alicia Esteve Head was 28 and residing in Barcelona. The daughter of a rich Spanish household, she had loved an especially privileged upbringing, and grew up using pedigree Arabian stallions on her household farm in Mallorca.

She was beneficiant to her associates, who would later recall her propensity for speaking about mysterious, rich boyfriends that no person else ever met.

On 11 September, Ms Head attended class on the Esade Enterprise Faculty the place she was finishing an MBA.

The subsequent 12 months she moved to Manhattan, taking an residence in Midtown and a brand new first title: Tania.

(David Handschuh/NY Each day Information Archive through Getty Photographs)

Within the years that adopted, Ms Head turned closely concerned with the community of survivors who had linked on-line and would meet as much as swap tales and plan for a becoming 9/11 memorial. They finally turned like a household.

Among the many shared tales of survival, Ms Head’s stood out. From studying over press reviews and changing into immersed within the survivor’s group, she concocted an elaborate fantasy about how she had been chairing a gathering at Merrill Lynch on the 78th flooring of the South Tower when the primary aircraft struck the North Tower at 8:46am.

Her fiance ‘Dave’, a advisor at Deloitte, had been on the one centesimal flooring of the North Tower. When the second aircraft hit at 9:02am she vividly described crawling by smoke and flames to get to security.

Her story fused mundane and horrific particulars collectively. She would later say how her ideas turned to the foolish argument she and Dave had as they obtained out of their shared taxi.

Within the subsequent breath, she recalled the burning our bodies flinging themselves out of the skyscraper, the screaming, the desperation to work out what had occurred.

She later advised members of the World Commerce Survivors Community she noticed the wing of the United Airways Flight 175 Boeing jet slice like a knife into the constructing simply above her.

Her assistant “Christine” was decapitated in entrance of her. Glass and particles flew in all places because the partitions imploded. As Ms Head was thrown in opposition to a wall, she may solely want that she would die shortly.

Her arm practically severed, amid the mud and chaos she recalled extremely vivid particulars. She later claimed was led to security by a real hero of the assaults, the person within the purple bandana, Welles Crowther.

A person emerged from the rubble with a hoop that he requested her to offer his spouse. She later delivered the ring.

She claimed to have woken up in a hospital burns unit six days later, solely to find that her husband Dave had been killed within the north tower.

On and on the fantastical story went, gathering such cinematic swagger that she would attempt to make precise survivors really feel responsible about sharing their very own trauma in entrance of her.

Ms Head threw herself into the work of the Survivors Community, founding a bunch of survivors from the South Tower.

In 2003 a person named Gerry Bogacz who had survived the North Tower obtained in contact, and so they finally merged to discovered the World Commerce Heart Survivors’ Community.

Ms Head poured power, money and time into serving to the group obtain tax-free standing. And crucially, she by no means sought to say any monetary compensation, her household wealth meant she didn’t must, and so she couldn’t be criminally charged for her deception.

She accompanied former-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then Governor George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg on a tour of the positioning in 2005, as essential debates had been going down about what would turn into of Floor Zero.

She finally elbowed Mr Bogacz out of the community, changing into president.

As Ms Head’s fame grew, elements of her story started to unravel.

She described to associates in nice element Dave’s romantic proposal and the way he had taken her to Hawaii for a small, non-legal dedication ceremony on the seaside. They’d been planning to get legally married in October, she mentioned, and had been residing collectively in Manhattan with their Golden Retriever, Elvis.

However when associates would come to her residence, Elvis was all the time being walked by her maid.

‘Dave’ was an actual individual, however reporters who spoke to his household found the connection was imagined.

Plus, her accidents weren’t according to having a severed arm. She had scarring, however not the form of accidents that might have come from what she had described.

These inconsistencies in her story had been observed, however let go by different survivors. It might have been crass to level them out, thought film-maker Angelo Guglielmo, who turned embedded with the community of survivors and would go on to make a documentary about Ms Head, The Girl Who Wasn’t There.

Her story was lastly uncovered in a 2007 New York Occasions article.

Ms Head has not been seen publicly in additional than a decade.

Based on the Spanish newspaper El Pais, she continues to be registered as residing on the household house in Barcelona.

The Impartial was unable to confirm a Linkedin profile for Alicia Esteve Head that seems to match her biography and claims she continues to be working on the Esade Enterprise Faculty and residing in New York.

The Esade enterprise faculty didn’t reply to requests about whether or not she was working there.

No file of anybody matching Mr Stein’s title could possibly be discovered on publicly searchable databases.

When contacted for this text, Mr Bogacz mentioned he had put his expertise with Ms Head behind him.

“Virtually all that I’ve talked about prior to now has been on Tania Head’s fabrications which destroyed the WTC Survivors’ Community,” he mentioned.

Monica Iken-Murphy says the ache of dropping her husband Michael within the Twin Towers is simply as intense 20 years on

(Monica Iken-Murphy)

Monica Iken-Murphy, who misplaced her husband Michael Iken on 9/11, obtained to know Ms Head by her work serving to to create the 9/11 Memorial at Floor Zero in Manhattan’s Monetary District.

Whereas the ache of dropping her husband is simply as intense 20 years on, she way back let go of any ill-feeling in the direction of Ms Head.

“I don’t get indignant, I simply really feel dangerous that they really feel that it’s OK to do this,” she mentioned.

“I can’t be harm as a result of it’s not me doing it. I really feel actually sorry for her. And if you happen to really feel it’s good to lie about one thing like that, these poor souls?

“You can not escape that. There’s a time that you may get away with it, however you’re not going to get away with it eternally.”

Mrs Iken-Murphy advised The Impartial many individuals “got here out of the woodwork” after 9/11 searching for to profit from her distress.

“They thought I received the lottery,” she says.

“There was no lottery for me. I used to be a fortunately married lady, and I really watched my husband get murdered on reside tv.

“So I needed to take care of that downside, with blood cash. It’s possible you’ll assume you wish to be me, however you don’t wish to be me.”

To this present day, no stays of her husband have ever been discovered. She has since remarried and poured herself into initiatives reminiscent of her Iken Science Academy, a preschool she based on New York’s Higher East Aspect serving to youngsters into the sciences, serving to create the 9/11 Memorial at Floor Zero, and elevating her youngsters.

‘All of us generally lie and exaggerate a narrative to appear cooler’

Years after the assaults,actor and comic Steve Rannazzisi spoke of his personal slim escape from the 54th flooring of the north tower.

Mr Rannazzisi, who had a lead function in comedy collection The League, first made the declare in a 2009 interview on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron.

“Yeah, I used to be there, after which the primary tower obtained hit and we had been like, jostled in every single place after which the Port Authority got here on the loudspeaker and so they had been like, ‘Hey, uh, explosion in Tower One, um, issues are being taken care of, everybody stay the place you might be. Keep calm. We’re figuring issues out. And I used to be like, ‘effectively, I’m going to go verify this factor out.’ So I went downstairs, walked exterior, noticed the entire pandemonium after which about 5 or 6 minutes later… bang.”

Confronted with proof that undermined his account, he acknowledged that the story was fiction

In actuality, Mr Rannazzisi was at work practically 40 blocks away in Midtown when the planes hit.

He repeated the false claims in a number of different interviews, even claiming his spouse had been purported to have been within the towers however a delay had saved her life.

He advised interviewers that he had “these falling goals” for years.

In 2015, when confronted by The New York Occasions, Mr Rannazzisi apologized and admitted the deception.

“It’s to the victims of 9/11 and to the those that love them – and the those that love me – that I make an apology.

“It was profoundly disrespectful to those that perished and those that misplaced family members. The stupidity and guilt I’ve felt for a few years has not abated. It was an early style of getting a public persona, and I made a horrible mistake.”

On the time Mr Rannazzisi was known as out by comic Pete Davidson, whose firefighter father Scott died after being despatched into the World Commerce Heart.

“It’s okay @SteveRannazzisi individuals make errors … Can’t wait to satisfy my dad for lunch later,” Mr Davidson wrote on Twitter.

The SNL comic later advised his followers to “take it simple” on Mr Rannazzisi, saying he had obtained and accepted a private apology from him.

“All of us generally lie and exaggerate a narrative to appear cooler.”

When contacted, Mr Rannazzisi mentioned he had nothing extra to say on the matter.

An much more brazen 9/11 imposter wearing an FDNY uniform as he advised an viewers on the tenth anniversary ceremony in 2011 how he had taken half in rescue missions as captain of Ladder 133 in New York Metropolis.

Jordan Liflander claimed to have attended 47 funerals in three weeks for individuals who perished within the assaults.

A 12 months later, Mr Liflander was uncovered as a fraud, by no means having labored at FDNY, not to mention helped with the rescue and restoration.

“It was simply ego,” Mr Liflander would later say in an interview about why he had impersonated a grieving firefighter.

“Silliness. Making an attempt to slot in and be one of many guys. It simply spiralled uncontrolled and have become a lie I needed to reside.”

‘The 9/11 signal’

Within the years after the assaults, scientific assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington College Kim Jean started noticing an increasing number of of her New York sufferers claiming to have misplaced a cherished one on 9/11.

The assaults on the Twin Towers was an act of mass homicide in contrast to something skilled in trendy America. However Dr Jean realised the two,977 individuals who died merely didn’t correspond with the variety of sufferers who had been reporting misplaced associates and family.

“My cynicism began to creep forth,” Dr Jean wrote within the Washington Put up in 2015.

“Anybody with a report of a 9/11 loss of life of their historical past was possible searching for some form of secondary acquire, at greatest within the type of higher sympathy within the face of a large number of different powerful psychosocial stressors of their lives, or at worst, to get managed substances and even to use for particular 9/11 advantages.”

Her suspicions had been confirmed when she checked out one affected person’s story, and located it to have been false.

She coined the time period, the “9/11 Signal”.

‘The place had been you on 9/11?’

Just like the assassination of John Kennedy or the loss of life of Princess Diana, main tragedies that play out in full public view usually turn into seared into individuals’s consciousness.

They’re often called flashbulb reminiscences, Dr Elizabeth Loftus, the main authority on false reminiscence and cognitive psychology within the US, explains.

Dr Loftus, a distinguished professor in psychological science on the College of California, says most individuals who expertise a momentous historic occasion over the age of eight can readily recall the place they had been and what they had been doing after they heard the information.

Now 76, Dr Loftus remembers with crystal readability how she discovered of President Kennedy’s loss of life, aged 19, and having simply hopped off a aircraft in New York Metropolis on her method to the Harvard-Yale soccer recreation.

Reminiscences of studying in regards to the Twin Towers assaults aren’t fairly as indelible, however she nonetheless has a definite recollection of being advised of the assault by a good friend in Washington state the place she was residing on the time.


Dr Loftus has testified in regards to the fallibility of reminiscence in dozens of high-profile legal circumstances from the 1993 trial of officers accused of assaulting Rodney King to Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault case final 12 months.

And having appeared as a protection witness for a number of the most vilified criminals of our time, she believes we needs to be extra empathetic and fewer judgmental.

She cites the instance of MSNBC anchor Brian Williams falsely claiming he had been using in a Chinook helicopter that got here beneath RPG fireplace and required an emergency touchdown in 2003.

Mr Williams was fired from his job as host of NBC Nightly Information over the scandal, a harsh final result based on Dr Loftus. She thinks Mr Williams’ reminiscence developed over time, and believes an analogous factor has occurred with 9/11 glory seekers.

“Even actually, actually, actually, sensible, educated individuals have come to imagine that they’d experiences that they later needed to admit simply by no means occurred,” she says.

She says individuals’s tales usually get somewhat bit extra lurid and dramatic with every telling, and fairly quickly the account has developed into one thing removed from the reality.

“It might be that persons are mendacity to get sympathy and empathy and the opposite rewards that come from being a sufferer of one in every of these experiences. They usually find yourself believing these lies.

“We’ve obtained to go away room for scorn in opposition to those that get restricted sufferer’s compensation funds. We don’t must have an excessive amount of compassion for them.”

‘There are lies after which there may be self-delusion’

Felipe De Brigardis a professor of philosophy and cognitive neuroscience at Duke College and works on the intersection between creativeness and reminiscence.

He says figuring out whether or not an individual is being deliberately deceitful, or has come to imagine their very own lies, is advanced.

“Suppose that I let you know one thing I feel is fake and it seems to be true: am I mendacity to you?” he asks.

“And if I let you know a reality that’s false however I occur to imagine it to be true, am I mendacity?”

He has handled sufferers with confabulation who had injury within the prefrontal cortex, the a part of the mind that influences advanced duties reminiscent of planning, social interplay, persona and reminiscence.

In some circumstances, mind injury probably introduced on by alcohol abuse had prompted sufferers to connect themselves to a story that was “clearly improper”.

He says there’s a level wherein the pathology was such that the lie was not considered a lie. It turned their reality.

“If I may inform by some neural signature, whether or not a specific factor that an individual is experiencing as a reminiscence is a lie or a monotonous false reminiscence, I’d be wealthy. It is vitally troublesome if not unimaginable to separate these issues.”

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