Susan Retik had two small children and a third on the way when her husband, David, was killed on the first plane hijacked out of Logan Airport on Sept. 11, 2001. When the Bush administration began using that attack a year later to justify invading Iraq, Retik was furious, feeling that the lives of Dave and all the other victims were being misappropriated.
Now, barely 10 days into the Trump presidency, the Needham resident never imagined she would miss President George W. Bush so much.
“I would do anything to have him back in the White House, because I wouldn’t be worried that someone is accidentally going to tweet the beginning of World War III,” said Retik, now 48.
Of all that has upset Retik so far — and the list is long — she has been most angry over Trump’s executive order suspending refugee admission and banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries. Top White House aides have repeatedly cited the Sept. 11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing as justification, making the subject fraught and personal for area residents who lost loved ones or were wounded in those attacks, though their feelings about it range.
Retik, who cofounded and helps run a nonprofit, Beyond the 11th, to help widows of violence and oppression in Afghanistan, said she fundamentally disagrees with Trump over whether clamping down in a way that primarily targets refugees and Muslims from certain countries will keep the United States safe.
“I believe with all my heart that he is doing the exact opposite of keeping us safe,” Retik said Monday.
But others are more conflicted. Just as survivors of the Boston Marathon attack were divided over whether convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty, they disagree over the president’s immigration order.
Liz Norden, the Stoneham mother whose two adult sons each lost legs in the bombing, expressed cautious support for the order. In a country comprised largely of immigrants and their descendants, she appreciates that “people come to our country for a better life; I get that, and they should be welcome.”
But the anguish of what she and her family experienced has made her warier. She said it is hard to know what the screening process is like from afar, but she prefers a better-safe-than-sorry approach, approving of a temporary ban.
“I’m not trying to be a bad person here, but when your family is attacked, your whole aspect changes,” said Norden, who still receives withering messages from strangers on Facebook for endorsing the death penalty for Tsarnaev. “I’m watching out for my family and hopefully my grandchildren, and other people’s, too.”
Marc Fucarile, the Norden family friend who lost a leg in the bombing and has endured dozens of surgeries, told Fox 25 during the weekend that his heart also goes out to suffering refugees. But he said it is better to exclude people than to inadvertently admit potential terrorists.
“The president’s job is to protect the people of the United States of America, and I feel that’s what he’s doing,” the 38-year-old Fucarile said, crediting Trump for vigilance against the threat of a “Trojan Horse.”
Fucarile, who was not available Monday, told WFXT that “Islamic extremism” needs to be confronted. “They don’t like our ways, they don’t agree with us, and they think it’s OK to kill us. I think people need to wake up and realize, terrorism is a real thing.”
But Christie Coombs, whose husband Jeff was killed on the same flight as Dave Retik, said the need for vigilance should never justify blanket bans.
“We need to remember that it is not the religion of Islam who is against America, but it is the select population of radicals,” said Coombs, who sat down with her three children in Abington in 2001 and explained “that they should not hold all Muslims responsible for killing their dad,” a message she has repeated over the years during school visits through the Jeffrey Coombs Memorial Foundation.
“That we are turning away people based on their faith and nationality who have a right to travel here with proper documentation is abhorrent,” Coombs added, by e-mail. An Arizona native, she is equally dismayed by Trump’s border-wall executive order. She wishes instead that the federal government would concentrate on gun control, to address what she sees as a far more dangerous threat than the ones preoccupying Trump. “Prejudice and walls,” she wrote, “are not what make America great.”
Retik is mystified by the list of countries Trump named in the ban, which does not include the four (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates) that produced the Sept. 11 hijackers, not that she would ban travelers from any country or religion. “It’s all just so upsetting,” she said. “These are some scary, scary times with him in power.
“I think most people believe — and I hope I’m not wrong in this — that most people in this world are good, most people are just trying to get by, and it doesn’t matter what country you were born in, what religion you practice, what race you are, male or female, we all want the same things, for our kids to be educated, to feel safe and secure. That’s just what these people are trying to do. They’re not trying to bomb us.”
Peg Ogonowski Hatch, whose husband, John Ogonowski, was captain of the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, said she prefers to avoid the political fray. After Trump’s election, she checked out of Facebook, after reading too many posts by people likening their shock and dismay to the way they felt after Sept. 11, knowing there is no comparison between an election result and the murder of a loved one.
But that doesn’t mean the longtime Dracut resident endorses Trump’s order. Of all the things she had read since Friday, a Tweet by the Sudbury-bred actor Chris Evans resonated with her the most. “Obviously we must prioritize keeping Americans safe,” she said, quoting Evans. “But we mustn’t become un-American in the process.”