By Robert W. Dalton
Even now, through the fog of years gone by and the mist of ever-lasting sorrow, Cat MacRae’s face is the first thing the Rev. Peter Larsen ’70 sees when he thinks about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
MacRae was the oldest daughter of a family in Larsen’s congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church and St. Andrew’s Dune Church in Southampton, New York. She went to work that morning with 39 other employees at a financial management company on the 93rd floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center.
She was 23. She’ll always be 23.
“All 40 people in her company were killed, probably instantly because of where the plane hit,” says Larsen, who is now retired and living in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “There were no phone calls to family members. Her body was never found. A funeral service was held in October (2001) in Southampton, with over 1,000 in attendance.”
Larsen, who also was in the Navy Reserve at the time, was called to serve as a chaplain at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks. For 11 days he worked with police and fire crews who were searching the rubble, and comforted families of victims who came to the site.
“I was on duty one day at the nearest hospital,” Larsen says. “Doctors and nurses from all over the country had come to help, and there were 25 refrigerator trucks to hold the bodies. But there was no business, and there were no bodies in the trucks.”
On one of his first days at Ground Zero, Larsen walked through the basement of 5 World Trade Center, a building near the Twin Towers. Everything was covered in ash, and the clocks in all the shops had stopped at 10:05 a.m.
“It was so tragic and world-shaking,” Larsen says. “My eyes were wide open.”
One of Larsen’s daily tasks was to ride a ferry from Pier 94 to Ground Zero with the families of victims. They were accompanied by relatives and friends of victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing, who came to show support, and several therapy dogs.
“People who were grieving just took to those dogs,” Larsen says.
While at Ground Zero, Larsen worked with the Rev. Keith Shuley, a Catholic chaplain assigned to the site by the Coast Guard. Larsen and Shuley became lifelong friends, linked forever by the sadness that enveloped them. They have an annual tradition that will continue this year.
“I talk to him every Sept. 11,” Larsen says. “And even though he never met her, he always wants to know how Cat MacRae’s family is doing.”