Crash victim heading to Jesuit school's scholarship event

By  Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service
  • February 17, 2009
{mosimage}WASHINGTON - Beverly Eckert, a victim of the Feb. 12 plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y., was en route to present a scholarship award in honour of her late husband at Jesuit-run Canisius High School in Buffalo.

Eckert, a Sept. 11 widow, also had planned to take part in a weekend celebration in Buffalo of what would have been her husband's 58th birthday.

Her husband, Sean Rooney, died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. That day he spoke to his wife by cell phone up until the second tower — where he was trapped — collapsed. A vice president for risk management services at the Aon Corp., he worked on the 98th floor.

Eckert, a resident of Stamford, Conn., was aboard Continental Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo when it crashed into a home 10 km from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, killing all 49 passengers and crew onboard and one person on the ground.

According to initial reports, the plane was coming in for a landing through light snow and fog. Witnesses said they heard the plane's engines sputtering before it struck the house in a fiery explosion.

Buffalo Bishop Edward Kmiec met with members of the victims' families at a senior centre near the crash site Feb. 13. The bishop, a native of Trenton, N.J., has frequently flown the route from Newark to Buffalo.

"I am asking everyone in the diocese of Buffalo to join me in prayer today as we offer spiritual support to those who have been touched by this tragedy," he said in a statement.

"I offered my Mass this morning for the victims and their families, and prayers are being said today and will be said this weekend at Masses in all of our parishes."

Eckert, 57, had long been an active voice for the Sept. 11 victims. She founded an advocacy group called Voices of September 11th. She also co-chaired the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, a group that investigated potential failures by the U.S. government that may have led to the terrorist attacks. She also lobbied Congress to pass intelligence reform, spearheaded protests for more land for a memorial at ground zero, and pushed for a compensation fund for family members of the 9/11 victims.

In early February, Eckert attended a White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, along with other 9/11 activists, to discuss how the new administration would handle terror suspects.

At Canisius High School, Eckert was active in the school's capital campaign and in supporting the Sean Rooney Memorial Scholarship established in 2002. Rooney was a member of the class of '69. Eckert, who met Rooney at a Canisius dance when they were 16, also had been raising funds to name one of the school's new science labs in her husband's memory.

The Feb. 13 scholarship presentation she planned to attend was postponed.

"Beverly was a lovely woman who spent the last several years working hard to take the tragedy of Sean's death and have something positive come from it," said John Knight, president of Canisius High School, in a Feb. 13 statement.

"She was committed to Canisius and the outstanding education her husband received," he added.

The Rooney scholarship is awarded to a high-achieving student who demonstrates financial need. When possible, the award is given to a graduate of the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo, where Rooney attended elementary school, or to a west Buffalo resident.

Eckert wrote in a 2006 letter to the school that the memorial scholarship had "more than exceeded my expectations of finding some way to counteract the destructive intent of terrorism."

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