Sister seeks answers in brother’s death
Someday, Kathy Stahlman hopes to be able to tell her brother what happened.
Sometime – not in this life, but in another – the Glenwood Springs resident wants to be able to reunite with Eric Stahlman and explain to him why he and thousands of others died in terrorist attacks last Sept. 11.
Eric Stahlman, 43, of Holmdale, N.J., was killed in the first of the two World Trade Center towers to be attacked by terrorists who hijacked jet planes. Stahlman worked on the 105th floor as a loan officer.
A year after the loss of her younger brother, Stahlman reflected from the Glenwood Springs office where she maintains an acupuncture practice about the last 12 months.
Her voice appear to break only once during that interview. It was when she was asked what she would say to her brother should they ever get to meet again.
“That’s a good question,” she said after a long pause. “I would hope it would come to a time when we really know the truth of what happened and I would tell him, `This is what happened, this is what caused the event that put you in such confusion’ … because you can imagine he must have been in such confusion when that happened.”
The loss of her brother was confusing for Stahlman, too.
“A loss is somebody leaving without your consent,” said Stahlman. “So people feel very much the effect” of the loss of a loved one. “It’s why they feel devastated.”
One of the first things Stahlman did after Sept. 11 was to write a poem to her brother, published in the Post Independent.
The five-year valley resident treasures to this day the community response it brought.
“People have come up to me and said, `Oh my God, that was great; I cried.'”
She also remains touched by the financial contributions that helped defray travel and other costs incurred with Eric’s death, and the other support it gave her.
“Right after my brother died, I think this community did a lot to help me and I thank everybody.”
She wishes she could be as appreciative of the media coverage being focused on the attacks a year later. Stahlman said so much attention dredges up difficult memories and is hard on the families of the victims.
“Frankly, my mother took off to Boston (last) week with my aunt and uncle. She just had to get out of New York.”
The anniversary also promises to be difficult for Eric’s widow, Blanka, and his son, Jacob, 6, and daughter, Allison, who will turn 8 just a week after Sept. 11, a coincidence that concerns her mother.
“She really doesn’t want death being connected with (Allison’s) birthday.”
Stahlman’s own son, Ben, who is 10, misses Eric “very much,” she said.
While it remains hard for him to understand why Eric died, he and his mother both draw sustenance from “strong religious and spiritual help that keeps us knowing that we’ll meet him again sometime,” she said.
Stahlman herself doesn’t plan to return to New York for the anniversary. Her parents visited here this summer, and she can’t pull Ben out of school again to go back.
She said her mom may return to Ground Zero for the anniversary. Stahlman wanted to make sure that her parents have friends and relatives there to support them, and two of Eric’s best friends will be there.
Stahlman said she heard of a running race in Denver on the anniversary, and hopes to participate.
“It’s probably a healthy way of spending Sept. 11.”
As she has worked through the grieving process connected with her brother’s death, one means of regaining her emotional health has been to seek answers, which she hopes to share with her brother one day.
“I think the thing about Sept. 11, I think it’s changed my way of looking at the world to quite a degree. It’s also strengthened my convictions that I have had for many, many years,” she said.
“The thing that’s unsettling, and the reason we’re still sitting in Sept. 11, is because the truth of what it was all about has not been revealed. There’s a lot of hidden agendas in the truth of this incident.
“Who do they hate?,” she asks of the attackers. “You have to really start looking at that. Who do they hate and what was this vendetta all about?”
Here, Stahlman offers a viewpoint different from the popularly accepted one advanced by the U.S. government:
“For some reason it is tied up with the big game of oil and … really what’s going on is that maybe somebody in that building, I’m not going to say who, had a corporation that was going to create havoc for people who control oil on the planet.”
She further thinks the pharmaceutical industry could be tied to the attacks. That same industry uses oil for its products, its stock prices rose after the attacks, and marketing and sales of anti-depression drugs took off then too, she said.
“That started being pushed on society like crazy after Sept. 11,” she said of such drugs.
“There was an economic interest in it,” she said of the attacks. “It wasn’t just point-blank terrorism. If it was point-blank terrorism, then why didn’t somebody come out and say, `I did it and I did it because you did this.'”
Stahlman said she doesn’t know if Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks.
“He could have been a part of it. I don’t know if he was solely the only one.”
A frustrating lack of information also makes Stahlman unsure what to think about the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan.
“I’m not saying that the al Qaida were a sweet bunch of people. They’re pretty nasty.”
But then she hears stories about oil pipeline interests in Afghanistan, and has to wonder.
“I think we have to really, really understand what was behind the whole thing and understand the truth and learn about it before we jump the gun.”
While she’s no supporter of Saddam Hussein, she also wonders about the wisdom of attacking Iraq.
“We’re not being given reasons, we’re just being told we have to do it,” she said.
She is convinced that what’s most important right now is to uncover all the factions behind the attacks on America.
“In order to do that we’ve got to pull up where the big money is in this country and what connections it has in the world and in our own lives.”
Living her beliefs
Based on these suspected connections, Stahlman favors reducing oil dependency and seeking alternative energy sources.
She also thinks before she spends, though it can be difficult sometime.
Recently she was looking to buy pajamas, when she noticed they all were made in the United Arab Emirates, a country said to have helped fund the terrorist attacks.
“So who’s funding it? Me and you.
“It’s such a web that you can’t possibly pull it out,” she said in some frustration.
Still, she adds, “I walked out not buying anything. … I’m going to look where something comes from before I buy it.”
“What I’m saying is that people need to start … understanding that just because it’s being sold to the masses doesn’t mean it’s OK.”
Stahlman also advocates pursuit of a more sustainable economy that more fairly distributes the world’s resources to all in need. But she adds, “I’m the last person to condemn the rich or the wealthy.” She noted how much they contributed to her brother’s family.
“These people that have given money have shown that they’re willing to help, which is nice. That was a very good gesture, I think.”
She believes the proper justice for whoever killed her brother and others on Sept. 11 would be not only prison, “but the major thing would be to have whatever money they amassed put into sustainable agriculture, retraining people how to survive well on the planet.”
Honoring the dead
Meanwhile, as talks continue on how best to memorialize the loss of those killed, Stahlman said it’s up to the World Trade Center property owners what happens to the site itself.
If a memorial is built there, she thinks a park or zoo would be nice – something for children, keeping in mind all the children who lost parents to the attacks.
“I think to help the kids, that would be a neat thing.”
As to the idea of making Sept. 11 a national holiday, she said, “To just have it be a day of grief puts us in the position of victim, and I’m not fond of the victim position; I’ve never been fond of it.”
She suggested perhaps changing Memorial Day to Sept. 11.
“That would handle it all. That would make it be a day of remembrance” for both attack victims and those traditionally honored on Memorial Day.
She also would like to see schools teach students about the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence at this time of year, “so they really understand what freedom is.”
It’s important for children to understand that freedom includes being able to make individual choices, and seek truth themselves, she said.
It’s the lack of knowledge that causes terrorists to believe all Jews are bad, all Americans are bad, and to follow orders without questioning them, Stahlman said.
“It’s all part of the same thing, finding the truth and really understanding it. The more you have that going on, the more you’re not going to have stupid people doing ignorant things in the name of untruths.”
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