America’s Ordeal

Lost in Attack’s Wake; Family fears for city woman missing since Sept. 10


Wednesday, September 26, 2001

By Hugo Kugiya, Staff Writer

NEW YORK — To help find his missing sister, John Philip negotiated an interview on the street with a television reporter. He held up a photograph of his brave and beautiful sister, in the desperate posture taken by so many others so many times since Sept. 11.

And then he lied.

In its shock and grief, the city had become single-​​minded, myopic, selfish even, because it had to be. New York was no longer a city of five boroughs, but one of 15 acres called Ground Zero. The collapse of the World Trade Center pollinated a million stories, mostly about villains and victims and heroes, so John Philip turned his sister into one.

He told the reporter that Sneha Ann Philip was a doctor who lived a few blocks from the World Trade Center (this much is true), and that she ran into the towers to help after the attack. Her photo was broadcast on TV; the reporter had the story he wanted, and so did the city. Whatever confusion came from this was worth it, the family agreed, because Sneha Philip’s disappearance had gotten some attention.

I had told other reporters my sister was missing,” John Philip said. “But when they found out she had been missing since Monday [the day before the attack] they lost interest.” The truth, sadly, was much more ordinary.

By all signs, Sneha Philip, 31, is one of dozens, hundreds, thousands of people who go missing every day of every year for any number of reasons. She is different because she went missing in lower Manhattan the night before one of the biggest events in American history. While the falling buildings might not have killed her, they essentially erased her.

I know we live in a random universe, but is it really that random?” asked her husband, Dr. Ron Lieberman, who has been treating workers at Ground Zero. “Is what happened to her and what happened on Sept. 11 unlucky timing, or is it connected?

The police keep trying to lump her in with the missing people from the World Trade Center,” he added. “I don’t know if it’s because they don’t believe me or if they just don’t want to deal with anything else. We’re losing valuable time if she’s somewhere we can save her.”

Lieberman last saw his wife at lunch on Sept. 10, dressed in a brown shirt dress and sandals. A resident at St. Vincents Medical Center, Staten Island, Sneha Philip was off Monday and Tuesday and planned to relax and do some shopping.

Her mother and John Philip received e-​​mail messages from her at 2:30 and 3 p.m. on Sept. 10. The surveillance video tape at the apartment building in Battery Park City where she lives with Lieberman shows she left at 5:15 p.m. By tracing credit card transactions, Lieberman discovered she shopped that evening at Century 21, a store near their apartment, purchasing shoes, lingerie and bed linens. She made two purchases at 6:40 and 7:18 p.m. She left no other traces.

Lieberman has looked through their apartment, which he has not been able to reoccupy since the attack, several times and there is nothing in it to indicate she ever returned. None of her relatives or friends saw or spoke to her that night.

Lieberman returned home about 11 p.m. Monday. Sneha Philip was not home, but Lieberman wasn’t overly alarmed. After all, the couple live within the New York Police Department’s First Precinct, statistically one of the safest in the city and where, so far this year, police have recorded no murders and usually investigate few per year.

What clues might have remained, her family fears, were probably destroyed in the towers’ collapse.

The family has filed two reports with the FBI, a missing person’s report with detectives at the First Precinct and with authorities investigating the World Trade Center disaster. They’ve hired a private investigator, checked hospitals and shelters, posted fliers all over lower Manhattan, and phoned every person in Sneha Philip’s address book. They’ve even consulted with a psychic, who told Lieberman his wife is somewhere safe, unharmed but unable to speak.

These weeks have been a 24-​​hour nightmare,” Lieberman said. “With all the people who died, and my wife missing. Just that she would disappear is so unlikely. And I never dreamed Battery Park City would be a target of any kind.”