Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Talat Hamdani is a retired high school teacher living in Suffolk County, New York.
(CNN) — More than a decade after that dreadful day, 9/11 memories are still fresh for me. The intense, flesh-cutting urgency of the pain has diminished. I am no longer a grieving mother. I have learned to live with the loss of my son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani. But I am still waiting for justice.
What I want is not complicated — a recognition that, when Salman died beneath the rubble that day, he died as a first responder. His name should be reflected that way at the 9/11 Memorial, properly listed among the other first responders who rushed bravely toward the flames.
On that terrible day, my husband Saleem and I could not know where Salman was. Nor could his brothers, Adnaan and Zeshan, know what had become of their Bhaijaan, the Urdu word for a beloved and revered elder brother. As anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 knows, that uncertainty was cruel and crushing. We couldn’t know it then, but what had happened to Salman that morning, along with the events of the following months, changed everything for our family, bringing unbearable pain into our lives and suddenly making us public persons.
In the months before 9/11, Salman had served as a cadet in the New York Police Department. He was also a trained emergency technician. At the time of his death, he was working as a lab analyst at Rockefeller University’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He was working there because it was a path toward becoming a doctor. Salman was determined to keep trying to get into medical school. If he couldn’t, he planned to join the NYPD and work toward becoming a detective, using his scientific skills. It was a momentous time of decision in his life.
On that crisp and glorious morning, I drove away from our home in Bayside, Queens. I dropped off Zeshan at Queensborough Community College, then continued on to Catherine & Count Basie Middle School 72, where I taught English. When Zeshan and I left the house, at about 7:15, Salman was still sleeping. He had been up much of the evening, first polishing up his medical school application, then providing medical care to his father, who was feeling ill. Finally, Salman went up to bed at 3 a.m. in the bedroom he shared with Zeshan.
After Zeshan and I had left, Salman would have pursued his usual routine, catching a bus and then the 7 train to Manhattan. As we have since deduced, he must have seen the flames at the World Trade Center from the elevated train, then rushed downtown to try to help. Clearly, he did not make that decision and take that fatal detour as a lab analyst, but as the first responder he was trained to be.
In the months that followed, in addition to uncertainty about Salman, our family had to endure suspicion pointed at him. Before anyone knew where he was, a flyer circulated around the city, saying that my son was wanted for questioning. And the New York Post ran a story with Salman’s photo and this hateful headline: “Missing — Or Hiding?”
It wasn’t until late March that the police told us that Salman’s remains had been found beneath the pile — in 34 pieces. Ultimately, what we would get to bury was nothing more than a body bag filled with all that was left of our son.
At Salman’s funeral, the many mourners included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and our congressman, Gary Ackerman. The Patriot Act, enacted in response to the terror attacks, specifically refers to Salman as a 9/11 hero. Yet, at the 9/11 Memorial, his name is grouped among the miscellaneous victims, not among the first responders who sacrificed their lives, where it belongs.
Salman responded to the call of duty, transcending the barriers of race, faith and ethnicity. Yet, sadly, he is not getting his due place in history. Salman is not here to defend himself. But I will speak for him. He is my strength, and I am his voice.