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Victims of 1993 WTC terror bombing still tormented


On the morning of Feb. 26, 1993, Michael Macko bundled into his father’s gold Nissan Pathfinder and together they set out for lower Manhattan.


Macko, then 29, worked at a special events company. His father William, 57, was a Port Authority mechanic stationed inside the World Trade Center.


The Mackos barely spoke during the ride from New Jersey.


Michael listened to music through his Walkman headphones while his father tuned in to the car radio.

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“My dad liked to listen to sports radio or talk radio, which I hated,” Michael said.


After they pulled into a parking garage below the twin towers, Michael said goodbye to his father.


He never saw him again.


Roughly six hours later, a truck bomb detonated in the garage — killing six people, including William Macko, and injuring more than 1,000 others.

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Even 25 years later, the thought of that final ride with his dad brings the younger Macko to tears.


“I wish now that I had just taken off the headphones and had a conversation with him,” the Bayonne, N.J., man told the Daily News, his voice halting and pierced with sobs.

William Macko, a Port Authority mechanic, was killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

(Handout)


“I try to regret very few things in my life. That is one that I do.”


The first terror attack at the World Trade Center has gone largely forgotten by those whose lives were not directly affected.

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But for the sons and daughters who lost their fathers or the workers who suffered grievous injuries, the incident still haunts them in ways large and small.


The 1993 bombing both foreshadowed and was later overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks eight years later.


The terror strikes were carried out at the same location and financed by the same group, Al Qaeda.


The assault by air was far more catastrophic, toppling the twin towers and killing nearly 2,800 people.

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In the ensuing years, the 1993 family members’ grief was complicated by feelings that their loss was being overlooked. They found themselves fighting for compensation and even recognition of their loved ones’ deaths.


The federal government moved quickly to set up a compensation fund for the victims of the 2001 terror strike.


The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund doled out more than $7 billion to victims’ family members and injured survivors. The average payout — $2 million.

The crater in an underground parking garage from the World Trade Center explosion is shown in this Feb. 27, 1993 photo.

The crater in an underground parking garage from the World Trade Center explosion is shown in this Feb. 27, 1993 photo.

(RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS)


But not a penny was made available to those whose lives were upended by the 1993 terror bombing.

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“The bottom line is that more should have been done to commemorate, care for and compensate the victims and survivors of the 1993 World Trade Center attack,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Over time, by working with the families, some of those wrongs have been righted, but some work remains unrealized.”


A pitched legal battle broke out pitting some of the city’s finest personal injury lawyers against the Port Authority.


More than 600 survivors, businesses and families of the dead claimed the bistate agency was negligent in failing to heed the multiple warnings that the public parking garage was vulnerable to attack.


Among the evidence they pointed to was a 1985 report, written by the Port Authority’s security experts, warning that the subterranean garage was susceptible to an attack by a “time bomb-laden vehicle.”

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A jury ruled in favor of the victims in 2005. But the state’s highest court ultimately reversed the decision, determining that the Port Authority was not liable for damages.


The majority of plaintiffs had already reached a settlement by then, though a handful wound up with nothing.


To the ire of some of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Port Authority honchos largely emerged unscathed.


“The people who made the terrible decisions that resulted in death and destruction — they went on to get big jobs with big money and big pensions,” said lawyer Louis Mangone, who represented a seriously injured survivor.

Michael Macko still has a watch his father wore when he was killed during the blast. The watch is stopped at the exact moment of the bombing; 12:18.

Michael Macko still has a watch his father wore when he was killed during the blast. The watch is stopped at the exact moment of the bombing; 12:18.

(Gregg Vigliotti/For New York Daily News)


Adding insult to injury for some, New York law barred Port Authority workers or their relatives from suing their employer.


These families, which included the Mackos, only had access to the more modest payouts available through workers’ compensation.


Michael’s mother was diagnosed with throat and neck cancer nine months after the attack.


He made it his mission to get recognition for the victims and compensation to help his mother pay for her medical care.


Macko was only half successful — the victims are honored at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. But congressional gridlock blocked his family and others from collecting money through the 9/11 compensation fund.


“I don’t want to sound bitter or that anyone owes us anything, but the sting of unfairness is there,” said Macko, who lost his mother in 2011.


The 1993 terror strike followed almost the exact blueprint security officials warned about years earlier.


Jersey City-based jihadists drove a rented van loaded with 1,500 pounds of explosives into lower Manhattan and parked it in the garage beneath the Vista Hotel, which was connected to both towers.


The terrorists were long gone when the bomb went off minutes later, at 12:18 p.m., ripping open a crater roughly 150 feet wide and five stories deep.

The mastermind behind the bombing, Ramzi Yousef, was sentenced to a life term plus 240 years.

The mastermind behind the bombing, Ramzi Yousef, was sentenced to a life term plus 240 years.

(AP)


Architect Mike Rapp was inside the World Trade Center, performing a survey for a beefed-up command center, when the bomb detonated one floor below.


The floor went out from under him, pancaking down and dropping Rapp three stories into a “massive dark hole.”


“There were cars exploding underneath me,” recalled Rapp, now 59. “There were flames shooting up between these concrete slabs.”


Rapp found himself teetering on a section of concrete — his right ankle and leg crushed, his left knee broken, his pelvis fractured.


Incredibly, water from a broken main was shooting directly in his direction, providing a sort of liquid cocoon amid the intensifying flames.


“Thank God,” Rapp said. “The whole time I was being protected.”


Rapp was ultimately rescued by a group of firefighters who carried him to safety after fashioning an ax handle into a splint for his dangling lower leg.


Stephen Knapp’s father wasn’t so lucky.


Knapp, a day shy of his 18th birthday, watched the carnage from a classroom at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., just across the Hudson River.

Stephen Knapp Sr. a chief Port Authority mechanical supervisor, was also killed in the blast.

Stephen Knapp Sr. a chief Port Authority mechanical supervisor, was also killed in the blast.


Only later did he find out that his father Stephen Knapp Sr., a chief Port Authority mechanical supervisor and Vietnam veteran, didn’t make it out alive.


“You go through different stages — shock and sadness, then anger,” said the younger Knapp. “I guess now I just see sadness in the whole thing.”


The plot’s mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, was sentenced to a life term plus 240 years.


“Yes, I am a terrorist, and proud of it,” Yousef told the judge at his January 1998 sentencing. “You are butchers, liars and hypocrites.”


Now 49, he’s serving his time at a federal Supermax prison in Colorado known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”


Defense lawyer Bernard Kleinman described Yousef as “more thoughtful” and “more religious” than he was in the 1990s.


Kleinman is barred from sharing Yousef’s thoughts with the public, but he noted that his client has, intriguingly, written an extensive essay denouncing ISIS.


“He has condemned a number of the attacks committed by ISIS,” including the Islamic State-inspired truck attack on West St. in lower Manhattan last October, Kleinman said.


But does Yousef regret orchestrating the first World Trade Center attack? “I wouldn’t say that he necessarily has regrets,” Kleinman said.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly speaks to the media after the 1993 terror bombing.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly speaks to the media after the 1993 terror bombing.

(BEBETO MATTHEWS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)


As warden of the Florence ADX prison from 2002 to 2005, Bob Hood visited Yousef on a regular basis.


“One of the most respectful inmates I’ve ever had,” Hood said. “But he’s very influential. He’s like the Charlie Manson of the (federal) system. He has a lot of charisma. If you put him around other inmates, he would just have to talk and they would listen.”


Yousef remains locked up in ADX’s most secure unit — “a prison within a prison within a prison,” in the words of Hood — where he spends at least 23 hours a day in a 7-by-11-foot cell.


He has no contact with other prisoners. His food trays are delivered by unseen guards who pass them through a slot between two steel doors.


“It’s a clean version of hell,” Hood said.


Macko, for his part, spends little time thinking about Yousef.


But he does remember trudging to the city morgue to collect his father’s remains in the days after the attack.


He keeps one of his father’s belongings in a drawer inside his bedroom.


A Mickey Mouse watch, frozen in time at 12:18 p.m., the precise moment the bomb exploded.

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