No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 4 CSI (first draft unedited)

There were times since the attacks I felt like I had been cast in an episode of CSI – Crime Scene Investigation. The problem was I didn’t know my lines but everyone else knew theirs. I hadn’t even auditioned for the part, but I was cast in the role. It felt like the whole world was watching and expecting a brilliant performance, but I hadn’t seen the script. It was outside my realm of knowledge and experience. All those acting and dancing lessons from my youth weren’t going to help. This was real life even though it didn’t feel like my life.

Besides a new role, I had a new name – Mrs. Van Hine. When Bruce and I married I added Van Hine to my name, so my legal name became Ann Collette Clark-Van Hine. I had already owned my studio for five years when I got married. Actually, I met Bruce and started my own business on the very same day in September of 1975. At my studio, I was Ann Clark aka Miss Ann. Even at church I was Miss Ann. Bruce was more likely to be called Mr. Clark than I was to be called Mrs. Van Hine. But now I was Mrs.Van Hine, FDNY widow.

Filing a missing person’s report was something I never thought I would do. But nevertheless, a NYPD detective came to the house to deliver the forms. He was the father of a former classmate of Emily’s. Completing the forms was a task Christine and I tackled one morning while the girls were at school. Name, age, height, weight, social security number, tattoos were the easy questions to answer. Scars and whether ear lopes were attached or not took focused thought that I was struggling to achieve.

Gathering DNA evidence was another thing on the list of things I never imagined I would have to do. Bruce’s toothbrush, a dirty t-shirt and a comb were passed along to be used as possible sources of his DNA. Squad 41 also supplied items from his locker at the firehouse for DNA evidence. After the meeting on September 18, Emily and I visited a local lab to have our cheeks swabbed to supply our DNA as a way of determining Bruce’s DNA. Task complete or so I thought.

Fast forward to January 2002 and a letter from the medical examiner’s office requesting further DNA caused confusion and anger. The letter suggested items which may contain DNA such as toothbrush, comb, clothing and chewed gum. What? Chewed gum! After four months, I have a piece of chewed gum laying around. Are you kidding me? My quick angry telephone call to the medical examiner’s office was met by apologizes and realization on their part that using the standard DNA request form after four months had been a wrong choice. It was suggested that a parent’s DNA would help with identification, but I wasn’t asking my mother-in-law. No parent should have to supply DNA samples to identify their child especially an 80-year-old. It was bad enough that my 17-year-old daughter gave DNA samples back in September. A call to Christine asking her to investigate what happened brought clarity to the issue. After a few telephone calls, she found that in the aftermath of the attacks two DNA databases had been established – a state one and a city one. Christine was able to get the information/samples we had submitted to the right source. Side note: I felt badly about my nasty phone call to the medical examiner’s office. I realized these were extraordinary circumstances, but I hope we can always error on the side of the families and be aware that asking for chewed gum after 4 months isn’t helpful. Taking the time to simply create a new form would have saved me and many others further stress.

There were practical issues that needed to be addressed. Bruce’s car was at the firehouse in the Bronx. Parking is always at a premium in the city, I understood having Bruce’s car just hanging out in the Bronx wasn’t helpful to Squad 41. I knew they weren’t going to ask me to move it, so I asked Pastor Steve to arrange to get Bruce’s car back to Greenwood Lake. On Friday September 14, Pastor Steve and Rod, who was not only a fellow church member and friend, but NYPD ESU police officer traveled into the Bronx to get the car. They brought not only the car home but also Bruce’s wallet, watch and wedding ring.

Pastor Steve shared the details of their visit to Squad 41 – how the firefighters welcomed them, served them coffee and told stories. He was moved by the respect shown to Bruce’s personal items and even demonstrated how he was handed the wallet, watch and wedding ring. The wallet held in two hands with the watch and wedding ring balanced on top. Almost like presenting the rings in a wedding ceremony. He was deeply touched by the entire experience.

I was grateful the car was home and even more grateful for the personal items. I hadn’t given much thought to his ring or watch but when I saw them I remembered Bruce telling me that they (firefighters) leave their personal items in their locker when responding to a fire. I eventually had my and Bruce’s wedding rings sized to fit Emily and Meghan. I wore the anniversary ring Bruce had given me on my left ring finger. I felt that our marriage ended with his death, but our love continued. In the course of time, I stopped wearing even the anniversary ring. Wearing that ring on my left-hand lead to questions that had awkward answers. Unfortunately, the ring didn’t fit on my right hand.


FYI: Last glimpse into book for awhile. I am preparing a book proposal.  Thank you for reading. If you are interested in reading more, please subscribe to receive posts by email or visit and like my FB page  Miss Ann Says.