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Context of 'September 12, 2001: Deena Burnett Decides to Speak with Press about Husband’s Calls from Flight 93, Despite FBI Instructions Not to Do So'

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According to Deena Burnett, when her husband Tom Burnett first calls her from Flight 93 (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), he mentions that one of the plane’s hijackers has a gun. [Longman, 2002, pp. 107; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/21/2002; Sacramento Bee, 9/11/2002] She will recall him telling her: “The hijackers have already knifed a guy. One of them has a gun. They’re telling us there’s a bomb on board.” [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 61] However, contradicting this account, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that the Flight 93 hijackers do not possess a gun. It will state: “[N]one of the other callers [from Flight 93] reported the presence of a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted specifically asking her caller whether the hijackers had guns. The passenger replied that he did not see one. No evidence of firearms or of their identifiable remains was found at the aircraft’s crash site, and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of a gun being fired or mentioned at any time. We believe that if the hijackers had possessed a gun, they would have used it in the flight’s last minutes as the passengers fought back.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 13] News reports shortly after 9/11 and later in 2001 will mention Tom Burnett describing the hijackers having knives and claiming to have a bomb, but say nothing about him referring to a hijacker with a gun. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/12/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17/2001; Newsweek, 12/3/2001] According to notes of her initial interview with the FBI (see (12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Deena Burnett tells the investigators that her husband described to her a passenger being knifed and the hijackers claiming to have a bomb. But the notes will make no mention of her saying she was told about a hijacker possessing a gun. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file] And Deena apparently does not mention any gun in early interviews with the press, saying only: “[My husband] said, ‘I’m on the airplane, the airplane that’s been hijacked, and they’ve already knifed a guy. They’re saying they have a bomb. Please call the authorities.’” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/15/2001] But she will later state: “He told me one of the hijackers had a gun. He wouldn’t have made it up. Tom grew up around guns. He was an avid hunter and we have guns in our home. If he said there was a gun on board, there was.” [London Times, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Tom Burnett, Deena Burnett, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to evidence presented at the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial, passenger Tom Burnett makes just three phone calls from Flight 93 to his wife, Deena Burnett. According to the trial evidence, his first call, lasting 28 seconds, is at 9:30. At just before 9:38, he makes a second call, which lasts 62 seconds, and at 9:44 he makes his final call, lasting 54 seconds. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Although he was assigned a seat in row 4 near the front of the plane, records show he makes these calls using Airfones further back, in rows 24 and 25. [United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant., 4/11/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 9-10 pdf file] This evidence, however, contradicts the account given by Burnett’s wife. According to an FBI record of the interview, in her initial meeting with investigators (see (12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Deena Burnett will say she received “a series of three to five cellular phone calls from her husband.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file] But she will subsequently say consistently that she received four phone calls from him. And, rather than occurring between 9:30 and 9:44, she notes them as having occurred at 9:27, 9:34, 9:45, and 9:54. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/13/2001; New York Times, 9/13/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002; Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 61-67; Hour of Power, 9/10/2006; MSNBC, 9/11/2006] While the trial evidence states that Tom Burnett makes his calls from the plane using Airfones, other accounts will report that he makes all—or all but one—of them using his cell phone. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 107-111 and 118; Washington Post, 4/19/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/21/2002; CBS News, 9/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Tom Burnett, Deena Burnett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mark Rothenberg.Mark Rothenberg. [Source: Family photo]Tom Burnett, a passenger on the hijacked Flight 93, calls his wife Deena Burnett a second time from the aircraft and is told about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. [Sacramento Bee, 9/11/2002] Deena is on the phone with an FBI agent, reporting her husband’s previous call from the plane (see 9:31 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), when she hears her call-waiting beep. She answers her husband’s call, making a note of the time. [Newsweek, 12/3/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 109-110] Tom tells her the plane’s hijackers are “in the cockpit. The guy they knifed is dead.… I tried to help him, but I couldn’t get a pulse.” [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 64] (According to journalist and author Jere Longman, Burnett is likely referring here to fellow passenger Mark Rothenberg. [Longman, 2002, pp. 107] ) Deena says: “Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the East coast. They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They’ve already hit both towers of the World Trade Center.” [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 64] (When the FBI later interviews her (see (12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Deena will say it seemed her husband was already aware at this time that other flights had crashed into the WTC, although this possibility is not specifically brought up during their call. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file] ) Tom says the hijackers are “talking about crashing this plane.” He adds: “Oh my gosh! It’s a suicide mission.” Deena hears him repeating the information she has told him to other people. When she asks who this is, he tells her he is talking to his seatmate. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 64] Tom wants to know if commercial aircraft have been hijacked, how many planes and which airlines are involved, and who is involved? [Longman, 2002, pp. 110] He then says: “We’re turning back toward New York. We’re going back to the World Trade Center. No, wait, we’re turning back the other way. We’re going south.” He reports: “We’re over a rural area. It’s just fields. I’ve gotta go.” He then hangs up. The call has lasted about two minutes. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 64] According to Longman, unlike his previous call, which he made using his cell phone, Tom Burnett makes this call using an Airfone. [Longman, 2002, pp. 110] But other reports will state that he makes all four of his calls from Flight 93 using his cell phone. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Washington Post, 4/19/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/21/2002] According to notes of Deena Burnett’s later interview with the FBI, all Tom’s calls are made using his cell phone, but “one of the calls did not show on the caller identification as [Deena] was on the line with another call” when it was made. This could be referring to this second call, which occurred while Deena was on the phone with the FBI agent. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Burnett, Deena Burnett, Mark Rothenberg

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Passenger Tom Burnett makes his fourth and final call from Flight 93 to his wife Deena Burnett. Deena makes a note of the time of the call. [Longman, 2002, pp. 118] Tom asks her, “Anything new?” and then, “Where are the kids?” When Deena says their three young daughters are asking to talk to him, Tom says, “Tell them I’ll talk to them later.” After a pause, he explains that he and some of the other passengers are going to try and seize control of the plane from the hijackers: “We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane.” He adds: “If they’re going to crash this plane into the ground, we’re going to have to do something.… We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway. It’s up to us. I think we can do it.” He remains calm throughout the conversation. He tells Deena to just pray. [Sacramento Bee, 9/11/2002; Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 66-67] According to notes of Deena Burnett’s initial interview with the FBI (see (12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Tom tells Deena he may not speak to her again. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file] But in her 2006 book, Deena Burnett will describe Tom saying: “Don’t worry. I’ll be home for dinner. I may be late, but I’ll be home.” Finally he says, “We’re going to do something,” and then hangs up. The call lasts less than two minutes. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 67] Tom does not give any personal message to his wife during the call. [CNN, 9/12/2001] Deena will later reflect: “He honestly expected to be home later that morning. If he thought he was going to die on that plane, he would have called his parents and sisters and talked to his daughters. At the very least, he would have given me a message for them. But he didn’t ask to speak to any of them. He was fighting to live.” [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 68]

Entity Tags: Tom Burnett, Deena Burnett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deena Burnett has just minutes earlier spoken by phone with her husband, Tom Burnett, a passenger on Flight 93 (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Deena Burnett’s account that she presents in her own book in 2006, an FBI agent she talked with after her husband’s first call (see 9:31 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001) now calls and speaks to her again, briefly. She tells the agent she has just got off the phone with her husband. He wants to know if Tom provided any details of the hijackers, such as how many there are and what language they speak, but Deena says no. She says the only background noise she heard was other people who seemed to be sitting near her husband, speaking English. During Tom’s final call, the background was silent. The agent says the FBI has tried calling Tom’s cell phone, but there was no answer. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 68-69] According to the account in Deena Burnett’s book, this appears to be her first contact with the FBI since she made her 911 call at 9:31. But according to journalist and author Jere Longman, Deena called the FBI shortly after 9:35, following her second call from her husband (see (Between 9:36 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 110] Deena will speak with the FBI again more than two hours later, when three agents arrive at her house to interview her (see (12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Deena Burnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Burnett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deena Burnett is visited at her home in San Ramon, California, by three FBI agents, and questioned about the calls she received from her husband, Tom Burnett, who was a passenger on Flight 93. Deena has now learned of the plane crashing in Pennsylvania, and a police officer staying with her informed her that this was her husband’s plane. The FBI agents spend over an hour with Deena, asking her about her husband and what he’d said in his four calls from Flight 93. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 71-72 and 74-75] She describes to them how Tom called her using his cell phone and told her his flight had been hijacked. In his final call he’d described how a group of the passengers was going to “do something.” She says her husband was a former college football player and very intelligent, so if he’d concluded he was going to die, he would have taken action. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file] Deena remembers that she’d taken notes, writing down the details of her husband’s calls. But she does not want the agents to have these, saying, “You wouldn’t be able to read it anyway.” They do not take the notes with them when they leave. They will return later in the day and tell Deena specifically not to say anything to anyone—especially the media—about her cell phone conversations with her husband, because it is part of their investigation. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 75 and 81]

Entity Tags: Tom Burnett, Deena Burnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Despite having been told by the FBI not to do so, Deena Burnett decides to speak to several groups of reporters about the four calls her husband Tom Burnett made to her from Flight 93, before it crashed in Pennsylvania. The FBI visited Deena the previous evening and, she later recalls, “told me specifically not to say anything to anyone about my cell phone conversations with Tom, especially the media, because it was part of their investigation.” [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 81] But by this morning, she will comment, “everything I would have told the media had been reported on the news by the FBI, police, and Father Frank” Colacicco, from the church where her family worships. “If they could tell their stories, I knew now I could tell mine. There would be no harm to ‘the evidence’ in answering [reporters’] questions.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/12/2001; Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 93-94] Throughout the day, she has six “media waves” separately come into her home to interview her. The reporters are interested in the cell phone calls she received from her husband. She recalls: “I had to be very cautious about everything I said. I didn’t want to say anything that would interfere with the FBI investigation. I verified the calls had taken place, but gave no specific information about what Tom and I had discussed.” The FBI visits Deena around 3:00 p.m. to ask some follow-up questions to their interviews with her the previous day (see (12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). In her 2006 book, Deena Burnett makes no mention of them complaining about her having talked to the media. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 97-104]

Entity Tags: Tom Burnett, Deena Burnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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