The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
‘I talk to him every day’
West Haven man’s impact remembered, 20 years after 9/11
In West Haven, Richard Gabrielle found peace and quiet he had not always had in life. George “Gabe” Gabrielle, Richard’s older brother, said he believes their parents’ decision to relocate from Long Island to New York City was one that led to some degree of isolation within Richard, an athlete who found himself constrained in a high-density city.
Richard Gabrielle eventually married his wife, a former high school classmate, and the pair later moved to West Haven with their daughter, where Richard had a yard and was able to take on home improvement projects. As a successful insurance broker, he commuted daily to his job in Manhattan.
“He was more a Connecticut person than a New York person, I believe. I think he lived most of his adult life in Connecticut and he came to New York to work, but I think his home was Connecticut,” George Gabrielle said. “I’m sure he just wanted to get away from the city.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Richard Gabrielle, who worked on the 103rd floor of the south tower, never made the trip back home to West Haven. He was 50.
Richard’s niece and goddaughter, Gabrielle Gabrielli, is the only member of Richard’s family who makes an annual trip to New York City from her home in Florida to partake in the annual memorial ceremony, reading the names of the victims. She said that for most others in the family, the memories are too painful, but for her it’s part of a healing process.
“They never found his remains, they never found his DNA, there’s
not a grave to visit, there’s not anywhere but ground zero or the World Trade Center site,” she said.
As a result, Gabrielli said she’s forged new familial connections, forever bonded to family members of others who died with her uncle Richie. When audio recordings of firefighter communication were released to the press a year later, the Gabrielle family — who thought Richard had died alone — received confirmation that he was not alone at the time.
While waiting for an express elevator with about 200 people on the 78th floor, Richard was knocked against a wall by an explosion, breaking both legs, and was pinned to the ground by a
marble slab that fell off a wall. New York City Fire Department Battalion Chief Orio Palmer spoke Richard’s name on those tapes, indicating he still was conscious when firefighters arrived, giving the family the knowledge that Richard did not die alone.
Gabrielli said she now has a close relationship with Palmer’s family.
“I feel like part of my mission is to thank the first responders,” she said.
Gabrielli said she had been expecting many requests from reporters for the 20th anniversary of the attacks, and she scheduled a time to speak with the Register so as not to interfere with an oncology
appointment — something she ties to the day she lost her uncle.
“I volunteered at ground zero for the few weeks after and got leukemia, which I’m in treatment for. (9/11) does define me in so many ways: it defines my health, my spirituality, my connection to my uncle Richie,” she said.
George Gabrielle, a former engineer at the Kennedy Space Center who now speaks at youth space programs, has a different approach to remembering 9/11 than his daughter Gabrielli. He said he is more concerned with keeping his brother’s memory alive and not leaving him in the past.
“We lose people in our lives all different ways. You still have to deal with it. For me, within hours and within days, I didn’t think of him in the World Trade Center, I thought of him having fun with me,” he said.
“I talk to him every day and I think of him every day and I laugh every day when I think of him.”
He said he remembers how funny his brother was. He said Richard would lovingly imitate family members, several of whom were from Italy and did not all speak English.
“He had ways to imitate them. I was laughing so hard I thought I might die from lack of breath,” he said.
Gabrielli said she, too, remembers those impressions.
“He just had the best sense of humor and the best way of looking at life and he always had everybody just laughing,” she said. “He would do impressions, including of my grandmother, and only those who knew my grandmother would crack up. He was just so full of light and laughter and love.”
When George Gabrielle visited New York City in the aftermath of the attack, he said he found it unsettling.
“There were people screaming and crying and yelling. That was the worst part of it for me,” he said.
Visiting West Haven in the aftermath was different, he said.
“I had talked to him the morning of 9/11 and we talked about what we were going to do on the weekend and stuff like that. It was kind of eerie in some ways when I went to his house after 9/11, I saw all these building supplies and a wheelbarrow,” he said. “It was something he had planned to do and it was left undone.”