Justice, not jubilance for Minnesotans who lost family

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — Erik Aamoth was watching baseball Sunday night when he first heard the news. As baseball fans were chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A!” the announcers explained Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Aamoth, whose brother Gordon died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, immediately flipped the channel to watch the news. Then, he woke up his wife.

“A lot of emotions just started pouring through me,” said Aamoth, who lives in Plymouth. “I was sobbing. I was pretty overwhelmed at that point.”

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For Aamoth and other Minnesotans who lost loved ones in the attacks or in the war that followed, the news that bin Laden had been killed renewed their grief and delivered a long-held desire for justice.

“It feels not jubilant to me, but it does feel like justice,” said Martha Burnett Pettee, of St. Paul. Her brother, Tom Burnett Jr., was on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.

“It brings back that day, and actually the entire year and time since then,” Burnett Pettee said. “It’s an odd big day.”

Gordon Aamoth Jr. and Tom Burnett Jr. were among several people with strong Minnesota ties who died in the attacks.

Aamoth was 32 years old and working for an investment banking firm in New York City on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center tower hit by the second plane.

“When the plane hit the first tower he called home and was safe. Then the security folks told them to stay where they were because there was no immediate danger,” Erik Aamoth said. “Obviously when the second plane hit the second tower then he wasn’t able to get out.”

In the years since Gordon’s death, the Aamoth family has gathered at Blake School in Hopkins on the anniversary of the attacks. There, a new football stadium was named in Gordon’s honor.

Aamoth said that while marking his brother’s death has brought comfort, his family always wanted bin Laden to be held accountable.

“There was some closure there,” Aamoth said.

Burnett was 38 years old and a business executive for a medical device company. He was flying from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco on the United Airlines flight that was hijacked by members of al-Qaida.

In his final moments, Burnett called home and told his wife the passengers were going to fight back against the hijackers. The plane crashed in Shanksville, Penn., killing all 33 passengers and seven crew members.

Burnett Pettee said life has never been the same.

“It’s exactly like the President said when he said there is an empty chair at the dinner table,” she said. “That is what life has been like for my brother’s daughters and it’s also incredibly hard on parents and sisters and nieces and nephews.”

Her family has been in constant contact since they heard the bin Laden death news. Burnett Pettee has exchanged text messages with her daughter, and has spoken with her mother and sister by phone.

After her brother’s death, the family started a foundation to help young people become good citizens and good leaders. Burnett Pettee said the terrorist attacks brought many people together.

“So much good has sprung up from this terrible tragedy,” she said.

Burnett Pettee said she hopes the foundations her family and others started following the attacks will have a resurgence now that the day are is again in the public spotlight.

Young people have also benefited from a scholarship fund set up by family and friends of the first soldier from Minnesota to be killed in Afghanistan.

Chief Warrant Officer Corey Goodnature served in the Army for 14 years and was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was killed in 2005. He was part of a Special Forces unit, his father, Don Goodnature, said.

Goodnature, of Clarks Grove, remembers that U.S. military officials thought Osama bin Laden was hiding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan at the time of his son’s death. Nearly six years later, Goodnature said the family still struggles with their loss.

“When you lose a child like that, you know, it’s the most important thing, (the) worst thing that could happen to you,” Goodnature said. “People pay a lot of attention right away but then as time goes on they forget. But you have to live with it. It’s something that we think about every day.”

Goodnature said the news of bin Laden’s death was bittersweet.

“It puts a little meaning to why they were there and we lost our son for that reason,” he said.