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The Independent (London)

September 15, 2001, Saturday


LENGTH: 1537 words


BYLINE: Russ Baker


    EDNA CINTRON was a perfect wife. Other than that, she was an ordinary person: a prototypical New Yorker of modest means and education, without powerful friends, glittering assets or a thrilling day-to-day life. She had her job, and she had her husband.

    On Wednesday of this week, her husband, William, was wandering the streets of Manhattan, carrying her photo, trying to get information on her whereabouts and condition. Edna, an attractive 46-year-old with long, curly hair and prominent green eyes, worked in One World Trade Centre, the North Tower of the gargantuan complex, on the 97th floor. When the first plane hit, its primary impact was on the 93rd to 100th floors. Mr. Cintron seemed aware that, with the combination of the low live-body recovery rate and the location of his wife at the time of the attack, the odds of his ever seeing her again were infinitesimally low. Nevertheless, he kept looking.

    Mr. Cintron, a lean 44-year-old with short, dark hair, had been to several locations, including St Vincent's Hospital, a key treatment centre in the Greenwich Village area, hoping against hope that she might have been brought there. They had no record of her. He had also tried to get to lower Manhattan, to help out on the disaster scene, but was turned away. "They said we'd interfere. We can't just be in the way."

    On Thursday, he was at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, looking for the correct line to file a missing person's form. The Armory, just south of midtown and several miles outside the disaster zone, had been designated as the key processing centre for missing person information. Although used for years primarily for arts and antiques exhibitions, the Armory is a fortress-like structure with gun bays overlooking Lexington Avenue. It is inscribed with the names of some of America's greatest battles: Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run.

    With a small entourage (a son from a previous marriage and two friends), Mr. Cintron wandered amid the huge crowd gathered on all four corners of 26th Street and Lexington - the law enforcement personnel, the volunteers, the media, the onlookers - then was directed by traffic officers past canvas-covered military vehicles and through a crazy crosshatch of moving ambulances, and marked and unmarked police vehicles, to one particular corner. A long queue went up Lexington and turned down 26th Street. "Wow, is that the line?" he asked. "That's a long line."

    A police officer approached Mr. Cintron, who was wearing jeans and a yellow polo shirt with a Puerto Rican flag keychain in the breast pocket, and asked if he had completed a form yet. He had filled out questionnaires at other locations, but they couldn't be certain it had been the correct official paperwork, so they gave him one of theirs. It was seven pages long.

    Mr. Cintron borrowed a pen and began to write. He entered his wife's name, checked the box for female, noted their address and various contact phone numbers, then stopped to see how much more details were required. The authorities needed what looked to be hundreds of pieces of information. A detailed physical description. Medical and dental profile and history, blood type, doctor contacts. Had she had any surgery? Were there any old fractures? Did she have any steel plates in her body? Identifiable scars?

    Volunteers passed, some wearing signs saying "counsellor" or "chaplain", others offering a steady supply of nourishment: apples, energy bars, McDonald's hamburgers, bagels, glazed doughnuts, and orange juice. "New York City's a powerful place," said Mr. Cintron. "The response has been wonderful." He glanced again at the sheaf of papers. Clothing she might have been wearing. Type and description of dress, blouse, hose, slip, girdle, bra, skirt, belt, belt buckle; whether she wore her watch on the right or left wrist. Mr. Cintron glanced over the pages, and stopped. Then he began talking about his wife.

    Edna Cintron was born on October 14, 1954. She was 46 years old. She was born in Puerto Rico, and brought to New York by her mother when she was about five. They were poor. A clerical worker for the New York City board of education, mami used to take two boiled eggs to work so she didn't have to buy lunch. She gave Edna a weekly allowance of several cents. Edna had an older sister, Myrna, who now lives in New Jersey, and a long- estranged brother.

    Edna's family lived in lower Manhattan, on Delancey Street, in a neighbourhood famous for waves of ethnic immigration. She was very private about her childhood, didn't like to talk about it. "She experienced a lot of stuff," her husband said. She made it through the 11th grade, but did not graduate from high school. (Recently, she was going to school to prepare herself for a GED, a test that is the equivalent of a high school diploma and is crucial to career advancement.)

    Edna and William met in 1987. William had gone to visit his brother at his brother's girlfriend's house in Upper Manhattan. He walked into the kitchen, and found Edna sitting at the kitchen table, chatting with her friend. "I asked my brother who this young lady might be," he recalls. Edna, who retains her attractiveness in recent photos, was a knockout back then. William was immediately smitten, and sat down to talk. "I was charming at that time; I wore cashmere," he said. He remembers finding her intelligent. William, then 30, had been married briefly, years before, and had two children who lived with their mother. Edna, who was 32, had never been married.

    "We started spending quality time," Mr. Cintron said. Although both had been seeing other people when they met, they soon were an item. Every morning he would drive from his Brooklyn apartment all the way up to the north end of Manhattan where she lived, pick her up, and bring her to work in midtown. Then he would head to his own job. Given New York traffic, it was a Herculean commute, rare as a badge of commitment even for the most romantic couples. He has a simple explanation. "When you're in love, this is something that's important." A couple of months after they met, they moved into an apartment in Brooklyn, and were married two years later.

    Edna was not able to conceive, so they did not have children. They talked about adopting, but never did, usually delaying the move for financial reasons.

    Like a lot of resourceful couples, they juggled jobs and entrepreneurship to handle their bills. In recent years, Edna worked at Manhattan's southern tip, first in the World Financial Centre (which was also damaged in Tuesday's attack) and about two years ago took a job in the World Trade Centre with the computer support section of Marsh McClennan, a large insurance broker, where she was the billing administrator's assistant. It was a hectic job, and often tiring, but no harder than William's. He worked as a doorman in an apartment building on the swanky Upper East Side, five days a week, from 7am to 3pm. Then, each work day after three, he drove to the Harlem flower shop they jointly owned, Sweet William's Florist, where he laboured until 8pm. He was at the florist's on Saturdays, and Edna joined him there often on Sundays. "She was good with people," he said.

    Mr. Cintron, speaking in a soft voice with an urban Hispanic tinge, described his missing wife in very simple, very stark terms. "She was a good wife," he said. "She took care of me like I was her son. She would get out of work and go straight home and start cooking and cleaning, getting things organised. She was a very special wife."

    Although she took such care of him, and made him feel protected, she was no pushover. "She spoke her mind," he said with quiet admiration.

    Much of their existence revolved around home life at the apartment they lived in for nine years, in a quiet Queens neighbourhood. For fun, they liked going on cruise holidays, and had been to Bermuda, Mexico and Jamaica. They would drive several hours upstate to Bear Mountain State Park for barbecues with friends and relatives. Edna also enjoyed trips to the casinos of Atlantic City. "She'd play a little, then we would go to the buffets and eat," said Mr Cintron. "It's good to get out of New York."

    Basically, Edna and William were each others' hobbies. When they weren't at work, they spent all of their time together. "Fourteen years with her, that was my life, my world. I knew when I went home I was in the best of hands, loved, cared for."

    Now, as the Armory line moved forward, a volunteer came over to help Mr. Cintron complete the identification form. "How would you describe her body type, her build," the woman asked, uttering a small, nervous laugh intended to comfort. "Her eye colour?"

    "Did she have her hair coloured? You know, did she have any highlights?"

    Edna Cintron's hobby, it seems, was collecting angels. The Cintrons are Catholics, but only went to church occasionally. Nevertheless, she had a lot of angels, in all kinds of forms, framed paintings depicting them, little porcelain angel figurines.

    "Long fingernails? Were they painted?"

     It was time to get out of Mr. Cintron's way. He thanked me for my interest. "She was a good wife," he said.



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