Missing doctor declared dead in '9/11'

February 1, 2008 10:22:54 AM PST
The last known image of Dr. Sneha Anne Philip was captured on a department store security camera across the street from the World Trade Center. Its date: Sept. 10, 2001. Philip's friends and family have never seen her again, and relatives are convinced she died in the terrorist attack on the trade center the next day.

An appeals court bolstered the family's belief Thursday, rejecting a previous ruling that said there was no proof Philip was at ground zero during the attack.

"The evidence shows it to be highly probable that she died that morning and at that site, whereas only the rankest speculation leads to any other conclusion," the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division wrote.

The ruling could clear the way for Philip's name to be added to the official Sept. 11 death toll, although the victims' list is overseen by the city's chief medical examiner. Spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said the examiner's office would need to review the ruling before a decision could be made.

The decision is the latest episode in a long-running mystery that began the night before the terror attacks, when Philip was photographed by a surveillance camera at the Century 21 store. She was carrying two shopping bags.

She left her passport and identification behind, never subsequently used her credit cards and left many personal items at home, the court said.

"I am 100 percent sure she perished in the World Trade Center," her father, Philip K. Philip, said Thursday. "We believe that she was there."

Philip told her mother days before the attack that she planned, at some point, to visit the Windows on the World restaurant atop the trade center's north tower. Her family also said the trade center could have been on her route home, and Philip, a resident at St. Vincent's Hospital, might have stopped as a doctor to help wounded people before the towers collapsed.

The court said evidence "powerfully suggests that she was in the area at the time of the attacks, either returning home, or having just left home again five minutes before the first attack ... to look at Windows on the World or to some other errand."

The court said no evidence was ever found that Philip had run away or had been killed elsewhere in New York.

Philip's husband, Dr. Ronald Lieberman, petitioned successfully to have her declared dead in 2004. His attempt to have her declared dead in the terrorist attack was denied in Manhattan Surrogate's Court in 2006.

That decision relied in part on a court-appointed guardian's report that Philip put her life at risk by "drug and alcohol abuse," or spent nights with strangers she met in bars. The court said Thursday there was no evidence to support that report's conclusions.

Lieberman's lawyer, Marc Bogatin, said Philip did not come home the night of Sept. 10. He said she sometimes stayed with friends overnight and usually arrived home between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the couple's apartment in the Battery Park City neighborhood, which is near ground zero.

According to Thursday's ruling, Lieberman had said he was upset when Philip didn't tell him where she was spending her nights, calling it a "point in our relationship that we were trying to work out."

No remains of Philip have ever been found, but the remains of more than 1,100 victims on the victims' list have not been identified. Philip's was one of the last three names removed, in 2004, from the victims' death toll, which once stood at over 9,000.

One victim was added last May to the toll of 2,749: Felicia Dunn-Jones, an attorney who died of lung disease five months after being caught in the twin towers' dust cloud.

Philip was born in Kerala, India, and moved to the United States as a young child. She was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Chicago Medical School.

Philip's family buried an urn filled with ashes from ground zero in her memory. Her relatives attended Sept. 11 anniversary ceremonies with victims' family members for a few years after the 2001 attacks. Her father said the recent recovery of hundreds of long-buried remains from ground zero gave him hope that his daughter would finally be identified.

"I was hoping that something will come up," he said.


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