Dr.Sneha Philip died in the WTC ruins after all, a New York court said Friday.
A married doctor last seen on Sept. 10, 2001, she was not the victim of her 'reckless' lifestyle and did not run off to start a new life - she was killed trying to save lives at the Twin Towers, the appeals court ruled.
AdvertisementSneha Philip's disappearance has been the source of intense speculation over the years, with the Medical Examiner's Office in 2004 removing her name from the official list of World Trade Center victims.
Investigators had said she might have been murdered by someone she'd picked up in a bar the night before the terror attacks.
In a 4-1 ruling, the state Appellate Division said the simplest explanation is the most likely - the doctor died trying to help people at the site of the attacks two blocks from her Battery Park City apartment.
'While it is logically possible that [Philip] died by some other means on that date, either by random violence or at the hands of someone she met the night before, there is no factual basis in the evidence for that conclusion,' Justice David Saxe wrote.
'Even without direct proof irrefutably establishing that her route that morning took her past the World Trade Center at the time of 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.'
Marc Bogatin, the lawyer for Philip's husband, Ron Lieberman, and for her parents, said the ruling 'will give closure' to her family.
'There's now no question her name will be restored to the official list and that her name will be added to the list of those who died at the memorial, and that's a source of comfort to the family to know that,' he said.
It's unclear what monetary significance the ruling may have for Philip's family. While it has been estimated that family members might have been entitled to between $2 million and $3 million from the federal Victim Compensation Fund, Lieberman's earlier application was rejected and the fund is now closed, reports New York Post.
One of those who hadn't been sure how Philip died was Ellen Winner, who was been appointed her legal guardian in a Manhattan Surrogate's Court case involving the doctor's estate. Winner raised numerous red flags about the lifestyle of the 31-year-old physician.
Winner found Philip had 'frequented bars (including several bars that cater to women customers) and spent the night with individuals she met there' who 'tended to be strangers,' and made reference to a police report where she'd been accused of 'abusing drugs and alcohol' and 'conducting bisexual acts.'
Saxe called those claims unreliable hearsay, finding Winner's implication that Philip 'recklessly engaged in extramarital sexual relations with dangerous strangers she met in bars is not a conclusion permitted by the evidence.'
He noted Lieberman had acknowledged that he and his wife of one year had an unusual relationship and she sometimes stayed out all night, but 'there is no question that they had a happy marriage and, importantly, there was no evidence that his wife's nights out involved any risky behavior.'
Lieberman said he last saw his wife on the morning of Sept. 10. That evening she shopped at the Century 21 store near the WTC but didn't return home that night.
Lieberman, a doctor who now lives in California, said that on nights she stayed out, she'd typically return home to their Rector Street apartment between 7 and 9 a.m.
'Consequently, it may be inferred that she was returning home on Sept. 11, 2001, within that time frame,' and the evidence established that her 'outgoing personality made it likely that she would volunteer to aid injured people,' the court said.
However, the New York magazine had come out with a stunning report in June last. It said city officials believed that Sneha led a secret double life.
Sneha and Ron met in 1995 at Chicago Medical School. She was a pretty and gregarious Indian girl who had grown up in Albany. He was a Jewish boy from L.A. with shoulder-length hair and a goatee. She was an artist, he played guitar—they stood out among their medical-school classmates and before long started dating. Sneha was a year ahead of Ron in school, so when things got serious, she took a year off, traveling around Italy, to let him catch up.
The couple graduated in 1999 and landed internships in New York—Ron at Jacobi, Sneha at the Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan. They found a roomy, dark one-bedroom apartment on East 19th Street and began to build a life together. They worked interns' hours but still found time to spend with each other. They favored the jazz clubs of Greenwich Village and hole-in-the-wall sushi joints near Gramercy Park. Their life suited Sneha. She was near her brother, who lived on Greenwich Street, and only an hour-long train trip from her parents, who now lived in Dutchess County.
In May 2000, the couple got married in a Jewish-Indian celebration before 250 guests at a Dutchess County inn. At the end of the ceremony, Ron placed around Sneha's neck a gift from her mother: a teardrop-shaped gold minnu, the traditional Indian wedding pendant. At the reception, he had the band play a jazz tune he composed for the evening titled 'Wow! She's So Great.'
Less than a year and a half later, Ron was walking the streets with photocopies of his wife's picture.
Police reports and court records describe a life that was reeling out of control in the months leading up to Sneha's disappearance. Citing tardiness and 'alcohol-related issues,' Cabrini's director of residents had informed Sneha in the spring of 2001 that her contract would not be renewed—for interns, the equivalent of being fired. Shortly thereafter, Sneha got into a dispute at a bar that landed her in jail for a night. She claimed that on an evening out with co-workers, a fellow intern grabbed her inappropriately. She filed a criminal complaint, but after conducting an investigation, the Manhattan D.A.'s office dropped the charges against the alleged groper and instead charged Sneha with filing a false complaint. The prosecutors offered to drop the charge if Sneha recanted, but she refused. She was arrested and spent a night behind bars, where she meditated with a cellmate.
Sneha was also experiencing 'marital problems' in the months after she was fired from Cabrini, according to court papers, and 'often stayed out all night with individuals (not known to her husband) whom she met at various bars.' She favored the loungy midtown lesbian bar Julie's, the rocker-dyke bar Henrietta Hudson's, and the divey gay rock club Meow Mix. According to the investigations, Sneha's indiscretions appear to have reached a low point in the month prior to her disappearance. A police report says that her brother John walked in on her and his girlfriend—now the mother of his son—having sex. Her alleged struggles with depression, alcohol, and her sexuality spilled over into her new job as well. Staten Island's St. Vincent's Medical Center suspended her for failing to meet with her substance-abuse counselor.
Apparently these problems reared up again on the day she disappeared. Sneha had a court date on the morning of September 10, 2001, where she pleaded not guilty to the charge of filing a false complaint. Ron went with her before he left for work. According to the police report, the couple got into a 'big fight' at the courthouse because Ron was upset that Sneha 'was abusing drugs and alcohol and was conducting bisexual acts.' In this account, Sneha stormed out of court, leaving Ron behind.
Unable to tie Sneha's death to the attacks, the medical examiner's office removed Sneha's name from the official list of 9/11 victims in January 2004. 'This particular lady was known to be missing the day before,' explains Ellen Borakove, the medical examiner's spokesperson. 'They had no evidence to show that she was alive on 9/11.' And in November 2005, a Manhattan judge denied Ron's petition to set Sneha's date of death on September 11, 2001. Judge Renee Roth ruled that Sneha officially died on September 10, 2004—as set forth by state law, three years to the day after her 'unexplained absence commenced.' Because Ron could not produce a 9/11 death certificate, the Compensation Fund denied his claim. Based on Sneha's age and potential earnings, the claim would have been worth about $3 million to $4 million, according to an attorney who represented numerous other families who sought compensation. The police still don't know what happened to Sneha, but the implication of the court decision is obvious: Sneha was just as likely to have left her husband, committed suicide, or even been the victim of a violent crime as to have rushed into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
But such reports have been discarded by the appeals court.