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9/11 widow praises Obama for compassion

By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2011

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It was shaping up to be just another quiet Sunday night for 9/11 widow Christine Coombs of Abington when the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke and all the memories of that fateful September day came rushing back.

“I just broke down,’’ Coombs said. “It completely blew me away, I literally shook for an hour.’’

Yesterday in Manhattan, after President Obama paid tribute to the fallen in a ceremony at ground zero, he met with several relatives of the 9/11 victims, including Coombs, in an emotional gathering at the temporary site of the memorial.

Coombs said Obama greeted all the family members warmly and spoke to them about the mission by US Navy Seals that killed bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan.

“He said to us: ‘We did this for you. We remain committed to you,’ ’’ Coombs said.

Coombs, whose husband Jeffrey died on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower, said the families arrived about 45 minutes before the president. After the president spoke to the group, he went around to each table and talked to everyone individually, she said. Coombs said she showed Obama pictures of her children, and they spoke of how Coombs’s children were the same age as Obama’s daughters when the towers fell.

“I thanked him for sticking to the job, and said I was very proud of the military for the job they did,’’ Coombs said. “He was very compassionate, very warm. He didn’t act rushed at all.’’

Coombs said Obama spoke at length to the many children in attendance as well, and she felt that his visit was well received by the family members who were present.

“He told us he understood in a way that we could tell, he really did,’’ she said. “It was almost like talking to an old friend. It really humanized him, being in the same room with him.’’

Coombs asked the president to come and meet with the many people in Massachusetts who lost family members on 9/11 either in Boston or Washington, and Obama was very receptive to the idea.

“He said ‘Let’s make that happen,’ ’’ she said. After speaking with members of the president’s staff, Coombs said she was confident the meeting would take place.

While she was pleased to hear of the Al Qaeda leader’s death, Coombs said it was bittersweet news. “As my daughter said, ‘This is a good thing, mom, but it doesn’t change much for us,’ ’’ she said.

Although she said she will never get over 9/11, Coombs said yesterday was important in the healing process. “It’s something I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life,’’ she said.

Stewart Bishop can be reached at sbishop@globe.com.