On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lorne Lyles returned home from his 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift like any other morning.
As a police officer with the Fort Myers Police Department, his job required him to see horrors on a daily basis that many wouldn’t hope to see once in a lifetime.
Nothing would prepare him for the tragedy that he would face just hours later.
Around 4 a.m. that morning, as he did each morning, he made a wake-up call to his wife of just over a year, CeeCee, a flight attendant with United Airlines.
Before flying the skies, CeeCee Ross Lyles, 33, worked as a police officer with the Fort Myers police department, where she and Lorne, met.
“You know, this was a woman who went through female officer survivor school for the Miami-Dade Police Department,” Lyles says of his wife, who had six years on the police force. “This was a tough woman."
On the morning of Sept. 11, they talked several times as she made her way to the airport and until she made it to airport security. When she reached security before she boarded UA’s Flight 93, she told Lyles she would call him back.
That would be one of the last times Lyles, now age 41, would speak to his wife.
He took their young son to school and returned home to sleep, but a barrage of phone calls woke him shortly thereafter. At that point, he had no idea of the terrorist attacks that had taken place that morning.
“I kept hearing the phone ringing in my sleep and I’m like, ‘Who would keep calling and keep calling’?” Lyles remembers. “I just sat the phone next to the bed and the next phone call I received was from CeeCee.”
CeeCee’s words made his heart stop in the moment.
“She said, ‘Babe, my flight has been hijacked.’”
The plane, which was en route to San Francisco, had abruptly changed course for Washington, D.C. Four terrorists had taken control of the plane.
Lorne immediately thought it was joke, though his wife had never done so before.
CeeCee told Lyles that the crew and passengers onboard Flight 93 had heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center. She told him about the plan to overtake the plane from the four terrorists on board, but she was cut short.
She told Lorne to tell their four sons that she loved them.
“She said, ‘OK, I got to go, got to go,’” he says, “and next thing I know, I heard some screams, then we got disconnected.”
The plane crashed in a grassy field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, diverting the terrorist’s plan. There were no survivors.
Every day brings the family closer to healing. “Well, just individually, we all handle it differently,” Lyles says.
Lorne and Cee’s four children — two each from previous marriages — were between the ages of 6 and 16 at the time of the attacks and struggled to overcome the grief of losing their mother.
Counseling and prayer has helped the family carry on.
For Lyles, this 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks is especially significant. It will be a time to reconnect with other surviving family members at the crash site in Shanksville, where he will honor the heroic actions of CeeCee and others onboard Flight 93.
“You know it’s something that can never be forgotten,” Lorne says. “This is a celebratory thing for me. This is just truly, truly, celebrating my wife’s life and her legacy.”
The outpouring of support from friends, family members and even strangers has proven just that.
In 2003, the city of Fort Pierce, Florida — CeeCee’s hometown — erected a bronze statue in Veteran’s Park, where CeeCee stands in her full flight attendant’s uniform, and installed a plaque in her honor.
Construction for the National Flight 93 Memorial is underway in Shanksville at the site of the crash.
Though CeeCee’s life was taken 10 years ago, she is always in Lyles’ heart and her spirit will live on forever.
“That’s my guardian angel,” he says. “That’s what she is. She is my guardian angel.”
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