Birmingham mother takes life one day at a time 20 years after losing son in 9/11 attacks

Local News

Melissa Turnage, right, with her son, Adam White, in Boulder, Colorado. White was killed during the 9/11 attacks. (Courtesy Melissa Turnage)

October 02 2021 06:00 pm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Adam White wasn’t supposed to be in New York that morning.

Alabamians recall traumatic 9/11 attacks 20 years later

On September 11, 2001, the 26-year-old Atlanta native was at his job in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower in Manhattan. He was originally supposed to be in South America that day for a new project, where he was developing an electronic trading program in carbon dioxide, but the meeting got postponed and he ended up staying in Manhattan.

At 8:46 a.m., a plane crashed into the building. Within 17 minutes, another plane hit the South Tower. Within two hours, both towers had collapsed.

White’s mother, Melissa Turnage, was walking with her class to chapel at the Baltimore school she taught at when she heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Unaware that her son was in the building, Turnage said a prayer for the people in the plane. By the time she left the chapel, the headmaster at the school was standing at the door.

“He said ‘Come with me,’” Turnage said. “He knew he was probably in the building.”

Turnage soon left school for the day, where she and his friends started trying to find out where he was.

“I tried to call him, but I couldn’t get a hold of him,” she said. “Friends were going to hospitals. They were frantically trying to find him. I kept saying in my head ‘Adam, answer your phone.’”

At one point during the day, Turnage said she felt like she heard a familiar voice.

“The voice said ‘Mom, I’m okay,’” she said. “I felt like that was him telling me “’I’m ok, I’m not here.’”

Turnage remembers how a reporter visited her at her home in Baltimore not long after the 9/11 attacks. During the interview, he asked her if she could ever forgive the people who caused White’s death, as well as thousands of other deaths that day.

She said she already had.

“He looked at me and asked ‘How is that possible,’ and I said ‘I don’t know, but I can tell you from my heart that that is the way I feel.”

Explaining her answer years later, Turnage said she felt those behind the attack were misguided and “wounded children.”

“If you grow up in a society where you are taught to hate as a child, they didn’t have a chance to see the world in a different way,” she said.

North Alabama man makes 9/11 tribute in with his yard

Now living in Birmingham as the artist in residence for UAB Institute for Arts in Medicine, Turnage said the grief has not gotten easier over the last 20 years. A big part of it was knowing that White had so many plans for his life.

“Making a difference in the world was very important for him,” she said. “He felt like he had a voice.”

Taking from his example, Turnage said she tries to live every day to the fullest.

“My way of coping is to try to do the best I can with the gifts and talents I’ve been given to help make a better world,” she said.

Over the years, Turnage has learned to better cherish the memories of White, like how he loved the outdoors and being with his friends and family.

“He was the light of our world,” she said. “I just keep him in my heart.”

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