Published: 06:00, 11 September 2021
On September 11, 2001, the New York terror attacks claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people.
But until this week - 20 years on - the family of one victim from Kent have not spoken publicly of the tragedy that turned their world upside down...
Tucked away in the corner of a village churchyard near Canterbury is a simple headstone marking the final resting place of Steven Lawn.
But the date of his death - September 11, 2001 - is a clue to the tragedy which left a family grieving for a much-loved son, brother and husband.
Because Steven, 28, was in his office on the 82nd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York when terrorists crashed a second plane into the buildings, killing 2,996 people.
More than 3,500 miles away his brother Nick was watching the horrors unfold in a canteen at the Pfizer site in Sandwich, where he was working on a building project.
Now, on the 20th anniversary of the attack, he has spoken publicly for the first time of the fateful day that would change his family’s lives forever.
“I guess most people can recall what they were doing and I still remember it vividly, of course,” said the 55-year-old, who lives in Elmstone near Wingham.
“The television was on and there were images of one of the towers on fire. At first I thought it was some sort of disaster movie and wasn’t actually real.
“When the second tower was hit, and as the full horror of what was happening became clear, all I remember thinking was, ‘oh Jesus, I hope he’s not at work today’.
“I got on the phone straight away to Mum and Dad and they were already aware, and had been talking to Steve’s wife Vicky out in America.
“We knew straight away that the plane had hit well below where he would have been in the second tower.
“We tried calling him but all the phones were down and nothing was working.
“You hear stories of people getting out of disasters but when the tower collapsed, I just thought there was no way anyone could survive that.”
As time passed without contact, Steven’s family began to fear the worst.
“I clung on to hope with Mum and Dad and the family, but the longer it went on, in my heart of hearts, I knew he was gone,” Nick recalls.
“My sister Emma and I actually flew out to New York about a week after it happened but we couldn’t get near the site, and it was a nightmare trying to get any information. But at least we were able to see Vicky.”
Nick says that after giving up hope of Steven being found alive, they were nonetheless numbed but at the same time relieved some weeks later be told his body had been discovered and identified.
“It meant we were able to bring him home for a funeral in the December, which took place at Elmstone Church, where he is buried,” says Nick.
“I guess, in that sense, it was a crumb of comfort, and we were lucky because many people did not get their loved ones back.
“My wife Jo and I were married in that church in 1998 and Steve was my best man. But just two years later we were back for his funeral.”
Steven grew up in Broadstairs - where his parents John and Angela ran a newsagents - and went to St Lawrence College Junior School in Ramsgate.
He was the middle sibling of three, with older brother Nick and younger sister Emma.
He later went off to boarding school in Sherborne, Dorset, and then to University College London to study French and German.
But his career took him into the world of corporate insurance, and he started work for Aon in London.
“I was living and working there at the time too, and we would often meet up for a few beers,” said Nick.
"It just left a huge hole in their lives that would never be filled..."
“Steven was then offered the opportunity to work in Aon’s New York office and jumped at the chance. He was really enjoying it.
“He and his wife Vicky, whom he met at university, had only married 11 months earlier and had their whole life ahead of them.
“They were such a close couple and were so looking forward to starting a family.”
Nick, who jointly runs an architectural and building surveying company in Folkestone, described his younger brother as “big-hearted and outgoing”.
“He loved sport, especially hockey and rugby,” he remembers.
“One referee described his hockey style as ‘agricultural’, which earned him the nickname ‘Farmer’.
“He was also kind and thoughtful and great with kids.
“He would have made a fantastic teacher and actually went back to St Lawrence Junior School while at uni to do some teaching.
“The last time I saw him was just two weeks before he died, when he came home for a fleeting visit.
“We had lunch in Sandwich and said goodbye to him on the quay.
“If that had been two weeks later - but there are so many what-ifs.”
Nick says Steven’s death hit the family hard, especially his parents, who lived in West Stourmouth, between Canterbury and Thanet.
“It absolutely devastated Mum and Dad,” he said.
“ Mum could never really talk about it and was never the same after we lost Steve.
"Every Christmas, his birthday and on the anniversary of 9/11, we light candles and lay flowers at his grave..."
“We were a close family and dad was especially close to Steven. It just left a huge hole in their lives that would never be filled.
“Dad died in January this year and he’s buried next to Steve.
“Mum unfortunately now suffers with dementia and has recently had to move into a nursing home.”
Nick, a dad of two boys, says no family members have been back to New York since 2001, but friends have laid a rose at the 9/11 Memorial, which bears Steven’s name.
The family also light candles and lay flowers at his grave on the anniversary of his death, and also on his birthday and at Christmas.
“Steve had a special charisma and was just one of life’s nice guys, and was a great mate,” Nick said.
“He would have been 50 next year. We all still miss him dearly.”