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October 2, 2006

Flight 93 widow fights back

In the classroom, Deena Burnett was a quiet person, remembered Joel Willer, assistant professor of mass communications at ULM. Willer introduced his former student, a 1985 grad who majored in radio, television and film, to a packed audience in Brown Auditorium Sept. 29. Reflecting on who she is today - a woman who travels the country speaking on behalf of Sept. 11 victims' families - she certainly has found her voice, he said.

That voice kept the audience captive as Deena recalled her last telephone conversations with her husband Tom Burnett, shortly before he helped storm the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93, and ultimately kept the plane from striking its apparent target of either the White House or the Capitol.

The plane crashed in a remote field in Pennsylvania.

She recalled a particularly painful moment when she mistakenly thought her husband was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

"I just started wailing - not just crying, I was wailing. There were sounds coming out of me that I did not recognize and I couldn't stop. My children started dancing around me, thinking I was playing a game with them. They were laughing and then they saw the tears and they started crying. And they climbed on my lap and still I couldn't stop. The phone rang and it was Tom.

I said, 'Tom you're OK. 'No, I'm not,' he said."

She shared the rest of her husband's words, including his last to Deena, "We're going to do something."

It's been five years since that tragedy, and it's long past time to move on, she said. But it's just as important to remember the passengers' actions on that day because they serve as lessons for everyone.

"We have a responsibility to think of others and live beyond ourselves."

Similar to what can be found in her new book, "Fighting Back: Living Life Beyond Ourselves," Deena talked about the importance of being a good citizen, an every day hero, someone who does the right thing at the right time.

"You and I have that opportunity every day, to affect those living around us. If Tom was here, and you asked him about his actions on Flight 93, he would laugh. He didn't like being called a hero. He didn't like the word 'hero.' He was just doing the right thing and being a good citizen."

Deena's address was part of the ULM Business Symposium, sponsored by the College of Business. This year's theme was "Responsible Citizenship."

Deena's new book can be purchased at the ULM Bookstore.

More about Deena Burnett:

Deena founded The Tom Burnett Family Foundation, which provides curriculum-based programs on citizenship, leadership, and community for young people and educators.

For more information about the foundation visit:

Deena successfully spearheaded an effort to have the Flight 93 cockpit voice recording released in April 2002. She is currently the lead plaintiff in an unprecedented lawsuit to bankrupt terrorist organizations. Twice, she served as a witness in the criminal trials of Al Qaeda members in Europe. In addition to volunteering in her church and community, Deena serves on the boards of the Tom Burnett Family Foundation, Ballet Arkansas, The Twentieth Century Club, and the Families Against the Funding of Terrorism. She is also a speaker for the Young America's Foundation and travels around the country speaking to civic organizations and universities. She resides in Little Rock, Ark. with her three daughters Halley, Madison, and Anna Clare, her new husband, Rodney, and his son Tanner.

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