"A few days after the falling man picture was published, Peter Cheney a journalist from the Globe and Mail was asked to attempt to identify him. He had the image enhanced and immediately saw that the man was black or hispanic with a goatee and a waiter's jacket. Cheney thought that he might have jumped from Windows on the World restaurant which was crowded with over 150 guests and staff at the time of the attack.
He began to look for one man among the thousands who were missing that day. It seemed hopeless but late one night Cheney saw a photo near Times Square of a missing man in a white jacket; Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef. His sister, Milangros had seen the photo and thought it might be of her brother.
Cheney went to the funeral but the family refused to speak to him or look at the picture. Deeply religious they could not face the thought that their husband and father had chosen to end his life on that day. "I know what he was thinking, he was thinking of me, of his daughters, his grandchildren and his mother. 'I'm not gonna jump, I'm going to try and escape any way possible ... but the last thing I would do is jump out of the window.'" his wife said later. Cheney went on to publish an article where he identified Hernandez as the falling man.
Tom Junod, a writer for Esquire magazine was haunted by the photo and convinced that America needed to confront the falling man and the others who jumped to their death that day. "I felt the falling man had been pushed to the side, there was an element of exclusion that he died improperly and that we want to remember this day for its heroism and whether we think of the jumpers as heroic or not they should not be excluded from the consecrated ground of American soil because they died in a way that makes us uncomfortable." In the spring of 2003 he began to work on an article about it. "The falling man picture became the picture that nobody wanted to look at." (Listen to an interview with Tom Junod by NPR)
He contacted the photographer Richard Drew and discovered that there were a total of twelve photos depicting the man's descent. Looking at the sequence closely the falling man appeared more black than hispanic and in the final frame his white shirt had blown off to reveal an orange t-shirt. Junod also learned that kitchen workers in New York wore checked pants, not black ones like the man in the photo. He began to suspect that Cheney had identified the wrong man.
He showed the photos to Norberto Hernandez's daughter Catherine who was relieved to tell him that the photo was not of her father. Norberto had never owned an orange t-shirt. His widow Eulogia had prepared his clothes for the day and they didn't match the photo of the man. Eulogia begged Junod to clear her husband's name.
Junod began compiling a list of new possibilities and convinced the former staff at Windows to look at the photos in July 2003. One of the names on the list was Jonathan Briley a 43-year-old sound engineer who worked in the audiovisual department at Windows.
Junod asked Michael Lomanco, the executive chef at Windows to look at the photos. "My first reaction to the photographs was I didn't wanna see them, I didn't wanna handle them, I didn't wanna participate in this." But he did examine them closely. "Jonathan fit the body type, the size, colouration of the person in that photograph and it left the door open for me that there was a possibility that it was really Jonathan. I thought he was a terrific person...and I can only feel so bad for him having to have to suffered the way he did."
Jonathan's sister Gwendolyn recalls, "When I first looked at the picture it was almost like touching a hot stove. I looked at the figure and I saw it was a man - tall, slim. I said, 'If I didn't know better that could be Jonathan.'"
Jonathan Briley was identified by his younger brother Timothy in September 2001. His body was found on the ground beside the remains of the Trade Center. Timothy recognized his brother by his hands and feet. His clothes were destroyed but Timothy took one of his brother's shoes, a black velcro tennis shoe, home with him. Jonathan's remains were confirmed with DNA and dental analysis.
According to his family there is no record of Jonathan's last movements that day. There were no phone calls or text messages. Although forensic pathologists maintain that it's unusual for a body to fall 100 stories in one piece, it's not impossible.
Jonathan Briley did wear an orange t-shirt. But his wife was asleep when he left for work and can't confirm what clothes he had on that day. So it can never be for certain if Briley is the falling man.
His sister Gwendolyn, "I never thought of the falling man as Jonathan, I thought of him as a man that just took his life in his hands for just a second. Did that person have so much faith that he knew that God would catch him or was he afraid to experience the end up there? I hope we're not trying to figure out who he is and more to figure out who we are through watching it."" (CBC World News,
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