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Kazakhstan: Parents Grieve For Daughter Lost In September 11 Attacks

The parents of Zhanetta Tsoi with a picture of her (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, September 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were a tragedy for more than just the United States. In the days following the toppling of the World Trade Center, U.S. leaders pointed repeatedly to the fact that there were many foreign nationals among the more than 2,700 people who died at "Ground Zero." Families in many countries were left grieving sons, daughters, spouses, and parents who had traveled to the United States, only to fall victim to one of the most infamous attacks in modern history.

Raisa Tsoi thinks about her daughter, Zhanetta, every day of her life. This time of year, she says, those memories are especially painful.

"She was our only daughter," Raisa says. "She worked for the company Marsh -- that's the reason she went to America. She should have started work on September 27 [2001], but she went two weeks early. On September 10, she started work -- that was Monday. And on Tuesday, September 11, it happened."

Living A Dream

Zhanetta Tsoi was 32 years old. An ethnic Korean living in Kazakhstan, she was preparing to live her dream. She had just received her U.S. green card, left her parents in Kazakhstan, and took her then 11-year-old daughter to live in New York. She would work for the world's largest risk-management and insurance brokerage, located on the top floors of the World Trade Center.

Zhanetta's father, Valentin, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that his daughter had chosen New York over other possibilities.

"She got a green card, and they proposed three cities for her in America -- Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco," he recalls. "But she chose New York."

...Until Tragedy Struck

Then came September 11, 2001. Far away, at home in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the Tsoi family watched in horror as events unfolded in New York.

"On the first day, when it happened, we watched television and we didn't know what to do," Raisa says. "We called and called to America. There was no connection for three days. We waited and waited."

When no word came from the United States, Zhanetta's company paid for the Tsois to come to New York. They arrived on September 17 and spent the next two weeks going to every hospital they could find, searching for their daughter.

"We always had hope, constantly we hoped that she would be found somewhere, that she was in some hospital and they just couldn't find her," Raisa says. "We kept hoping."

Months Of Uncertainty

By month's end, they still had no news and were forced to return to Kazakhstan. In December, U.S. authorities sent word that they might have found Zhanetta Tsoi's remains and requested objects that could help with DNA testing.

"In April (2002), they sent us a DNA analysis from the FBI," Valentin says. "The identification of this DNA showed that it was her. They had asked us for DNA samples from [us], and we sent [them]. Then we sent samples of clothing that she wore. We still had some things at home, and we sent those, too. And all this was identical to the material they had."

There is one piece of information haunts the Tsoi family in particular, her father says.

"It's amazing, but they found her [remains] near the main exit -- and we have thought that she didn't make it out by perhaps one or two minutes," Valentin says.

They still wonder whether one or two more minutes might have been enough for Zhanetta to reach safety.

Five years later, the Tsois are left with and memories of a daughter -- and mother -- whose life was cut short at just 32.

'Eternal In Our Memories'

"This year, we want [our relatives] to gather," Raisa says. "We will remember her. She remains for us so young...[and] beautiful -- eternal in our memories."

Valentin Tsoi says that most of all, his hope is that no other family -- no other parents -- must endure what he and his wife have suffered:

"We just have the hope that such a thing doesn't happen again, that tragedy isn't repeated -- terrible tragedy," Valentin says. "It is difficult even to think about it."

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service correspondent Gulmira Khamza interviewed the Tsoi family members, and correspondent Yerzhan Karabekov contributed. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier also contributed.)

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