Friday, July 6, 2012
By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
ARNOLD, PA (ANS) -- Lillie Leonardi served for over 25 years as a law enforcement professional. During her tenure she was employed as a municipal police officer, a chief of police and as a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pittsburgh Division.
According to her website www.lillieleonardi.com , after entering retirement, Lillie now endeavors to pursue her life-long passion of writing. In doing so, she is developing the many stories of her life into the chapters of her books.
Lillie Leonardi with her book
(Photo via ABC News website).
Lillie's website says that after more than nine years, and as a result of her personal experiences at the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville (PA), Lillie recently completed a 200-page book detailing a deeply spiritual event that took place at the site on 9-11. Entitled 'In The Shadow Of A Badge: A Spiritual Memoir,' the book reflects her story about the visitation of Angels during the first hours at the crash site.
Lillie's book is a narrative non-fiction, first-hand account of the spiritual experience Lillie encountered while serving in her professional capacity as the Community Affairs Coordinator with the FBI (Pittsburgh Division).
Her site says: "What she saw and/or heard is a personal interpretation of the events leading up to and following 9-11 and, in particular, the Flight 93 crash. The book also details her ongoing journey of personal healing and recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following her experiences that day."
In her first book, "In the Shadow of a Badge/A Spiritual Memoir," Lillie shares the story of what she witnessed at the Flight 93 crash site during the events of 9/11. The pages she penned provide a personal account of her 13 days at Shanksville - including the tale of angelic visitations before, during and after 9/11 - revealed during her subsequent treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In an excerpt of Chapter 2, entitled: 'SHANKSVILLE: A FIELD OF ANGELS,' Lillie writes: "As we arrived at the crash site, the fire personnel with all of their trucks and equipment were just leaving. They had just finished extinguishing the fire that had ignited as a result of the plane's jet fuel. As we drove past the vehicles with all of the personnel and apparatus hanging from the trucks, my eyes glanced at the many faces of the firefighters perched on their seats and ladders. With every new face that I peered at, I thought that I saw a glimpse of despair in each set of eyes. It was in that moment that I realized that none of us was alone in our quest to serve. It was a comforting thought but one that chilled the very essence of my soul. If we were truly not alone, how was it possible that such a devastating incident could take place in the quiet rural area of Pennsylvania? Why hadn't so many people been able to prevent such a travesty? It was a question that still ha unts and remains with me to this day and one that I ponde r on all too many an occasion.
"As we left the safety of our vehicle, we began to walk the area of the crash site. The smell of fuel, of burning wood and smoldering pine hung low across the air. The smells were so thick that they burned my nose. It was hard to breath. The smells permeated through my nose and into my lungs and I felt the need to hold my breath. It was in that moment that I was again reminded of my first days as a novice cop and had smelled the odor of death. It is a smell that one never forgets. I was called to the home of an elderly man who hadn't been heard from for a few days. His family and neighbors had made repeated attempts to contact him and were worried about his safety. As I walked onto the front porch of the home on that warm summer day with my partner, my nose caught the scent of a smell that I was not familiar with. It wouldn't take long to learn from the veteran officer that this was the scent of death. When we entered the house, the smell was so intense that it took everything I had not to lose my dinner. The smell of the rotted flesh raced into my nostrils and lingered there for a long time. It was an odor that never left the memory banks of my rote mind and it is a smell that will stay with me until my dying day.
"On this day, the shimmer of light began to grow and was almost blinding. I looked again and the light began to evolve into a foggy white mist. The white mist then began to take shape. It moved and swirled in patterns of spectacular white light. All at once, the mist took full shape and I saw what appeared to be angels. There were angels standing in the open area to the left of the crash site. There were hundreds of them standing in columns. There was a field of angels emerging from the realms of the mist. They were Archangels with their wings arched up toward the sky."
On her website, Lillie states that from 1998 to 2010, she was employed by the FBI (Pittsburgh Division) as Community Affairs Coordinator. During her tenure with the FBI, Lillie's primary focus and research related to the topic of violence prevention. Also, she worked under the auspice of the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Pennsylvania and served with a prestigious group of instructors who provided training on various subjects including: Community Policing, Crime Prevention, Cultural Diversity, Hate Crimes, Responding to a Major Incident, Threat Assessment and Violence Reduction Techniques; as well as other related topics.
Her website says that during 9-11 and in the days that followed, Lillie was utilized by the FBI to address the many representatives from the law enforcement and government agencies assisting with evidence recovery and preparations for two Flight 93 memorial services. Moreover, she not only served as primary liaison to the United Airlines Humanitarian Response Team, presenting at daily briefings and interacting with surviving family members, but also was the lead representative authorized to bring surviving family members to the crash site location for Flight 93 memorial services.
Post 9/11, Lillie was tasked to intervene with leaders of the Muslim community and develop an open dialogue of communication between the populace and representatives of the FBI, Pittsburgh Division. She was also the contact representative for three other projects relating to Flight 93: Smithsonian Institute, the Heinz History Museum (Pittsburgh, PA), as well as the Flight 93 Oral History Project coordinated by the Department of Interior and based in Somerset, Pennsylvania.
The site says: "As a result of her outstanding service to the community, Lillie received numerous awards including the following: Letter of Commendation - 2001/United Airlines, Ebony and Ivory Award - 2001/Pittsburgh Women of Spirit, Voice in the Wilderness Award - 2008/Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and Community Outreach Program Service Award - 2008/Federal Bureau of Investigation."
The site goes on to state that Lillie is "well-versed in the art of public speaking and says she is equally comfortable addressing intimate community gatherings of less than 100 members or large regional conferences with thousands of attendees."
While employed by the FBI, her duties included serving as the primary spokesperson for all topics relating to community affairs. Many of the presentations were conducted during times of great distress within a community. On innumerable occasions, Lillie gave public addresses regarding a myriad of topics to both large and small groups. She has also served as a keynote speaker at several large regional conferences on the topics of Cultural Diversity in the 21 Century and Women in the Law Enforcement Profession, among other subjects.
Her website states that prior to her career with the FBI, Lillie worked as the lead law enforcement officer on two college campuses located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was appointed the first female chief of police for Chatham University (1994) and the Director of Security for Carlow University (1992). In 1984, Lillie was appointed to serve as the first female police officer with the City of Arnold, Pennsylvania. While employed with the police department, she specialized in crimes against children investigations and crime prevention.
According to an online article posted at www.ABCNews.go.com , Lillie Leonardi served as a liaison between law enforcement and the families of the passengers and crew members killed in the United Airlines Flight 93 crash. She arrived on the scene about three hours after the crash.
The ABC News story says that although Leonardi's book, "In the Shadow of a Badge: A Spiritual Memoir," centers on her vision of angels, she argues her life has been changed more by what she didn't see that day.
"The biggest thing for me is that that there were no bodies," she said in the ABC interview.
Leonardi, 56, told ABC News she remembers the burning pine and jet fuel stinging her nostrils. She said she also remembers a smoldering crater littered with debris too small to associate with the jetliner or 40 passengers and crew on board.
"I'm used to crime scenes but this one blew me out of the water. It just looked like the ground had swallowed up" the plane, Leonardi said.
"That's when I started seeing like shimmery lights ... and it was kind of misty and that's when I first saw, like, the angels there," Leonardi said, adding:"And I didn't say anything to the guys because you can imagine if I would have said, 'I just saw angels on the crash site,' they'd have called the office and they'd have said, 'She lost her mind and tell her to go home.'"
Instead, Leonardi says she kept it to herself for the better part of two years.
The ABC News interview reveals that as emotional and physical ailments surfaced that she would later learn were post-traumatic stress disorder-related, Lillie began telling a close circle of friends and colleagues what she saw, including Kenneth McCabe, her former supervisor.
According to ABC News, McCabe, 59, now retired near Cocoa Beach, FL, was chief of the FBI's operational response section, which sent laboratory teams to gather evidence from each of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror sites. A year or so later, he became the special agent in charge of the FBI's Pittsburgh Field Office, making him Leonardi's boss until he retired from the bureau in 2004.
"I believe her. I read the whole book," McCabe told The Associated Press. "I know she believes 100 percent that's what she saw. I know she's a sane person so I'm not going to discount what she says she saw."
McCabe said he also understood why the Flight 93 crash site was different than the other attack scenes.
"I was there one day when they brought a busload of family members to overlook the site ... and I teared up," McCabe said. "Just because these people had the thousand-yard stare. They didn't have any closure. They didn't have any bodies to look at. They didn't have anything to look at. At least in New York and Washington, there was the devastation (of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon) but here, except for seeing someone off in the distance, in the woods, looking for things, there was nothing."
ABC News revealed that Leonardi has befriended some Flight 93 family members, though none consented to be interviewed for the broadcast outlet's interview. Asked about the book, the spokeswoman for the Families of Flight 93, Lisa Linden, issued a statement lauding the "extraordinary work" done by the FBI that also said, "The crash site and sacred ground - now central to the Flight 93 National Memorial - is a place that elicits powerful reactions from those who work at the site and who visit."
ABC News said Leonardi's story has caught the attention of WQED, Pittsburgh's public television station, which featured a segment on her book in a March episode of "Pittsburgh 360," a public affairs and current events show.
The ABC News article goe son to say that the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, counts Leonardi a personal friend and also interviewed her on his weekly radio show, Amplify.
"I have no reason to believe that she did not see angels," Lengwin said. "I think it's not surprising to me that God could choose to say that he was present there to give comfort to people, and to give comfort to the people who were there to give comfort to other people."
ABC News stated that Leonardi still lives in Arnold, a tiny city about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh where she began her law enforcement career in 1984 as the town's first female police officer. She said her primary reason for deciding to go public with her story after years of soul-searching is to heal and to bring comfort and healing to others affected either by the attack or post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The purpose of the book is to tell the story of the angels being there so that other people understand that God was there," said Leonardi, who said she was raised a "devout Catholic" but now practices what she calls "spiritualism."
Leonardi, who was a teen mother and wife, said she has no doubt about what she saw, but wonders why she was allowed to see it.
"You get pregnant and married at 16, that's not exactly, you know, holy material," said Leonardi, now a divorced grandmother. "To this day I know I saw those angels, I've never doubted that. What I doubted was, why me?"
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the National Park Foundation to aid in the construction of the Flight 93 National Memorial. To make a tax-deductible donation to support the Memorial go to www.honorflight93.org/donate.
(The Flight 93 National Memorial is a project of the National Park Foundation. The Foundation is the non-profit charitable partner of the America's national parks.)
You can read more about Lillie Leonardi at her website: www.lillieleonardi.com