As the dust settles on the deadliest terror attack to ever hit the United States, a young physician is reported missing from her home. And while her family desperately searches for her, police chalk her up as yet another victim of 9/11. But when law enforcement go on to take a closer look at her case, they begin to suspect that everything is not quite as it seems.
That missing woman was Sneha Anne Philip, who was born on October 7, 1969, in Kerala, a coastal state in south India. When she was young, however, her family relocated to New York State, eventually settling in Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County. Later, Philip went on to study at Johns Hopkins University, some 270 miles away in Baltimore, Maryland.
After leaving college, though, Philip decided on a medical career, enrolling at the Chicago School of Medicine. And at the school, she met fellow student Ron Lieberman, from Los Angeles. The pair went on to become a couple, and Philip took a year out from studying to travel so that they could both graduate at the same time.
Then, as new graduates, Philip and Lieberman both landed internships at different facilities in New York City. They found an apartment in the East Village near Cabrini Medical Center, where Philip worked, and settled into life in the city. In 2000, moreover, they decided to tie the knot.
And Philip and Lieberman’s wedding was a small affair, hosted with Philip’s family back in Dutchess County. Although the couple came from different backgrounds, both Philip’s South Indian Christian and Lieberman’s Jewish heritages were celebrated during the couple’s big day.
After the wedding, Philip and Lieberman moved into a bigger apartment in Battery Park City, an upmarket neighborhood in the south of Manhattan. On the outside, at least, it seemed as if they were living the perfect American dream. However, on September 11, 2001, all that would change.
In the early hours of that morning, Lieberman had returned home to find that his wife was nowhere to be seen. Thinking she must still be out, he then went to bed to get some rest before going to work the next day. But when he woke up at 6:30 a.m., Philip was still not there.
Apparently, it was not uncommon for Philip to stay out all night, so Lieberman went to work as normal. But just over two hours later, a hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center. And as tragedy unfolded, New York City descended into chaos.
Then on the evening of September 11, Lieberman used his medical credentials to bypass security and gain access to the couple’s building. But with dust from that day’s horrifying events covering the apartment, it was clear that Philip had not been home. So, Lieberman notified the police that his wife was missing. It was just one among hundreds of similar reports made that day.
Desperate, Philip’s family put up posters around the city, hoping to locate the missing woman. In a bid for media coverage, Philip’s brother even made out that he had spoken with his sister during the attacks. However, this later proved to be untrue.
But despite efforts to track down Philip, no trace of her was ever found. And with the police preoccupied, Lieberman began his own investigation. By contacting American Express, moreover, he was able to build up a picture of where Philip had been in the lead-up to her disappearance.
According to records, Philip had used the couple’s credit card to buy clothing, shoes and bed linen at a Century 21 store. And although a clerk came forward to report having seen Philip shopping with a young woman, video footage was eventually found of Philip browsing alone. However, there the trail went cold.
Stumped, Lieberman hired Ken Gallant, a private investigator, to take on the case. And after some digging, Gallant turned up evidence of a call to Lieberman’s cell made from the apartment at 4:00 a.m. on September 11. Lieberman, though, did not recall the incident.
Additionally, Gallant found footage of a woman in the lobby of the couple’s apartment building, taken at 8:43 a.m. the same day. According to Lieberman, it was usual for Philip to return home between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Furthermore, the woman’s clothing could have been what Philip was last seen wearing.
So had Philip made it home before the planes hit the towers after all? At first, Gallant suspected that Philip might have used the attacks as a cover to run away and start a new life. That theory was stymied by the fact that many of her personal documents, including her passport, remained in the apartment. Eventually, both he and Lieberman concluded that Philip, as a medical professional, had rushed to Ground Zero to help the wounded – only to become a victim herself.
But when the police finally got round to investigating Philip’s disappearance, a different story began to emerge. According to them, Cabrini Medical Center had not renewed Philip’s contract that year. It had blamed her poor timekeeping and issues with alcohol. At around the same time, moreover, Philip had accused another intern of sexual assault.
Apparently, these events had sent Philip into a downward spiral. She began visiting gay and lesbian bars, sometimes going home with the women that she met. According to police, she also developed a substance abuse problem. In addition, her relationship with her husband had become a fraught one.
But despite the police’s revelations about Philip’s private life, Lieberman remained convinced that his wife had died in the terrorist attack. As a result, he began petitioning to have her officially recognized as a victim. In fact, he – along with Philip’s family – believed that the investigation had been flawed from the start and that the police were attempting to cover up their previous lack of attention to the case.
Then, in June 2006, Judge Renee Roth ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support claims that Philips had died at the World Trade Center during the attack. However, Philip’s family lawyer launched an appeal, and the new judges took a different view to Roth. They accepted that Philip had perished while attempting to administer aid.
Eventually, in 2008, Philip was officially declared a victim of 9/11 – the 2,751st name on a heartbreakingly long list. And while the whole truth about what happened that day might never be known, it’s nevertheless a step that has allowed her family to finally begin to mourn.