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A Story of Spiritual Affirmation and Healing from PTSD
On a foggy September Sunday, congregants gathered in a small church surrounded by old, red wooden barns, sheep, horses, black and white dairy cows, on a perfectly manicured farm of Union County, Pennsylvania. They gathered to hear the first-person account of a responder to the September 11, 2001 crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Pastor Ricky Philips had invited noted author, Lillie Leonardi, to describe her experience witnessing angels rise out of the mist just hours after Flight 93 crashed.
Lillie Leonardi, a former law enforcement officer from Arnold, PA, was formerly employed by the FBI, Pittsburgh Division as its Community Outreach Specialist. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Lillie had been unable to report to work due to car trouble and watched the events of 9/11 unfold via the morning news. Post news that Flight 93 had crashed in a remote field in Shanksville, she arrived at the FBI office. The flight had been reported as hijacked and headed towards Washington, DC.
Braced For Tragedy
Immediately upon hearing the plane had crashed near Shanksville, the FBI division deployed Lillie and her colleagues directly to the crash site. Lillie described arriving just hours after the crash and seeing firefighters returning to their vehicles, sooty, with looks of bewilderment. Having experienced crime scenes in her career, she braced herself for what she was about to find. She also thought over how she would be able to help victims families.
As the team traipsed through the brush, hiking out to the crash site from the closest road, Lillie was overpowered by the scent of burnt pine and jet fuel. They arrived at a bluff, joining other responders, and gazed out at a large, black crater and not much more. Amazingly, there was just not much left. The plane had crashed at such a high rate of speed that it had almost completely disintegrated during impact and explosion.
As they stood on the bluff, they saw burnt pine trees just forward of the crash site where jet fuel and flames were sent by the momentum of the plane at impact. There were only small bits and pieces of debris. In addition to that, astoundingly, no bodies and no large aircraft parts were found.
A Shimmering Light
As the team of law enforcement officers stared in silence at the impact crater, Lillie was distracted by a shimmering light to the left of the crash site. It seemed almost like the ripples on a pond that appear when a school of fish swims close to the surface of the water. She kept looking back at the crash site but felt drawn to the light and movement to the left. Her colleagues appeared not to notice.
The light and rippling movement seemed to rise into a mist, and there emerged what she described as a “legion of angels.” The angels were seemingly representative of every culture and nationality, based on their skin color, and were dressed in an ancient Roman Centurion garb. They were eight to ten feet tall with one even larger angel leading the group. The leader was holding a sword, pointed downward. Lillie could not ask her colleagues if they, too, were seeing what she was seeing, for fear of being called unfit by the FBI and dismissed from her job.
Lillie was distracted by a shimmering light to the left of the crash site.
Lillie read an excerpt from her book of exactly what she saw. “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.”
Please, God, Give Me a Sign
Lillie, who was raised a devout Catholic, continued to ask God for clarification of what she was witnessing. “Please, God, give me a sign that I’m not losing my mind and that I am really seeing this,” she prayed. The group of law enforcement officers began to climb down the bluff overlooking the crash site, closer to the debris field. Walking in near silence, one of them remarked that a suitcase with barely a singe around the edges managed to remain intact, but not one body of the 40 passengers and crew on board was visible.
Near the suitcase lay an open Bible. A slight breeze disturbed the pages. Lillie looked to see which page it was open to. Remarkably, it had fallen open to Psalm 23. Lillie felt that God had answered her request for validation that the angels she had seen from the bluff were real.
Years later, Lillie would learn that a local 911 operator who had received a phone call from a passenger on hijacked Flight 93 had prayed Psalm 23 with the passenger in the final moments of despair. Lillie continued in her job with the FBI for the next several years. However, she was unable to tell anyone about what she had seen.
Inside she was suffering from what she would later learn was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With deteriorating health, continued torment about what she had witnessed and increasing stress, Lillie finally had to ask for medical help. She eventually had to leave her position with the FBI.
Now, 17 years later, the extent and severity of medical issues and PTSD among first responders, victim’s families, and people who were at or near the September 11th crash sites have been well documented. Many resources are being set up to provide help to those suffering. A website for others with health issues and PTSD from September 11th can be found here.
Lillie has become acquainted with other law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel and recovery workers who served on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93 crash sites who have also suffered from medical issues and PTSD. In meeting these amazing men and women, Lillie learned that she was not alone. There are thousands of others who have stories to share about how this once silent illness has invaded the lives of so many. “Their plight is my plight, as it is for millions of others who bear the weight of this illness and the stigma attached to it,” she said.
A Spiritual Memoir
Lillie Leonardi has written many articles and her book, In The Shadow Of A Badge: A Spiritual Memoir is traditionally published with Hay House. She said her primary reason for deciding to go public with her story after years of soul-searching is to heal, as well as, bring comfort and healing to others affected either by the attack, suffering from medical issues or PTSD. She wants people to know that God was indeed present at the crash site.
Lillie has often asked herself, “Why?” Why did she see the legion of angels at the Flight 93 Crash Site that morning? She has come to believe that the lead angel was Saint Michael the Archangel in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and that he was sent to ensure the defeat of violence.
Lillie’s positivity was reflected in her speech. She believes that miracles occurred on that fateful day. Fellow responders do as well and have shared their stories of divine intervention with Lillie. It is impossible to determine the magnitude of what might have happened that day had the decision by President Bush to ground all air traffic immediately not been made.
In that small, country church in Union County, Pennsylvania, a gentleman spoke softly to Lillie following the service and told her that he thought the significance of the downward sword, carried by Saint Michael, was protection and peace. Though she had often described the Angel’s sword, Lillie had never realized the significance of its direction. Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania is open to the public.