It has been a decade since Michele Murphy lost her sister Renee Tetreault Newell on 9/11, and while the pain may never truly subside, Murphy, a devout Catholic, has found comfort and strength in her faith that reassures her that her younger sister is always with her.
Despite a recent tragedy in her life—Murphy’s North Providence, R.I. home caught fire this summer causing significant damage—Murphy, a parishioner at Mary, Mother of Mankind Parish, North Providence, points to a series of seeming coincidences through the years involving one of the most delicate and beautiful of God’s creatures: the butterfly, that bring her confidence that her sister is one with God.
Two days before the tragedy, a large monarch butterfly unexpectedly perched itself in Murphy’s home. Then, on the morning after 9/11, Murphy says she walked into her bathroom to find a butterfly pin atop the sink. She had purchased the pin a year earlier to remember someone who had died from her parish, and had put it away for safe keeping.
More instances of butterflies beginning to flutter around the windows of her home—once when a group of mourners was present—led her to believe a greater force was at work.
“To me, it was the Holy Spirit telling me everything was going to be okay,” Murphy said.
One night, during a candlelight vigil for his mother, then-nine-year-old Matthew Newell suddenly became excited to find a butterfly hovering around the candle.
“There in (Matthew’s) candle, there was a live butterfly fluttering,” Murphy recalls. “He took the butterfly out and let it go.”
“Now, this strength is being passed on to everybody,” Murphy said.
She was so inspired that she purchased two butterfly bushes for her yard, and the creatures never fail to alight nearby when she feels she needs additional strength the most.
Tetreault Newell was known to go out of her way in order to make people feel special. In her role as a customer service and union representative for American Airlines she was at times able to arrange for upgrades to first class when she traveled.
Scheduled to depart for a conference in Las Vegas on Sept. 11, 2001, she invited her good friend Carol Bouchard to join her. Bouchard hadn’t flown in many years, so Tetreault Newell decided to upgrade both their tickets to first class to make the trip extra special for them both.
The only catch was that there weren’t any first class seats that day out of Providence, so they made the trek up to Boston’s Logan International Airport, where they boarded American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles. There, they would catch a connecting flight to Las Vegas.
But the trip was cut short 15 minutes after departing Boston when five al-Qaeda terrorists, led by Mohamed Atta, a trained pilot, seized control of the aircraft and flew it into the North Tower of New York City’s World Trade Center, killing everyone aboard, and countless others in the tower.
The FBI later told the family in a briefing that Tetreault Newell and Bouchard were seated directly behind the lead terrorist on the flight.
“She just loved life. She was a good friend, a great mom and was wonderful to our parents,” Murphy said of her sister.
Tetreault Newell’s uncle, James Tetreault, will be in attendance at NYC’s Ground Zero on Sept. 11 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“I’m still angry that it was so easy for the terrorists to do what they did and the ease with which they made it work,” he said.
“It’s shameful. It will never, ever be forgotten.”
Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.