STILL HOPING FOR THE CALL

By CLEMENTE LISI

May 30, 2002 --

Teresa Otten has been anxiously waiting by the phone every day with the hope of receiving that one call.

The 63-year-old grieving mother of firefighter Michael Otten - who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 - desperately wants to hear that her hero son's remains have finally been recovered from Ground Zero.

"I have been hoping and waiting for that phone call every day for the past eight months," she told The Post yesterday.

Otten spoke on the eve of today's somber ceremony marking the end of search and recovery work at Ground Zero.

"It's been a terrible ordeal for the whole family - but that hasn't stopped me from waiting by the telephone and hoping that he has been found."

Michael Otten, 42, a third-generation firefighter, was one of 11 men from Manhattan's Ladder Co. 35 who died on 9/11.

The retired secretary said that even though the cleanup and recovery effort at Ground Zero officially ends today, she is hopeful that some day the family will hold a funeral.

"It would mean that we would finally have some tangible part of him," said Teresa, who is holding out hope that the medical examiner's office will eventually identify her son from the 19,559 body parts recovered.

"I pray that they find or identify my son's remains every day. I don't care how much time it takes, even if it takes five years to finally identify him and give him a proper burial."

For Teresa, burial means giving Michael's wife, Marion, and three sons - Christopher, 11, Jonathan, 8, and Jason, 5 - a grave to visit and a place to mourn.

The family, which held a memorial service for Otten in November, went down to Manhattan Supreme Court last month and applied for Michael's death certificate, a document the family needed in order to obtain life-insurance benefits.

Teresa and her family are not alone. Of the 2,823 people who died in the terror attacks, only 1,092 have been identified.

The analysis of the human remains will continue at the medical examiner's office and the search will continue at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where the debris has been carted. Those body parts that cannot be identified will be preserved in case new DNA technology someday makes it possible to do so.

Otten said today's ceremony is yet another reminder of her son's death.

"Events like this make me relive that tragic day all over again," said Teresa, who visited Ground Zero on Palm Sunday. "It will feel like he died all over again."

An empty, flag-draped stretcher symbolizing the remains of those not recovered will be carried out of Ground Zero at 10:29 a.m. - the moment when the second tower collapsed.

She said her husband, Dick, a 65-year-old retired FDNY captain, has made regular treks from their Deer Park, L.I., home to the site, feverishly sifting through the rubble with a shovel.

"He went down there as often as he could," she said. "He would leave the house and head down there very determined to bring back our son."

She then paused - and choking back tears - said, "He has come home very discouraged every time."

Not everyone is feeling depressed over not having their loved ones remains.

"I'd prefer right now that there are no remains identified, so I don't have to think about what the particular remains found mean as to the way he died," said Beverly Eckert, 50, of Stamford, Conn. Her husband, Sean Rooney, 50, a vice-president for risk management services at Aon Corp., died in the south tower.

Eckert said today's ceremony will be enough closure for her.

"I'd prefer, in my mind, to somehow think that there was this total instantaneous disintegration and that his remains haven't been sitting in a refrigerated trailer all this time," she said.




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