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Adam White, 26, killed in NYC on 9/11/01, ‘a terrific guy to be around’

Adam White’s father, Shelby White of Atlanta, can’t help but imagine a hundred “what ifs” that might have saved nearly 3,000 lives that day.

ATLANTA — On Saturday, memorials and remembrances will resonate across the U.S., marking twenty years since the terrorist attacks, on Sept. 11th, 2001, killing nearly three thousand people.

One of them was Adam White of Atlanta, just 26 years old.

His father, Shelby White, told 11Alive that he has lived the past 20 years without Adam finding peace from his memories of 26 years with him.

Back in Sept. 2001, Adam’s family tried to be hopeful, upbeat and strong for each other, showing visitors photos of Adam and talking about his infectious good mood, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he might have escaped the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

They gathered together in Atlanta and waited for him to call; they searched the NYC hospitals, and the streets around Ground Zero, in case he survived but was unable to speak or move. But soon they began to realize that he probably was killed when the planes struck the World Trade Center, where Adam worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.

“It’s just horrible, for everybody,” Shelby White said then.

On Monday, Shelby spoke of how the family held a memorial service for Adam, concluding from all the information they could gather that “Adam’s group probably all got killed right at the first.”

Adam was finally found—his remains were identified--in 2004. And the family gathered again, this time for his funeral.

Credit: From Family of Adam White
Adam White

Since then, his ashes have traveled the world, his family and friends taking them to all of the places that meant so much to Adam, the adventurer and mountain climber.

“We’ve put some on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, we’ve put some over on Everest,” Shelby said.

Everyone who knew and loved Adam said he packed a hundred years of living into his almost 27 years.

He was a North Atlanta High School graduate, he was outgoing and popular.

Adam White loved people, and people loved him.

Credit: From Family of Adam White
Adam White

“I mean, you miss him more than ever, or just as much as ever,” his father said. “He was a terrific guy to be around.”

Shelby White said he is grateful, always, for Adam and for how close they always were.

He often visited Adam in New York City.

He said he’s also had twenty years to remember, to think and wonder—What If?

“You know, I-- you fantasize about it. I could have been up there with him.”

Credit: WXIA
Shelby White

Imagining “what if,” he said, is a father’s way of taking a break from what was.

“And we could have, instead of him going to work at 8:00 or, or 7:30, we could have gone out to breakfast. At the place right next door, that didn’t get hit. We could have been having breakfast, and (the planes) would have hit, and he would have tried to go back in and help people, and I would have said, ‘no, we’re going down here and go walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and get over to Brooklyn and watch from there.’  That’s how crazy your mind works, you know. You think, well, I can’t do anything about it so I’m going to make up a better ending, you know, for myself.”

Hijacker Mohamed Atta, who crashed the airliner into Tower One where Adam was, had sought flight lessons the previous January at the airport in Gwinnett County.

Shelby White said when he learned that, he just had to call the flight instructor.

“I said, ‘how was he to train?’ He said, ‘he was okay, he just didn’t, wasn’t interested in learning how to land. He said, “I don’t need to learn how to land the plane.”’”

What if, Shelby asks, someone could have begun to question why Atta said that.

Since then, the FBI has worked with flight schools across the United States, advising instructors on how to spot signs of suspicious activities and statements that warrant investigation.

Shelby White, proud of Adam, one of five sons, keeps a book the family put together, filled with photos, and with letters from friends about how much Adam meant to them. And Shelby said the book reminds him of what Adam would want for him and everyone else who loved him.

“You gotta keep living, as they said in the movie-- keep breathing, you know, because it’s, it’s really important to live your life, and that’s what he would want people to do.”

The family is not planning to participate together in any of the 9/11 ceremonies on Saturday. Instead, they’re planning to be together on Sept. 26, to celebrate Adam on what would have been his 47th birthday.