It’s been 20 years since the events of 9/11 changed the world forever.
On 11th September 2001, the world watched in horror as two hijacked planes plunged into the World Trade Center, while two others crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania respectively.
The attacks saw nearly 3,000 people lose their lives in an attack so shocking, many are still traumatised by the events two decades later.
The immediate aftermath of the attacks focused on the victims and the perpetrators, while many of the survivors felt left behind, as though they were considered the ‘lucky’ ones.
In order to grapple with his grief, survivor Gerry Bogacz started a support group for those struggling to come to terms with what they saw that day. As President of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network, he helped foster a community of survivors who were willing to share their experiences about 9/11. News of the meetings spread, with 500 people signed up online.
Of the new members, one story particularly stood out. Tania Head’s tale of tragedy and triumph gripped other members, and saw her become widely known among the network.
Tania’s tale took another tragic turn when she revealed she lost her fiancé Dave in the North Tower that same day.
In an extract she messaged to the Survivors’ Network, Tania wrote: “I looked around and it was like a horror movie. People were mounted on top of each other, the smell of burned skin, and people’s insides, was gagging. I kept thinking about my fiancé and about our wedding. I wanted to wear that white dress and swear my love for him.
What seemed to verify Tania’s story was her arm, which appeared to be badly injured and scarred from the incident.
Despite the traumatic ordeal that Tania went through, she seemed to be coping remarkably well, and galvanised the Survivors’ Network to actively support its members; she prepared materials for members to read, and held fundraisers. Tania would create the agendas for the meetings, and would pay from her own pocket for speakers and specialised trauma experts.
It was down to Tania that the group got official status, and secured state funding – but it was her work in getting the network to visit Ground Zero was what marked her out as a pivotal member of the group.
Many members of the Survivors’ Network were keen to visit what became known as ‘The Pit’ – what was left of the World Trade Center after both towers had collapsed. People believed visiting Ground Zero would provide closure. In 2003, survivors were still not allowed access to the area, and were forced to stand around the big metal gates alongside others drawn to Ground Zero out of morbid curiosity.
When the Survivors’ Network started writers workshops as an outlet of grief, Tania was able to put her story on full display, writing a newsletter documenting her tale. And as much as the group tried to be egalitarian and listened to everyone’s story, a clear ‘hierarchy’ of suffering started to emerge – with Tania sat at the top.
As Tania’s story became more well-known, some people noticed inconsistencies. One person thought her withered arm didn’t look as if it had been burned – but never raised concerns over fears of looking rude. Others wondered why Tania never brought friends to the group. Elsewhere, Gerry noticed that the presence of Welles Crowther in her story became increasingly pronounced as other survivors mentioned his impact.
However, all these concerns were explained away or reasoned as people misremembering what Tania had said before, or thinking Tania was just dealing with her grief differently.
In 2006, the New York Daily News wrote a profile about Tania in honour of the five year anniversary, seeing her story written out in full for the first time. For many New Yorkers, it was just a feel-good piece, but for New York Times journalists David W Dunlap and Serge F Kovaleski, it felt bizarre. They had previously spoken to every person who had managed to survive the terror attacks above the level of impact – so it seemed strange that there was this new, high-profile figure they’d never heard of.
While Tania had never been shy about telling her story before, her demeanour seemed to change, according to those in the Survivors’ Network. She failed to co-operate in the investigation, and urged others in the community not to share any information about her. It was the first time that Tania had to face scrutiny about her tale of survival.
Some sleuthing about Tania saw journalists uncover that Tania did not work in banking at all, and had never worked at the World Trade Center. Her so-called fiancé's family had never heard of her.
When 9/11 took place, Tania wasn’t even in America. She was in her native country, Spain, at business school under her real name, Alicia.
While her story made her famous, bookmarked in 9/11 literature, Tania did not profit from her tales, and so could not be charged with any crime.
Without warning, Tania Head just upped and vanished without any further contact. Her current whereabouts are unknown.
The news left the Survivors’ Network stunned and devastated – but also surprisingly torn. While one member of the survivor’s network described Tania as a “raving lunatic”, others said the good she did for the group should not be forgotten on disregarded.
“There’s a violence to it. It was amoral if not immoral,” Gerry said about Tania’s fraud. “She took advantage of people – vulnerable people.”
“I’m very torn,” survivor Carrie Coen Sullivan explained. “She did a lot of good for our network. It’s hard to discredit it all. But she didn’t have to lie. She could have done those things without needing to lie.”
You can find out more about Tania Head in The Woman Who Wasn't There, available on Amazon Prime Video.