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Robert Matthews: A Tale of Inspiration on 9/11

Netlore Archive: A retired firefighter dies in the ruins of the World Trade Center after saving a pregnant woman, who goes on to name the child after her rescuer.

Description: Viral story / Hoax
Circulating since: Sep. 2003
Status: FALSE (see details below)

Email text contributed by V. Mueller, Oct. 2, 2003:

This is an amazing story.

I heard this person's story on the radio today and thought it was too powerful not to share.

A man from Norfolk, VA called a local radio station to share this on Sept 11th, 2003. His Name was Robert Matthews. These are his words: "A few weeks before Sept 11th, my wife and I found out we were going to have our first child. She planned a trip out to California to visit her sister. On our way to the airport, we prayed that God would grant my wife a safe trip and be with her. Shortly after I said 'amen' we both heard a loud pop and the car shook violently. we had blown out a tire. I replaced the tire as quickly as I could, but we still missed her flight. Both very upset, we drove home. I recieved a call from my father who was retired FDNY. He asked what my wife's flight number was, but explained that we missed the flight. My father informed me that her flight was the one that crashed into the southern tower. I was too shocked to speak. My father also had more news for me; he was going to help. 'This is not something I can just sit by for, I have to do something.' I was concerened for his safety, of course, but more because he had never given his life to Christ.

After a brief debate, I knew his mind was made up. Before he got off of the phone, he said, 'take good care of my grandchild.' Those were the last words I ever heard my father say; he died while helping in the rescue effort. My joy that my prayer of safety for my wife had been answered quickly became anger. Anger at God, at my father, and at myself. I had gone for nearly 2 years blaming God for taking my father away. My son would never know his grandfather, my father had never accepted Christ, and I never got to say goodbye. Then something happened. About 2 months ago, I was sitting at home with my wife and my son, when there was a knock on the door. I looked at my wife, but I could tell she wasn't expecting anyone.

I opened the door to a couple with a small child. The man looked at me and asked if my father's name was Jake Matthews. I told him it was. He quickly grabbed my hand and said, 'I never got the chance to meet your father, but it is an honor to meet his son.' He explained to me that his wife had worked in the World Trade Center and had been caught inside after the attack. She was pregnant and had been caught under debris. He then explained that my father had been the one to find his wife and free her.

My eyes welled up with tears as I thought of my father giving his life for people like this. He then said, 'there is something else you need to know.' his wife then told me that as my father worked to free her, she talked to him and lead him to Christ. I began sobbing at the news. Now I know that when I get to heaven, my father will be standing beside Jesus to welcome me, and that this family would be able to thank him themselves."

When their baby boy was born, they named him Jacob Matthew in honor of the man who gave his life so mother and baby could live.

This story should help us to realize two things: First, that though it has been two years since the attacks, we should never let it become a mere tragic memory. And second, but most important, God is always in control. We may not see the reason behind things, and we may never know this side of heaven, but God is ALWAYS in control.

Please take time to share this amazing story with those you love. You may never know the impact it may have on someone.

Analysis: This viral tale is chock-full of human pathos and religious zeal, but it doesn't all add up.

First of all, there is no "Jake Matthews" or "Jacob Matthews" — or, indeed, anyone named "Matthews" at all — listed among the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Secondly, assuming that the putative storyteller, Robert Matthews, lived in Norfolk, Virginia at the time of the 9/11 tragedy, it makes no sense that his wife would have been aboard the airliner that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, because that aircraft, United Airlines Flight 175, departed from Boston, Massachusetts, -a 650-mile, 10-hour drive from Norfolk.

Thirdly, though it's admittedly possible, it seems improbable that during the alleged rescue effort when ex-firefighter Jake Matthews was attempting to extract the pregnant victim from under some rubble, a conversation ensued wherein Mr. Matthews was not only "led to Christ" by the victim's words but divulged his full name (and apparently that of his son) to her.

Lastly, we have to question the origin of the text itself, which first surfaced as an anonymous, forwarded email in September 2003. The bulk of it purports to be a direct quote from a radio broadcast (of which I have been unable to find any other mentions or reports). How was the author of the email able to transcribe it word-for-word?

Much as we might like to believe this inspirational tale of self-sacrifice and remembrance in a time of tragedy, it simply doesn't match any of the known facts.

Sources and further reading:

September 11: A Memorial

9/11: Timeline of Events
The History Channel

Last updated: 11/22/03

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