When you ask John Titus about his daughter, his voice wavers slightly as he tries to tell the story of a woman who was carefree and full of life prior to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Titus’ daughter, Alicia, 28, was a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 175. She died doing her job when her plane, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the World Trade Center’s south tower at 9:03 a.m.
Titus, now a resident of Ohio who at the time of the terrorist attacks was an administrator at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, said he still vividly recalls the day his daughter died.
“I was in a staff meeting at Schoolcraft when someone barged in and turned on the TV after news of the first plane hit the Trade Center,” Titus said. “We were watching the drama unfold as Alicia’s plane hit the south tower.”
At the same time, Titus’ wife was home in Dexter when she was startled from her sleep at 8:42 a.m., the same time al-Qaida terrorists overpowered Flight 175’s crew and rerouted the plane, which was traveling from Los Angeles, to New York.
“My wife, Bev, thought that she heard Alicia’s voice, and she sat straight up from a dead sleep,” Titus explained. “She kept getting this haunting feeling and turned on the TV to see the plane hit.”
At the time, Titus, who had spoken to his daughter just a day prior, said he wasn’t sure if his daughter was on Flight 175.
“I remember getting this sinking feeling, and I knew right away that this was intentional despite what the media was saying,” he said. “But I wasn’t allowing myself to think Alicia was on that plane, even though I knew she was flying to California.”
Immediately after the attack, Titus received a call from his sister, who said Alicia’s roommate could not reach her by phone.
“The look in my co-workers’ eyes was just pure empathy, and this sinking feeling got deeper and deeper as we received hints that Alicia was on Flight 175,” Titus said. “We weren’t getting any news from the airline.”
Four hours later, at 1 p.m., Titus’ son Zachary called to inform him that the airline confirmed Alicia’s death.
“I remember just wailing and breaking down,” he said. “Hearing one of your children has died is one of the most overwhelming feelings you will ever experience.”
Titus says whenever friends and family talk about his daughter, they always characterize her as “happy.”
“You could always count on her being in a happy, joyous mood,” he said. “When she walked into a room, it would just change the whole feeling.”
Beverly Titus agrees.
“Alicia had a passion for living and a determination to always find a better way to live that would bring her hope for a better world and give her a sense of peace,” she said.
Alicia, a graduate of Graham High School and Miami University in Ohio, was on track for success. Only nine months after receiving her bachelor’s degree in international business, she took a job as an events coordinator in San Francisco but soon found corporate America wasn’t for her.
“She wanted to get her doctorate in journalism and then teach,” John Titus said.
And in January 2001, Alicia landed a job with American Airlines to help fund her education.
“Alicia was a peacemaker at heart. She embraced cultural diversity and saw her job as a flight attendant as a way to travel and meet people,” Titus said.
Titus recalls how during a family trip to San Francisco when his daughter was 4 years old, she gave $4 that she earned to a homeless person.
“When she saw someone hurt, she would cry,” he said. “Alicia was a very compassionate person.”
Alicia’s compassion led John and Beverly to start the Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund in Alicia’s honor at her alma mater. The program helps fund programs that promote global peace and prosperity. This year Dr. Dorothy Maver, president of the National Peace Academy, will speak to students at the university.
“We try to cultivate a culture of peace,” Titus said.
He and his wife are also members of the Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows organization and speak out across the country on war, violence and other global issues.
“We want to keep Alicia’s spirit alive, and she is very much alive in regards to what we do,” he said.
Titus also recently published a book titled “Losing Alicia: A Father’s Journey,” which chronicles his family’s faith journey in the years after Sept. 11.
“You do what you have to do,” he said about moving on from his daughter’s death. “You get in touch with your emotions. If I have to cry, I cry. If I want to write, I write. It’s been extremely difficult, but it deepened my faith more. I pray every day and try to understand what happened.
“It's obviously not something you get over. I had someone ask me the other day, 'When did the sadness go away?' and it didn't go away. It's always there."
A decade of advocacy
Immediately after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Titus said he began researching national and world politics in an attempt to understand factors leading up to the terrorist attacks. Ten years later, he said he is convinced his daughter was a political casualty.
“There were warning signs back when President Clinton was in office,” he said. “The plot to use commuter planes and fly them into commercial buildings was formed in the mid-1990s and was picked up by Osama bin Laden, who was intent on taking down the Trade Center.”
Despite his anger toward al-Qaida, Titus said he has never taken “an eye-for-an-eye” approach to America’s enemies.
“I don’t get caught up in the politics of it all,” he said. “When you get caught up in the political quagmire, it keeps you in an agitated state. I just want to know why my daughter was murdered.”
Titus said through Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, he has spoken out about violence through church seminars, at schools and other events across the country.
“This country has changed since Sept. 11, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But I don’t think violence and war is the answer. I believe we have been led astray by our leaders, and it’s sad to think about all the soldiers that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
He’s also hesitant to condone the death of Osama bin Laden.
“On one hand I am relieved that he will no longer be able to plot and kill innocent people and I applaud the effort of our government to find him; on the other hand, I oppose the killing of anyone and feel strongly that he should have been brought to justice in an international court of law for the whole world to be able to see the face of justice,” Titus said. “I am also disappointed that he was not captured and brought to justice back in Afghanistan or even before he was able to carry out his diabolical plans. Hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan and Iraqi civilians have been killed or driven from their homes as a result of our war on terror while terror proliferates in our world.
“Someone will surely step up and take bin Laden's place until the root causes and underlying conditions are understood and addressed; and the war on terror continues on. Violence creates an endless cycle until someone can see beyond the absurdity of it all and rise above it.”
While he and his family have since moved from Dexter, he said he visits the community periodically when he visits his son Elijah, who still lives in Washtenaw County. The family also owns a cabin on Half Moon Lake purchased from Alicia's life insurance policy.
"All of us, including Alicia, loved Dexter," Titus said. "It's always a pleasure being able to come back to Michigan to rest and reflect on our daughter. Alicia is always with us."