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Continued: His words live on: Stay strong, stay tough

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 3, 2007 - 10:42 PM

But 10 minutes turned into 20 and when Theresa turned on the TV at 6:30 to watch "Wheel of Fortune," they saw news of the bridge collapse.

Right away, Helen knew.

She got a ride from a family friend into the city that night. They checked a hospital. They went to the Holiday Inn where families were gathering, gave them Peter's description and waited for word.

Peter's brothers and sister came from out of town, and every day they drove from Rosemount to the Holiday Inn near the bridge. The children stayed home, comforted by neighbors and church friends.

On the fourth day, divers found Peter's van. He wasn't in it, which gave the family some hope. Did he swim to safety? Maybe he had hit his head and was wandering the streets, unsure of who he was?

* * *

It wasn't like Peter, 47, to be away. He avoided overnight business trips. Sometimes he worked from home. On days when his son had a football game, he started his day early to be there. He cooked on weekends sometimes. He kept track of paying the bills. He fixed the rattling refrigerator.

When Andrew wanted to go out for football, Peter convinced a nervous Helen that it would be OK. When the girls wanted to wear nail polish, he persuaded her to give in.

Helen doesn't drive, so Peter shuttled the family everywhere, making sure the kids got to religion classes, doctor appointments and school activities.

On Saturday nights, after the little kids were in bed and the older ones could watch them, Peter and Helen did the grocery shopping together.

* * *

While Helen and Peter's siblings waited for news with other families, they spoke with the relatives of Sadiya Sahal and her 22-month-old daughter, Hana, who were also missing. Their family had immigrated from Somalia. They talked about beliefs and faiths, Christian and Muslim.

On the ninth day, Helen was at home when the phone call came. Peter's body had been found.

It's done, she thought. No more torture.

Helen said she was told by authorities that Peter's body was half in and half out of another car, and it looked like he was trying to rescue a little child -- possibly Hana.

"That makes it OK," Justina said later, through tears. "Because, you know, he probably would have struggled with depression and all that if he had gone away not helping."

* * *

Helen doesn't sleep much. She sits in bed, her little children sleeping beside her, and opens a book of word-search puzzles Peter once bought her. She focuses intently on each word, each puzzle, trying to stop worry from creeping into her thoughts. Life is a struggle to keep grief at bay.

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