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New Jersey Living Memorial, A Grove of Remembrance
Empty Sky: NJ State 9/11 Memorial
Conseleya 9/11 Memorial
Dewitt 9/11 Memorial
Montclair State University 9/11 Memorial
East Newark 9/11 Memorial
Fair Haven 9/11 Memorial
Freehold Township 9/11 Living Memorial Tree Grove
Crescent Beach Park - Flagpole/Memorial for 9/11 Victims
Maria Theresa Santillan and Judy Hazel Fernandez had always been close so the 27-year-old first cousins welcomed the chance to work together at the World Trade Center.
Miss Fernandez got a job at Cantor Fitzgerald about three years ago. When a job opened up at the company's eSpeed subsidiary, the first person she thought of was her cousin.
"It was always a dream of my sister's to work in the city," Miss Santillan's brother Victor said. "I think it was just New York and the prestige of actually working at the World Trade Center."
Working with her cousin made the dream even better.
"They were closer than cousins," recalled Miss Santillan's father, Ex. Some people even thought they looked like sisters. Both majored in biology and were Rutgers University graduates. Miss Santillan attended the Newark campus; Miss Fernandez, New Brunswick.
Also very close to her family, Miss Santillan lived with her parents in Morris Plains. Her father dropped her off at the PATH station a few times a week -- Sept. 11 was one of those days.
"We carpooled that morning together," said Ex Santillan, who is the brother of Miss Fernandez's mother. She worked in the North Tower on the 103rd floor, her cousin on the floor above.
"The North Tower was the first that was hit," Santillan said. "She called me about 9, after the building was hit. She had a frantic, high-pitched voice and was crying that the building was hit by a plane. I thought it was a small plane, and I told her to get out of there, to keep cool and not panic."
He didn't hear from her again.
Just two months earlier, the families celebrated Miss Santillan's engagement. Everyone was looking forward to the May wedding. Miss Fernandez was to be the maid of honor.
"She was very smart, very intelligent, very loving, very witty -- everything you can think of," Miss Fernandez's mother, Corazon, said of her daughter, who lived in Jersey City but was a frequent visitor to her parents' Parlin house. "Whenever she came home, she said, 'Mom, I'm here,' and kissed me and asked for her dog (an American Eskimo named Brook)." Miss Fernandez could not have pets in her apartment.
The weekend before the tragedy, Miss Fernandez told her mother she was going on a business trip on Sept. 11.
In a Sept. 10 phone call, Miss Fernandez mentioned she would go to work before leaving. She told her mom a limousine would pick her up at the Trade Center.
"I asked her why she was going to work when she had such a long trip, and why not stay home and have the limo pick her up at the apartment?" Mrs. Fernandez said. Her daughter said she had things to do. They exchanged, "I love yous."
Mrs. Fernandez said her daughter and her niece "were full of life, full of ambition." Since Sept. 11, Mrs. Fernandez said, the words "beautiful, intelligent and caring" loom large in her mind when thinking about her daughter and niece.
Rich Fernandez of Pennsylvania, Miss Fernandez's brother, said his sister had talked about a future with her boyfriend, Jon Plamenco.
"The four (the cousins and their boyfriends) spent a lot of time together -- they were inseparable," Rich Fernandez said.
Everyone was looking forward to Miss Santillan's wedding. The engagement party held July 6 had been such a good time.
"They had about 90 guests -- friends and relatives -- everybody was happy and looking forward to the wedding next year," Ex Santillan said. "We considered her fiancé part of our family. He and his parents have been with us almost every day since Sept. 11. He is like a brother in our family."
"We were together since my sophomore year in high school," Darren Sasso of Parsippany said of Miss Santillan. "We were together like 91/2 years through thick and thin."
The 26-year-old added, "There was just something about her . . . her personality . . . she was obviously a beautiful girl . . . she had a great family. There was no reason I wouldn't want to marry her."
A memorial service for the cousins will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 3 at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, 89 Ridge St., Newark.
In lieu of flowers, the families ask that contributions be made to a scholarship fund that is being planned.
Miss Fernandez also is survived by her father, Cirilo Fernandez, and her sister, Emma of Philadelphia.
Miss Santillan also is survived by her mother, Ester, and brother Raymond, both of Morris Plains.
Profile by Lisa Irizarry published in THE STAR-LEDGER.