John Scharf did not usually work in the building where his short life ended.
In fact, September 11, 2001, marked only the second time that the 29-year-old had ever stepped foot inside the glistening World Trade Center.
A resident of Manorville, Mr. Scharf was called to the Twin Towers for the first time the day before the terrorist attacks that took down both skyscrapers when he was contracted by the Ohio-based company Liebert Global Services to fix a computer interface for the Aon Corporation. The Manhattan branch of the company was based on the upper floors of the south tower.
The Eastport High School graduate went to the World Trade Center that day poised to fix the computer problem—a task that Mr. Scharf, an electrical engineer and a former U.S. Marine, could not finish because of a missing part, according to his sister Christine Scharf-Meyer of Manorville.
He returned the next day to complete the job and was working on the 105th floor of the south tower when the second hijacked airliner—United Airlines Flight 175—slammed into the building at 9:03 a.m., between the 78th and 82nd floors. Mr. Scharf was trapped on the upper levels of the tower when it collapsed at 9:59 a.m., less than an hour after impact.
He was working his first civilian job after spending five years in the Marines, during which time he served in the Persian Gulf War and was stationed in Japan. The father of a 6-year-old girl, Mr. Scharf was making plans to get remarried at the time of his death; his fiancée, Debbie Losee, whom he had met upon his return to New York, were to be married in August 2002.
Mr. Scharf grew up in a two-story house on Sandie Lane in Manorville with his three brothers, Joseph, David and Jason, and his younger sister, Christine. Ms. Scharf-Meyer said the pain that her family endured in the days, weeks and months following Mr. Scharf’s death was inexplicable; her father, Gene, and late mother, Marie, were overcome with grief. “You just saw the sadness in their eyes,” Ms. Scharf-Meyer said. “Their hearts broke that day.”
Mrs. Scharf, whom her daughter described as “the rock” of the family, recently died following a long battle with cancer.
“One thing a lot of people remember about my brother is his smile,” Ms. Scharf-Meyer said during a recent interview in the kitchen of the home in which she grew up with John and her other siblings.
The room where Mr. Scharf had been living upon his release from the military has since been converted into a kitchen. Still, some of his artwork from high school can still be found, many covered with dust, above the dining room hutch.
Although he died too young—leaving behind his then 6-year-old daughter, Momo, from his first marriage—Mr. Scharf left his mark in the hearts of his family and friends. One of his creations from high school—a colorful picture that shows mountains of hands, and signed “John Scharf” in one corner—contrasts the many artifacts of the World Trade Center that the family received after his death. Candles, small pieces of steel from the World Trade Center and a small urn containing ash from the Twin Towers all sit atop a cabinet in the family room.
Of all the things her brother left behind, none was more important than his daughter, according to Ms. Scharf-Meyer. She explained that Mr. Scharf married a Japanese woman named Aya when he was stationed overseas. They divorced before he returned to New York and Momo, who was living in Japan with her mother at the time of Mr. Scharf’s death, was everything to him, Ms. Scharf-Meyer said.
“It was great to walk into his bedroom and see 20 to 30 pictures of Momo,” Ms. Scharf-Meyer said, smiling. “He’d take her to places to get her picture taken and he’d buy them all,” Ms. Scharf-Meyer said.
She later added that Momo—who is now 16 and lives in Washington State—will be joining the family when they commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks in Manhattan on Sunday. She explained that Momo was her parents’ first grandchild, noting that it was her late mother who called her granddaughter to break the news of her father’s death.
“In my eyes, this was a mass murder,” Ms. Scharf-Meyer said, her voice becoming emotional. “It was random—it’s like being hit by a truck. My brother would still be here if it wasn’t for that man,” she added, referring to Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the terrorist attacks who was slain earlier this year.
Even during his last few minutes of life, Mr. Scharf turned to his tightknit family, calling his father from a stairwell in the south tower in an attempt to stay in contact with them, according to his father.