From Misfortune To Marriage: The Couple Who Met Because Of 9/11

"We were brought together by this tragedy, but we are definitely not defined by it."

It's difficult to imagine the September 11 tragedy having any silver linings, but if one exists, it is the love between Brielle Saracini and Sean McGuire. The two met in seventh grade at Camp Better Days, a sleepaway summer camp for children who experienced significant losses on September 11. 

This past Saturday, just two days before the 16th anniversary of September 11, they married. Their unusually powerful ceremony, just outside Austin, Texas, left some 165 attendees, every photographer, and the live string band wiping their faces. 

Brielle's father, Victor, was one of the pilots on United Flight 175, the Los Angeles bound airplane that struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 EST on September 11, 2001. Sean's father, Patrick, was inside the South Tower on the 84th floor. Just minutes before, the North Tower had been struck by a plane, but Patrick and his colleagues were told the damage was confined to the other building and they could go back to work. All 65 people on the plane — passengers, captains, crew and hijackers — died in the crash. Sean's father never made it out.



Courtesy of Brielle Saracini
Courtesy of Brielle Saracini

Because Flight 175 was the second plane in the 9/11 attacks, almost every television station, and hundreds of amateur videographers, were broadcasting and filming live from the scene when it struck the South Tower. For millions of Americans, it's that unspeakable image from September 11 they most vividly remember, and it's that very scene that left the country desperately looking for answers and seeking to unify in the months that followed.

But for Brielle and Sean, they were looking for something else: a way to heal. 

The devastating tragedy left their families without fathers, and about two years after 9/11, they were both sent to Camp Better Days. It was there, as children, they became friends and each other's support systems. It was also at that camp that they began flirting and falling for each other, and, as they grew from middle schoolers into young adults, they slowly began to act on those feelings.

"We were brought together by this tragedy, but we are definitely not defined by it," Sean said. "Our relationship is so much more than the way we met. That being said, I think one of the reasons that we connect so well is because we have that common ground."

As their relationship began, their lives continued to be intricately woven together. Sean was a die-hard Mets fan, Brielle a die-hard Yankees fan. In another bizarre stroke of fate, they each got into — and attended — each other's dream college. They called it official while they were away at school and eventually studied abroad together. And they never stopped facing challenges.

Brielle was diagnosed with Stage 4B Hodgkin's lymphoma. She beat it. It came back, and she beat it again. Throughout the two year ordeal, Sean stayed by her side. For a month, he slept on a cot in the hospital. After Brielle finally got a clean diagnosis, she and Sean planned a celebratory trip to South Africa to go on a safari. But before they left — with cancer, spates of a long distance relationship, and the tragedy that brought them together in the rear view mirror — Sean invited Brielle to have a baseball catch in a park that overlooked the new World Trade Center tower. Taped to the ball was an engagement ring, and with a single throw their upcoming trip became not just a celebration of good health, but a celebration of a life together.

Brielle being walked down the aisle by her dad's best friend Steve, who is also a pilot.
Brielle being walked down the aisle by her dad's best friend Steve, who is also a pilot. Courtesy of Taylor Siering

During the wedding rehearsal dinner, Sean's best man joked that the event was little more than a formality. To everyone in the room, their marriage had been a forgone conclusion for some time. That the wedding occurred on the weekend before September 11 was actually an accident; it was the only available weekend they could book their venue of choice. Brielle said they quickly embraced it, and took it as a good omen. They even joked about starting a #TakeBackSeptember hashtag, before realizing it might be "a little too dark" for a wedding.

"We wanted our ceremony to be a 'history of us' because we have been through so much together and we have stood by each other through it all," Brielle said. "We're a team. I think our vows and our ceremony both exemplify the statement that love can overcome hate. We are a living example of this."

Their incredible story didn't go unnoticed. Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, one of Brielle and Sean's favorite bands, caught wind all the way from Orange County, California during the Ohana Fest, a three day music festival at Doheny State Beach. After telling the story of how they met on stage, he implored the crowd to offer a toast to Sean and Brielle.

A Pearl Jam quote hanging outside the wedding venue. 
A Pearl Jam quote hanging outside the wedding venue.  Courtesy of Taylor Siering

"Would you hold up your phones and light yourselves up like candles in support of this wonderful couple with an amazing story about how something powerful like love can come out of something so tragic," Vedder said on stage. "This is to Brielle and Sean, congratulations. We're so happy for you!"

Brielle's mother echoed the sentiment during her own speech at the wedding dinner: "Every love story has a beginning," she said. "Theirs was born out of tragedy."

Vedder went on to play "Just Breathe," one of Pearl Jam's most famous love songs. The crowd in Orange County, much like the crowd at the wedding, was deeply moved by their story, later commenting online that they'd never forget Vedder's toast. 

"We met at a summer camp for children with broken hearts, but we built back up together," Brielle said in her vows. "The biggest takeaway from 9/11 — for me — was that you might be able to break down steel and structure, but you can never destroy love."

Now, Sean is a certified public accountant (CPA) and acts as the director of Camp Better Days. Brielle is an associate producer at the YES televsion network. The two live in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the river from the World Trade Center. 

Cover image via Taylor Siering

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