Seven years after September 11, 2001, Dr. Sneha Anne Philip was officially listed as the 2,751st victim of the terrorist attacks that took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. Yet, her disappearance continues to be one 9/11’s most enduring mysteries. On the afternoon of September 10, 2001, the 31- year-old doctor left her apartment in Battery Park City, never to be seen again.
The last image ever taken of Sneha was captured via CCTV footage while she purchased a dress, lingerie, panty hose, bed linens and three pair of shoes from the Century 21 department store a few blocks from her home in downtown Manhattan.
31-year-old Sneha Anne Philip was last seen on the evening of September 10, 2001. She has officially been listed as a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks
Her husband, Ron Lieberman came home from work that evening around midnight to an empty apartment. Although strange, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Sneha to stay out late with friends. By the time his alarm clock went off the next morning on September 11, 2001 – Sneha was still not home. A few hours later, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center just a few blocks from couple’s one-bedroom Tribecca apartment.
The city descended into chaos, Lieberman tried dialing his wife from work and got the answering machine. Panic began to settle in when nobody in Sneha’s family had heard from her either. The last time Lieberman saw his wife was the previous morning when he kissed her good-bye before leaving to work in the Bronx where he was an emergency-room intern at the Jacobi Medical Center. He hitched a ride back to his apartment in an ambulance to look for Sneha, but the trip amidst frantic traffic took six hours. By 9pm, he made his way past the rubble and destruction toward his building but the front doors were closed shut without electricity. He was forced to give up and spend a sleepless night on a friends couch in the nearby West Village before finally heading home on the morning of September 12.
Sneha Philip and her husband Ron Lieberman met in 1995 as students at Chicago Medical School, both moved to New York after graduating for the internships. The two eventually got married in May 2000 before Philip went missing on the night before the 9/11 terrorist attacks
Sneha Philip poses with her father on graduation day. Philip was close with both parents, but on the afternoon she disappeared, Philip spent two hours speaking with her mother via instant messenger before she stepped out to run errands, never to be seen again
Sneha grew up in Albany, New York where she was known for her gregarious personality
Grey soot coated every surface in his apartment. There was no sign of Sneha; only the paw prints their cats had laid in the surface of the dust. At 2pm on September 10, 2001, Sneha sent her mother an innocuous instant message that turned into a two-hour conversation online.
Sneha’s parents and Lieberman hired a private investigator to help retrace her last steps on the day she went missing. Between 2 and 4pm, Sneha carried out an innocuous conversation with her mother via instant messenger on the computer, regaling in her weekend festivities and discussing her upcoming plans for the week. Sneha mentioned that she wanted to stop by the Windows of the Wold restaurant on top of the World Trade Center later in the week because her friend was set to be married at the famous venue in the spring.
Sneha used Ron’s credit card to charge the items she purchased from Century 21 around 6pm. A sales clerk in the shoe department remembers seeing Sneha with a friend that she described as petite with dark skin and in her early thirties, but the video footage from an hour prior show Sneha shopping alone. This mystery friend has never come forward.
The private investigator combed through Sneha’s favorite bars and local hangouts, he brought photos of her to the ferry docks hoping someone might have remembered seeing her on or before September 11. He forensically searched Sneha’s computer, hoping he might find evidence that revealed a secret lover. Taking into consideration the items Sneha purchased at Century 21 (lingerie, panty-hose and bed sheets); he speculated that maybe she was planning for an upcoming tryst but all leads came up short.
The shopping bags were never recovered and because the soot in the apartment essentially remained untouched, it can be deduced that Sneha never came back to her apartment after the terror attacks. The most compelling evidence in the case came from the apartment building’s security camera. Footage taken minutes before the first plane struck the World Trade Center show a woman resembling Sneha standing in the lobby, but the powerful morning sun obscured the image enough to make it difficult for Ron to be certain. It captures the woman waiting for the elevator before she inexplicably turns around to leave; some suspect that it might have been possible Sneha heard a loud boom and went outside to see what happened.
Eventually Sneha’s family began to accept that she most likely perished while using her medical expertise to assist the wounded in the immediate wake of the first crash. They strung together a theory based on the small circumstantial pieces of evidence they the private investigator had uncovered– maybe Sneha went out for drinks after she went shopping and knowing Ron was working late, she decided to spend the night at her friend’s place instead. Perhaps she returned home the next morning after Ron had already left for work but right as the first plane struck the North Tower. The theory had holes; for instance – the woman seen on the videotape was not carrying shopping bags. Regardless, their version of events was how they wanted Sneha to be remembered: a hero.
Ron Lieberman and Sneha Philip were married in a Jewish-Indian celebration in 2001. NYPD reports would later allege that Sneha was engaged in extra- martial affairs with women she while out at lesbian bars in New York City
Sneha poses with her two brothers in an undated photo
Sneha Philip’s life started to unravel in the months prior to her disappearance. She had been fired from her job as an intern at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan for alcohol abuse and tardiness. Later she was suspended from her second job for failure to seek alcohol counseling. Sneha also had a pending criminal charge against her, which led police to speculate that she might have used the opportunity in the immediate wake of 9/11 to disappear from her troubled life and start anew somewhere else
By October 2003, Ron filed a claim with the Victims Compensation Fund; the family was finally ready to close the tragic chapter in their history. However, the chance at closure for the Philip family would inevitably be delayed over the course of lengthy protracted legal battles.
Around this time, the NYPD launched their own investigation into Sneha’s case with shocking findings that would only deepen the mystery. Their report suggested that Sneha had been living an illicit double-life in the months prior to her disappearance on September 10, 2001. Details pointed to alleged drug and alcohol abuse, extra-marital affairs with women, and a pending criminal charge where she was accused of filing a false criminal complaint with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
The police concluded that Sneha’s led a high-risk lifestyle that most likely resulted in her falling victim to foul play sometime in the evening on September 10. They also suggested she could have used the opportunity in the immediate wake of 9/11 chaos to disappear from her troubled life and start anew somewhere else; but this theory was negated by the fact that Sneha left behind her glasses, passport, driver’s license and credit cards. And there is no record of her withdrawing money from their accounts after September 10.
It’s true that Sneha’s professional life leading up to her disappearance seemed to be spiraling out of control. In the Spring of 2001, she was let go from her job as a medical intern at the Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan for tardiness and ‘alcohol-related issues.’ Not long after that, she was involved in a barroom altercation that resulted in her spending a night in jail. Her purported struggles with depression and alcohol also started to affect her new job at Staten Island’s St. Vincent’s Medical Center where she was suspended for failing to meet with a substance-abuse counselor.
Court and police documents painted an entirely different picture from the wholesome heroic doctor who died saving others. They revealed that Sneha ‘often stayed out all night with individuals (not known to her husband) whom she met at various bars.’ This explained why Ron wasn’t immediately alarmed when Sneha didn’t come home on the morning of the 11th. Sneha supposedly favored lesbian establishments like Julies in Midtown Manhattan or Henrietta Hudson’s and Meow Mix. Ron admitted that Sneha was known to go home on occasion with women that she met at bars but insisted that it was always innocent. In 2006, he told New York Magazine: ‘These allegations of her being bisexual are ridiculous… Because we don’t live a conservative lifestyle doesn’t mean that anything abnormal is going on. I’m a musician. I’ve been going out to bars and clubs my whole life. It doesn’t mean these things are dangerous activities.’
Sneha’s husband Ron distributed flyers after her mysterious disappearance which eventually led to an eye witness that said she was seen with a friend while shopping at Century 21 department store in downtown Manhattan. This woman has never come forward
Sneha (back row) poses with her parents, husband and two brothers. The NYPD alleged in their report that Sneha’s brother John admitted to an investigator that he ‘walked in’ on his girlfriend and sister, Sneha in the bedroom a month before she disappeared. The family claims that the police completely fabricated this story
Indeed, the last time Ron Lieberman ever saw his wife was on the morning of September 10, when he accompanied Sneha to her court hearing where she pleaded not-guilty to the charge that she filed a false complaint. Months prior, Sneha accused a male co-worker of touching her inappropriately during a work function but an investigation revealed this to be untrue. She was arrested and spent another night behind bars.
The damning police report also alleged that Sneha stormed out of the courthouse on September 10 after the couple got into an argument over her alleged drug abuse and extra marital affairs. Ron denies that this ever happened. Sneha’s parents disputed the accusations lobbed against their daughter by the police. They contended that Sneha was fired from her job at Cabrini on the basis of a racial and sexual bias and maintained that her life and career was on track after a brief bout of depression.
Based on the police report’s findings, a Surrogate Court judge removed Sneha Philip from the 9/11 victims list in 2004 ; citing her ‘personal and professional problems’ along with a lack of sufficient evidence proving her whereabouts on the morning of September 11. This was a devastating blow to Sneha’s family.
Ron Lieberman told New York Magazine: ‘…even if she did all these things, it doesn’t explain what happened.’ He believed that pulling off the perfect murder on the same day that 3,000 people died also seemed like an unlikely coincidence. ‘These kinds of crimes don’t happen in lower Manhattan, that somebody goes missing from a homicide, and they don’t find the body,’ said Ron. ‘Killers are usually stupid, they leave clues. A body will come up. Sneha just vanished. Vanished, vanished, vanished, with no trace. The only thing that makes sense is that she burned in the World Trade Center.’
Sneha Philip’s family continued to fight for their daughter’s legacy for five long years – suffering grief in a million blows. Finally, in 2008, an appeals court reversed the decision made by the Surrogate Court in 2004. Regarding his decision, Justice David Saxe wrote. ‘Even without direct proof irrefutably establishing that her route that morning took her past the World Trade Center at the time of the attack, the evidence shows it to be highly probable that she died that morning, and at that site, whereas only the rankest speculation leads to any other conclusion.’
Sneha Anne Philip officially became the 2,751st victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York. Her name included among the 3,000 others in the memorial that honors those who lost their lives in downtown Manhattan has been ‘a source of comfort to the family,’ said a lawyer representing Sneha’s case in 2008.