For five years, Reston resident Ellen Graves has had a picture of Norma Cruz Khan on her refrigerator. “And I talk to her everyday,” said Graves.
The two women met through the Multicultural Festival, which Graves helped start. Khan got involved early with helping to organize the event, becoming the chair of the foods committee.
Graves said Khan often brought her 13-year-old son, Imran, to meetings. “They were a marvelous team,” said Graves, recalling how Imran, who was a student at Langston Hughes Middle School at the time, often took notes for his mother.
WEEKS BEFORE the festival, Graves remembered receiving a call from Khan, a member services manager for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling National Association, saying she would be out of town for the next organizers' meeting.
That same night, Khan, a single mother, packed for a business trip to Reno, Nevada with help from her neighbor, ShaRon Ambers-Blowe. “Just like always before a trip,” said Ambers-Blowe, who would be taking care of Imran during Khan’s absence. “She did not like to travel because it took her away from him.”
The next morning, Sept. 11, 2001, Khan was taken away forever. As part of a coordinated terrorist plot that shocked the nation, Khan’s plane was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon, killing 184 people. Thousands more died in the day’s attacks and subsequent rescues.
Khan was 45 years old.
GRAVES SAID SHE remembers like it was today. She was at work, and a television was on in a conference room. The nightmare scene of planes flying into the World Trade Center’s twin towers had played. “When we saw that, we were completely paralyzed,” said Graves, who immediately hoped that Khan was safe in Reno. She found out early the next day that Khan was on the hijacked plane flown into the Pentagon.
“To me the pain is as great today as it was on 9-11, and it’s something I’ll never get over,” said Graves, crying as she spoke.
The pain is equally searing for Ambers-Blowe. As news spread about the plane crashes, with people glued to televisions sets, Ambers-Blowe got on the phone, calling Khan’s office.
“The receptionist just cried. She said, ‘I really shouldn’t tell you this,’” said Ambers-Blowe. “I said, ‘Oh God. No, you’re wrong. You have to be wrong.”
Ambers-Blowe, who found out for sure later that evening, remembers spending the day crying for her close friend and the orphaned son she left behind.
“They were extremely close. They did everything together,” said Ambers-Blowe.
Ambers-Blowe’s husband delivered the news to Imran as he sat in the kitchen. “He just cried and said, ‘No, no, no. It’s not my mom,’” said Ambers-Blowe, choked up as she retold the story. “There isn’t a day I don’t miss her.”
IN THE DAYS after the attack, the country still reeling, many in the local community wanted to cancel the Multicultural Festival at Lake Anne.
“There was such fear,” remembers Graves. Some organizers thought the event could be a target for additional attacks.
But Imran urged the organizers not to cancel. “Imran said, ‘Knowing my mother and how hard she worked, she would want it to go on,’” said Graves.
The event was held as scheduled, celebrating Reston’s diversity.
“We all just want to be a better person because of Norma,” said Ambers-Blowe.
Imran stayed in Reston for about a year after his mother died. He recently graduated from high school in Florida, where he lives with his uncle, an airline pilot. “He still calls me on Mother’s Day and Christmas,” said Ambers-Blowe.