By Kent Larsen
'Victim' of World Trade Center Attack Won't Give Family Names; Isn't LDS
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Steve Mendenhall, the Springville, Utah restaurant
manager who says he lost 12 family members in the attacks on the World Trade
Center, said last week that he would rather give up the almost $20,000
raised for him than divulge the names of the family members he lost in the
attack. His position has lead many to conclude that his claims are at least
unreliable, and, in spite of his residence in a predominantly LDS area,
Mormon News has learned that Mendenhall is not an LDS Church member.
Mendenhall first claimed that he lost family members in the tragedy at his
work, the Flying J travel plaza off I-15 in Springville, Utah. The claim led
coworkers to take up a collection for him and his employer to donate $15,000
to an aid fund. But when the company asked Mendenhall to either provide
death certificates or a list of the names of the missing family members,
Mendenhall objected, says Flying J corporate attorney Barre Burgon. After
five weeks of queries from the media, as well as a request from Burgon,
Mendenhall has so far refused to give a list of names, "He told me he values
his privacy more than the money," said Burgon.
Because of his reluctance, Flying J is returning the collected funds to the
donors, and $500 in cash donations that can't be traced to their donors will
go to the American Red Cross.
Now, many observers are calling Mendenhall's claim a hoax. He claimed that
the family members were in New York City as tourists, and planned to go to
the trade center on the morning of September 11th. However, the observation
deck in the towers normally opened at 9:30 am, making it unlikely that any
tourists were above ground level in the towers.
Springville Police Lt. Dave Caron, who notes that the family members were
not residents of Springville, finds Mendenhall's reticence odd. While he
isn't accusing Mendenhall of lying, he doesn't understand the failure to
give up a list of the names, "The reason to make this up is if he could get
his hands on some money or ... get some time off work, or get sympathy from
the notoriety," said Caron.
While Mendenhall did take two weeks off work, his boss, restaurant general
manager Michale Smith, says Mendenhall is noticeably different than before
the attacks. He is quiet and despondent, "I've talked to Steve and his wife
and you can tell they are going through rough times," Smith said. "His
family is from Italy and they are very private. They didn't want this to get
out alt all."
Meanwhile, Mormon News has learned that Mendenhall's name is not on the
records of the LDS Church, in spite of his residence in Springville, which
is more than 90% Mormon.
Man disavows aid fund after losing family in attacks
St George UT Spectrum (AP) 18Oct01 P2
By Catherine S. Blake: Associated Press