Remembering Knoxville-native killed in 9/11 attacks

Remembering 9/11

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Twenty years ago, Knoxville-native Tony Karnes was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. He has not been forgotten. For his sisters, there’s still a lot of pain and no closure for them because they don’t know how he died.

They say they can still hear Tony’s voice and they miss him. Since 2003, when the 9/11 Memorial was dedicated in downtown Knoxville, a member of Tony Karnes’ family has been to every ceremony, and they will be there again Saturday.

For them, 20 years ago seems like yesterday.

Brenda Vandever and her sister Gayle Barker look at pictures and memorabilia of their brother, Tony Karnes. He was a 1982 Gibbs High graduate working as a software trainer when he died as the first plane flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

“We really didn’t know what happened; didn’t know where he was at the time,” Brenda said. “But he was like 10 to 15 minutes from the tower from his apartment. So that would have either put him on his way or in the elevator which I doubt he would have had time to go to his office.

“That’s a terrible thing to happen to anybody. He had no way to defend himself. He was an ordinary citizen going to work like everybody else. I don’t know how he died.”

She adds that her brother loved New York City, but never forgot where he came from.

“In ’99 I guess it was, he had gotten up to New York, Thanksgiving time,” Vandever said. “He called me and said, ‘Sister, I can’t find cornmeal. You can’t find cornmeal in New York.’ He was going to make cornbread.”

There are three sisters in the family, then Tony. They would frequently visit their little brother in the Big Apple.

“He was a software technician; traveled the country training people,” Brenda said. “Then he got the call that he could go to New York. He lived there for a couple of years before this happened. We could go up and have a ball. I miss those trips. That’s his little pony that threw him off all the time.”

As Brenda and Gayle remember those times with Tony, Gayle’s 5-month-old grandson Thomas Anthony Barker is named after his great uncle.

“There have been weddings in our family,” Brenda said. “There have been births of children. We have children from a few months old to 11. They don’t know who he was.

“He was just a friendly, wacky person. But he was, ah, one of a kind. I don’t know, it’s just hard. It always will be. Twenty years is 20 years. Still, I keep thinking he’ll come to see us.”

Brenda and Gayle said they believe in their hearts that someday they will be reunited with their brother and will have a lot of stories to share.

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