At first glance, 31-year-old Indian American physician, Sneha Anne Philip, had what appeared to be an incredibly mundane Monday off from work on September 10, 2001. She ate breakfast with her husband, Dr. Ron Lieberman, around 10:00 AM. Later, she messaged her mother, dropped clothing off at a dry cleaners, and did some shopping. Credit card transactions showed that she had purchased “lingerie, a dress, pantyhose, and three pairs of shoes” totaling around $550 just after 6:00 PM that day.
However, Sneha’s husband arrived home from work after midnight and found that she had not come back that evening to their Battery Park City apartment. Ron assumed that she had stayed at the home of either her brother or cousin, as he claimed Sneha had done in the past.
When Ron left for work at 6:00 AM on September 11, he noticed that Sneha had still not returned. After the September 11th terrorist attacks that morning, Ron “[used] his medical credentials to get through the security perimeter and return to their apartment,” which was a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. However, Sneha was nowhere to be found.
Due to an open window, their apartment had been filled with dust from the debris. Though Ron found tracks from their cats throughout the apartment, there were no human footprints, and ultimately, no evidence that Sneha had returned there. He also learned from her brother and her cousin that she had not stayed with either during the previous night. Later, further confusion arose when a shoe store clerk claimed Sneha had been shopping with another woman, who remains unknown, on September 10, 2001.
Sneha immediately became one of “more than 9,000 people” reported missing as a result of September 11, 2001. However, she remained one of the few missing people that could not be officially determined to be a victim of the terrorist attacks.
After filing two missing persons reports, and hiring his own investigator, Ron discovered security footage of an unidentifiable brunette standing in the lobby of their apartment building on the morning of September 11th. Only moments before the first plane hit the World Trade Center tower, the woman lingers near the elevator, then turns abruptly, and walks out of the building. But, she was not carrying shopping bags from the day before, and the film was too distorted to confirm whether it was Sneha or not.
Intense speculation surrounds the disappearance of Sneha Philip, her movements in the days before, and whether or not she is still alive. The mystery of her fate persists with very different possibilities and bizarre details, some of which have put her family, the police, and the public at odds.
Her family insists that she must have been a heroic victim of the attacks, rushing out of her apartment building lobby to assist in treating the injured after the first plane struck the tower. The police insist that Sneha’s life was falling apart, that she would soon be fired by the hospital, had alcoholic tendencies, and was pursuing extramarital affairs with women, as her marriage and career crumbled. Some people argue that, according to the evidence surrounding her disappearance, Sneha most likely left of her own accord to start a new life. And, still more wonder if she fell victim to an [incredibly lucky] murderer in the day before, or day of, the national tragedy.
Endless, yet simple, questions remain unanswered. Where did Sneha stay the night before September 11th? Was she the woman in the lobby, and did she leave to provide medical assistance during the attacks? Who was the unknown woman shopping with Sneha the day before she went missing? And, if completely innocent, why has this woman not came forward? Finally, what happened to Sneha, and potentially most important to determining her fate, who exactly was Sneha Anne Philip?
September 10, 2001
Around 10:00 AM: Sneha and Ron have breakfast together. She tells him that she plans on doing housework and running errands that day, and seems to be in a good mood, according to Ron.
4:00 PM: Sneha signs off of her instant messenger account.
5:15 PM: Sneha is shown leaving their apartment building on security footage.
Around 6:00 PM: Sneha makes the purchases at the Century 21 department store.
7:18 PM: Sneha Philip is last seen on security footage shopping at Century 21. “She was carrying two large shopping bags containing about $550 worth of lingerie, three pairs of shoes, and bed linens when [seen] on the security tape.”
While at Century 21, a shoe clerk claims Sneha was shopping with another Indian woman “whom [Sneha] said was a friend” and is described as “5’2″ and 115 to 120 pounds with short black hair.”
September 11, 2001
After 12:00 AM (Possibly 11:30 PM): Ron returns home from work to an empty apartment. He is irritated that Sneha did not “call when she stayed out late,” but she had a “habit of staying out all night without checking in.”
Ron assumes (incorrectly) that “she’d spent the night at [her cousin,] Annu’s place a few blocks away or ended up in the West Village with her brother John.”
Around 6:00 AM: Ron goes to work and attends a meeting uptown. He notices that Sneha had not returned during the night.
8:43 AM: Just three minutes before the first airplane crashes into the World Trade Center, a thin brunette woman is captured on security footage in the lobby of Sneha and Ron’s apartment. “Visible only in silhouette,” she lingers by the elevators and then walks out of the building.
Her clothing is not inconsistent with that of Sneha’s in the Century 21 footage, but cannot be seen clearly “due to the poor contrast from the sunlight in the lobby.” Her family believes the woman exhibits similar mannerisms as Sneha but cannot confirm that it is her.
9:00 AM: Ron’s work meeting ends and he learns of the World Trade Center attack.
9:00 PM: Ron makes it back to their apartment building but is unable enter as the front doors will not open without electricity.
September 12, 2016
*Early Morning*: Having still been unable to get in contact with Sneha, Ron is successfully able to finally enter the apartment and finds no evidence that she had been there.
A Strategic Lie
According to her family, the most formidable impediment to the search for Sneha was the day on which she went missing. After the September 11th tragedy, Ron almost immediately joined countless others handing out flyers with details about missing loved ones. He attempted to contact media outlets and get Sneha’s picture distributed, however, Ron soon realized that:
“…When reporters learned that Sneha had not been heard from since the 10th, they lost interest. They wanted real 9/11 stories.”
Out of desperation, Ron allegedly asked Sneha’s brother, John, to do an interview with reporters while “leaving out a few details” so that her case would be covered more heavily in the post-911 media. John, however, pulled out all of the stops, and dramatized an entirely false story, lamenting the following to reporters.
“I was on the phone with her, and she told me she couldn’t leave because people were hurt. She said, ‘I have to help this person,’ and that’s the last thing I heard from her.”
The lie worked and Sneha’s picture, along with the made-up story, were aired on the national news, but they yielded no new leads or witnesses. As more time passed, and no further evidence emerged, John said that he “began to worry that he had led investigators down the wrong path, preventing [Sneha] from being found.” He ultimately admitted to lying and recanted his entire interaction with Sneha on September 11th.
But this initial lie, though potentially told for good reason and for much needed publicity, has followed the Philip family throughout the search for Sneha. Many people still question why the family wanted Sneha viewed as a victim of the 9/11 attacks, as this determination has never had any concrete evidence, and would essentially close any formal investigations into her fate.
Regarding the lie, Ron has insisted that:
“It [was] a desperate situation and [the media] wouldn’t talk to us.”
A Double, OR Simply An Unconventional, Life?
After meeting in 1995 at Chicago Medical School, Ron and Sneha were married in a “Jewish-Indian celebration” in May 2000. According to reports, “she was an artist, he played guitar—they stood out among their medical-school classmates,” and though they worked long hours, they lived a charmed life and were good people. But, Sneha’s arraignment on the morning of September 10th seemed to be one item in a collection of many that had gone awry for her in 2001.
The charge was the result of a late night interaction, between Sneha and a fellow intern at Cabrini Medical Center, in which a group of co-workers had gone out drinking. During the outing, Sneha “got into a dispute at a bar,” and would, ultimately, end up spending the night in jail. She would also file a criminal complaint that night accusing the intern of “[grabbing] her inappropriately.” However, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office eventually dropped the sexual abuse charge against her co-worker, and subsequently, charged Sneha with filing a false police report.
Earlier that year, Cabrini Medical Center, had notified her that it would not be renewing her internship, citing repeated tardiness and alcohol-related issues. According to reports, this is “for interns, the equivalent of being fired.” Her husband and family have consistently maintained that Sneha was “fired from Cabrini not because of alcoholism but because she had been a ‘whistleblower’ who complained about racial and sexual bias.”
Sneha was able to procure another internship in internal medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center on Staten Island, but continued to have issues there as well. Though she had only been with the facility for a short amount of time, she was already facing suspension due to “missing a meeting with a substance abuse counselor.”
According to police reports, Ron had been angry with Sneha after her arraignment, and accused her of “abusing drugs and alcohol and [conducting] bisexual acts.” They loudly argued and Sneha left the building. However, according to Ron, this argument never happened. He fervently insists:
“Either I’m a liar or they’re lying, because I’m 100 percent positive about this.”
During the investigation by New York police, many more details were alleged which the husband and family of Sneha Philip adamantly deny. The detective assigned to Sneha’s case detailed in his report that, “her brother John [had] walked in on her and his girlfriend—now the mother of his son—having sex.” The report also claimed that Sneha “often stayed out all night with individuals (not known to her husband) whom she met at various bars.” The investigator also detailed her various appearances at lesbian bars in the area.
Sneha’s brother, John, “maintains that he never even spoke with” that specific detective on the case, and that the allegations of sexual relations with his girlfriend are “simply untrue.” Ron has pointed out that Sneha began to frequent lesbian bars after she had been groped by her co-worker “because she did not want a repeat of [that] situation.” Though he admitted Sneha may have gone home with other women, Ron insists that the relationships were platonic and they “talked or made art or listened to music until they fell asleep.” He further emphasized that:
“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.”
Regardless of their veracity, the police reports were enough to convince the city medical examiner to remove Sneha Philip from the official list of September 11th in January 2004.
A Nefarious Lack of Evidence
Some people have pointed out, as is addressed in this Thinking Sideways podcast episode, that a real issue with Sneha’s disappearance is that there is only one prevailing narrative– that of her husband.
However, there are the allegations, and borderline character assault, presented by the New York police department investigation. The frustrating part of the police reports is their insistence on how virtually anything could have happened to Sneha, coupled with their lack of real evidence. If the police are so convinced by Sneha’s actions that she could have been abducted or murdered in a way unrelated to the September 11th attacks, then why has there not been an in-depth, full-fledged effort to find her?
It seems unreasonable to present the character flaws of a potential victim as evidence that she was not a victim of the attacks, and then not investigate exactly what did happen to her. If leaving bars with unknown people, or staying out all night in New York without notifying anyone, does legitimately put one at risk of being a victim of other nefarious situations, then why was that not the focus of their investigation? Why were these details, that her family believe are so detrimental to her character, even publicly presented by authorities if they do not conclusively point towards to another (more likely) situation? It seems pointless, and kind of cruel.
The most convincing support for Sneha’s disappearance being unrelated to the September 11th attacks is the lack of key evidence:
- Who did Sneha stay with on the night of September 10th?
- Where are the shopping bags of items Sneha bought on September 10th?
- Who was the woman Sneha was observed shopping with on September 10th?
- If Sneha stayed out that night, where did she go, where did she eat, and with whom?
These details, if completely unrelated to her disappearance, seemed odd to have not been clarified in the investigations afterwards.
One point of contention in the Thinking Sideways podcast is the lack of evidence revealed by Sneha’s husband from the private investigation. In probably the most extensive article written about Sneha’s disappearance (and one of the most cited in this post), the author even mentions that Ron “refused to allow [him] access to the private investigator’s report, which might have corroborated or refuted the police account.”
The surveillance footage of the woman, who is possibly Sneha, in the lobby has not been released to the public. And though Sneha’s brother, John, denies he caught her having sex with his girlfriend, there are no public confirmation or denials from his girlfriend.
There seem to be three prevailing theories surrounding Sneha Philip’s disappearance.
- Sneha died in the World Trade Center.
According to proponents of this theory, she may have checked out the restaurant she talked to her mom about, or have been walking home near the towers when the first plane hit. She could have also been the woman in the lobby surveillance footage and ran to the towers, in an effort to assist the wounded, after the first plane hit.
A total of 2,753 people are presumed to have died in the World Trade Center attacks. Out of this amount, only 1,538 people were “forensically identified from recovered physical remains.” These statistics create the very real possibility that Sneha may have perished in the buildings and that she simply remains unidentified. Though the unsavory details of possible affairs and alcoholism may have tainted the memory of the beloved physician, even the investigator who presented those claims “eventually testified in the death-certificate proceedings that he thought Sneha probably died in the towers.”
However, criticisms of this theory include that most medical professionals were generally encouraged to go to their respective hospitals and await victims there. Also, there were tents and first responder areas set up around the buildings, and these areas were not affected by the collapse of the buildings. The restaurant that Sneha wanted to visit was not open during this time (as it did not serve breakfast), though it was hosting a private event. After the first plane struck the tower, first responders were focused on evacuating the building, and unless Sneha was already there at that point, it is unlikely she would have been allowed in.
- Sneha disappeared of her own accord.
This prevalent theory seems to be largely supported by the ancillary narrative released in the NYPD reports regarding Sneha’s character. If she were possibly homosexual, and unhappy with her marriage or stunted career, some believe that provides enough motivation to abandon everything and start a new life, or commit suicide. In addition, apart from the rumors regarding her sexuality, Sneha had been fired in her last position, was facing suspension in her current position, and had to handle the legal charges for filing a false police report. Another often cited detail in support of this theory is that female physicians kill themselves at a rate “250 to 400 percent higher” than other professionals.
The private investigator hired by Sneha’s family did reportedly search her computer, but no evidence of any plans, or desires, to leave or commit suicide emerged. It is also claimed that she left “her glasses, passport, driver’s license, and credit cards.” (However, if she were out at bar, or drinking with an unknown friend, as assumed on the night of September 10th, it seems bizarre that she did not have her driver’s license.) And, regarding Sneha’s issues, her family is adamant that it seems like “just when she was putting her life back together, she disappeared.”
As with most unresolved disappearances in which suicide is suspected, it is unlikely that her body, or any evidence of the intention to commit suicide, was not recovered. And, the lack of information regarding her whereabouts, shopping bags, and female companion on September 10th remains.
If Sneha had decided to start an entirely new life, she would have been giving up almost a decade of education, as well as a lucrative career and a seemingly comfortable lifestyle. She would have also decided to do this the day before (or on) an incredibly chaotic national tragedy that effectively made traveling, by plane at least, very difficult. The entire scenario seems unlikely, though theoretically possible.
Many people were reminded of Sneha’s disappearance when a weirdly applicable postcard was submitted to Post Secret, an ongoing mail art project where people submit homemade postcards anonymously which detail their secrets. The card read: “Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead.”
- Sneha was abducted or murdered.
Another theory is that Sneha may have been the victim of abduction or murder. Again, the dark undertones of the police reports seemed to suggest that the investigators initially “theorized Philip was murdered by someone she picked up.” It has been confirmed, whether sexual or platonic, that Sneha was accustomed to staying at the homes of people with whom she was newly acquainted...The only real argument for this possibility is that no one has come forward to confirm where Sneha stayed on the night of September 10th. Also, no one has admitted to finding or having her shopping bags which were worth around $550 in merchandise. However, if Sneha did intend on going out to the bar that night, why would she have taken her shopping bags along in the first place, and not dropped them off at home first?
Like the runaway theory, the concept of an abduction and/or murder taking place separately in the chaos of September 11th seems incredibly synchronistic, and speculative. The family’s private investigator has commented, “Did she have some personal issues? Sure. We all do. But something would have shown up in my investigation if there was foul play.”
The Vanished Doctor
Sneha Philip is remembered by her family as having, “the sense and ethos of a creator.” She enjoyed classical music, painting, and writing. Ron and Sneha, married for only one and a half years, “favored the jazz clubs of Greenwich Village and hole-in-the-wall sushi joints near Gramercy Park.” Her mother describes her as “so kind, compassionate, beautiful inside, beautiful outside.”
In 2008, after an appeal by her family, Sneha was added back onto the official list of September 11th victims. News reports detailed that:
“..the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division rejected a court-appointed guardian’s report that Philip may have risked her life by abusing alcohol and drugs, saying the sources in the report weren’t credible.“
Without conclusive proof of Sneha’s fate, her family has tried to make sense of her disappearance. Regarding her addition back to the list of victims, her other brother, Ashwin Philip, commented:
“This is the most commonsense thing that happened to her. It’s not that we have 100 percent proof. With all the information that we have, this is the most likely explanation.”
Sneha was last seen wearing a brown, button-down shirt dress and brown sandals. If you have any information relating to the disappearance of Sneha Philip, or her whereabouts on September 10-11, 2016, please contact the New York City Police Department at 212-334-0635.