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New London loses a mother and her little girl aboard hijacked airplane

New London — David McCourt held out hope all day that his wife and 4-year-old daughter had somehow missed their flight from Boston to Los Angeles and were not among those who died instantly when their plane crashed into the World Trade Center Tuesday morning.

He and his mother-in-law, Paula Clifford Scott, waited throughout the day at their Pequot Avenue home for official word from United Airlines, wishing Ruth Clifford McCourt, 45, and Juliana Valentine McCourt had never boarded Flight 175 and somehow had cancelled their trip to Disneyland.

But late Tuesday afternoon, McCourt received a call from United confirming that his family had been aboard the plane that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center just after 9 a.m. in an act of terrorism that unfolded on television before a shocked nation.

“ 'An inexpressible grief for her loving family,' is a phrase that has resonated here all day,'' said family friend Andrew Freedman, whose young daughter often played with Juliana. “It is a line Ruth's mother has said to me over and over again today.''

Mrs. McCourt and her daughter left their home Monday night to catch the early morning flight out of Boston. They planned to meet in Los Angeles with Mrs. McCourt's best friend, who flew out of Boston Tuesday on a different flight, Freedman said. The friend, who lived in Boston, was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which also left Logan Tuesday morning carrying 81 passengers and 11 crewmembers. That plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m.

Friends and family arrived throughout the day to the McCourt house at 756 Pequot Ave. and sat quietly on the back deck overlooking flowering rock gardens that dip into the mouth of the Thames River.

“This deck is a reflection of her,'' Freedman said of his friend. “She was open and beautiful and inclusive.''

Alice Fitzpatrick, a close friend of Ruth's mother, said everyone benefited from Ruth's hospitality.

“She reached out to people,'' Fitzpatrick said. “She loved to include people in whatever events were happening.''

Fitzpatrick added that Juliana was a delightful, happy little girl. She attended the Mitchell College Learning Center.

“She was a delicate little flower of a girl, tiny and sweet,'' Fitzpatrick said. “This is a tremendous loss. We are just flooded with a sense of loss.''

Mrs. McCourt, who was born in Cork, Ireland, was a well-known businesswoman in the Boston area and had owned the Clifford Classique Day Spa in Newton, Mass.

She came to New London in 1999 with her husband, who grew up in Waterford. The couple had been married seven years earlier at the Vatican in Rome.

They wanted to raise their daughter here, Freedman said, and bought the former Pequot Casino. Mrs. McCourt spent her time refurbishing the house from top to bottom.

“She loved this house and she adored her gardens,'' he said. “She opened up her home to the garden society and made every effort to make herself available to any organization that asked for help.

“She came to this town with a fresh spirit that no one had seen in a long time,'' Freedman added. “She had a combination of graciousness and open heartedness. ''

Mrs. McCourt was born June 4, 1956. Juliana was born May 4, 1997.

In addition to her mother, she has four brothers, Spencer Scott of Boston, Mark and John Clifford of Cork, and Ron Clifford of New Jersey.

A memorial service will be held at the Pequot Chapel at a time to be announced.
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