Fact check: No evidence to support viral story about firefighter who died on 9/11

The claim: A man named Jake Matthews died on 9/11 while rescuing a pregnant woman from the World Trade Center

As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaches, social media users are sharing a false tale about a man who died while rescuing a pregnant woman from the World Trade Center.  

The story goes like this:

The pregnant wife of a man named Robert Matthews narrowly missed getting on one of the hijacked flights on 9/11 due to a flat tire. But Matthews’ father Jake, a retired New York City firefighter, died rescuing people from the World Trade Center.

Years later, a man tells Robert Matthews that Jake Matthews saved his pregnant wife from the World Trade Center.

“When their baby boy was born, they named him Jacob Matthew, in honor of the man who gave his life so that a mother and baby could live,” the story says.

In this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo, smoke rises from the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center after hijacked planes crashed into the towers, in New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) (Photo: The Associated Press)

That story, shared in a May 2019 Facebook post that recently received a lot of comments, may be heartwarming, but there’s no evidence to suggest it actually happened.

According to the Facebook post, the story became public Sept. 11, 2003, after Robert Matthews spoke with a Norfolk, Virginia, radio station. But USA TODAY found no evidence of such a report, and there’s no record of someone with the name “Matthews” dying in the 9/11 attacks. This story has circulated online for more than 17 years and has been debunked several times.

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USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the story for comment.

No one named Matthews died on 9/11 

The 9/11 Memorial, located at the site of the World Trade Center, lists the names of the 2,983 people who died during the 2001 and 1993 terrorist attacks. The list doesn’t include anyone named Matthews.

The list includes everyone who died on 9/11 at the Pentagon and in the World Trade Center’s south and north towers, as well as first responders and passengers on the four hijacked flights. The list also includes the victims of the 1993 bombing inside the World Trade Center’s parking garage.

No one on that list has the last name “Matthews.” USA TODAY also searched for “Jake Matthews” and “Jacob Matthews” and found no victims with those names. Searches for the names on severalother memorial databases yielded no results.

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In the years after the 9/11 attacks, news organizations shared many stories about the victims, families and survivors. USA TODAY could not find any reputable reports about the story shared in the Facebook post. Neither USA TODAY nor Snopes could find any Norfolk radio reports about the story, either. 

Our rating: False

The claim that a man named Jake Matthews died on 9/11 while rescuing a pregnant woman from the World Trade Center is FALSE, based on our research. There is no record of anyone with the last name “Matthews” dying in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The story has circulated online for more than 17 years and has been debunked several times. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • Snopes, Oct. 18, 2003, Was a Child Named After Robert Matthews, 9/11 Rescuer?
  • Lead Stories, July 22, 2019, Fake News: Norfolk Man Story About 9/11, Retired NYFD Father
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum, accessed June 21, About the Memorial
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum, accessed June 21, Names on the 9/11 Memorial
  • CNN.com, In-Depth Special, accessed June 21, September 11 | A Memorial
  • NYC.gov, accessed June 21, 9/11 Memorial All Victims Names
  • Britannica, accessed June 21, Timeline of the September 11 Attacks
  • National Transportation Safety Board, Feb. 19, 2002, Flight Path Study – United Airlines Flight 175
  • NBC 4, New York, Sept 8, 2016, Sept. 11 Survivor Searches for Pregnant Woman He Helped Save
  • U.S. Department of State, accessed June 22, 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

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