KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City’s FBI bureau is still grieving the loss of one of their own.
Special Agent Melissa Morrow responded to 9/11, working through huge amounts of toxic debris at the Pentagon.
Seventeen years later, she became one of the thousands who lost their lives because of the harrowing work.
Her best friend shared memories of Morrow’s legacy of service with KSHB 41 News.
Even before they met, Special Agent Page Pinson admired her service.
“She was my best friend, so right from the get-go we had a lot in common,” Pinson said.
Where one was, the other would be nearby.
The special agents just clicked.
“I met Melissa on my first day of the job at the Washington field office in D.C. she was assigned to be my training agent.”
By sheer accident or fate, they moved around the country together for more than a decade, landing in Kansas City.
“We ended up getting puppies from the same litter, and it was about the same time we ended up getting condos at the same building,” Pinson said. “Naturally we liked the same things. ‘Good cop bad cop,’ we always played off each other well over the years.”
Pinson says Morrow was a successful attorney at just 24 years old, and then decided apply to the FBI. A perfect score at Quantico was just the start of her success.
Morrow had a mind like a steel trap, excelling at everything she did, and was very well respected. Pinson said everyone looked to her for answers, as she was often the one in charge. Her career passions included crimes against children and focusing on keeping kids safe online.
“People ask me how I’m doing, and I think my brain is still in a lot in denial,” Pinson said. “I still talk about her all the time in the present tense. I still start to text her or call her if something funny happens it’s still really difficult.”
At 48 years old, Morrow died in 2018.
“At that point, she was completely riddled with brain tumors,” Pinson said. “They said her tumor load was something they had never seen before. She had about seven gumball-sized tumors.”
Pinson said it was the most aggressive type of cancer, without a cure.
Her death was ruled a line-of-duty death for her sacrifices surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.
Morrow and her team were intially part of the search and rescue mission at the Pentagon, but it progressed into evidence collection.
“She would sift through huge volumes of debris looking for evidence of human remains personal artifacts or documents, and these were all drenched in fuels, mold, and everything else,” Pinson said.
All this debris was stored in a nearby Navy warehouse.
“Every day they said they would have to open the doors and have it air out to where they could start their shifts,” Pinson said. “Their shifts were twelve hours long, seven days a week for ten weeks.”
Pinson said often, protective gear wasn’t available.
“You can see in the photographs that were circulating that Melissa and others may have a pair of gloves on, but that’s it,” she said.
Yet, Morrow continued to piece things together.
“She would tell me a story about how she was able to find a coffee mug, it was a broken coffee mug,” Pinson said. “She returned it to one of their family members — their father perished in the Pentagon — and that was really important to her.”
No one at that time knew those exposures would lead to many lives lost.
A new report from the Department of Justice says more people have died of 9/11-related illnesses than those killed from the initial attacks.
So far, tens of millions of dollars were awarded in compensation to thousands and thousands of Americans.
According to the CDC, more than 2,900 first responders died due to illnesses after the attack.
Pinson remembers Morrow in her last moments.
“She would write letter after letter after letter, ‘Thank you for this, thank you for that, thank you for being a part of my life,’” Pinson said.
She said her heart showed remarkable gratitude and how she loved the job until the very end.
“Knowing what she did, her illness, she would have still 100% done it all the same way and gone back in there,” Pinson said.
Not only will Pinson never forget her best friend — the community won't, either. Morrow's name is etched on the wall at the Regional Law Enforcement Memorial Garden. It’s the last name added to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
Special Agent Jerry Jobe, born in Liberal, Kansas, also died of 9/11-related illnesses. Jobe was diagnosed with colon cancer after his work at the Pentagon.
He died on the 9th anniversary of the attacks at 44 years old.