Debunked: Bobby McIlvaine died at 8:46 while entering the North Tower


Senior Member
I already wrote a related debunk in August 2021 ("Debunked: Claim that Bobby McIlvaine's injuries ("lacerations") are best explained as result of glass shards and debris from bombs"), and had announced in post #12 of that thread that "timing, location and circumstances of the body's retrieval, will be the subject of a separate thread I intend to write later this week". Ok, I never came around to that, but now I do!

Back then, the claim was about the cause of death, claimed to be bomb blast and associated high-velocity shrapnel.

So now, the claim I am going to debunk is this:
Claim by Bob McIlvaine sr.: His son, Bobby McIlvaine died from a bomb blast in the WTC lobby...
  • when the first plane hit the North Tower, or even a bit earlier, so at (about) 8:46
  • while or just before entering the North Tower, so very near its perimeter at lobby / plaza level
  • because he was heading for the 106th floor of the North Tower to help a colleague set up a presentation; alternatively, on his way to his office at the World Financial Center (other side of West St)
He makes a summary of this theory in this promo video for AE911T's "The Bobby McIlvaine Act", uploaded in December 2017:
My son, Bobby, was killed in the World Trade Center by an explosion that went off before the towers fell. Bobby was entering the lobby on his way to a meeting. The explosion that killed him may have happened right when the first plane hit. But according to some eyewitnesses it occurred even before that.

A more detailed account of the claim is paraphrased here by Craig McKee:
McIlvaine [...] has strong forensic evidence that his 26-year-old son, Bobby, was killed by a powerful explosion as he was about to enter the lobby of the North Tower.
He explained that he has been able to reach more definitive conclusions about the details of his son’s death only since conferring with the doctor who had examined his body at the morgue.
“My final summation is that he was walking into the building, and before he got into the building there was a huge explosion, and of course the force of it just threw him back into the open area,” McIlvaine says. “That’s why he was picked up so quickly, because the EMTs came down there so quickly. Someone had gotten him out of there and to the morgue before the towers came down.”
their son [...] worked for Merrill Lynch in an office building across the street from the World Trade Center. So McIlvaine thinks it’s possible that his son was either on his way to a Merrill Lynch seminar that was being held on the 106th floor of the North Tower or was cutting through to get to his own office.

What Bobby most likely did in the morning​

What is clear, and what everybody agrees on, is that Bobby worked at Meryll Lynch and had an office in the World Financial Center (WFC; I don't know at the moment which of these buildings, but knowing that makes no difference to anyone's arguments), but had plans that morning to first go to the Windows on the World restaurant on the 106ths floor of the North Tower:

Already on September 24, 2001, less than two weeks after 9/11, Jennifer Senior, then the sister of Bobby's roommate and best friend Kenny, wrote for The New Yorker:
Bob didn’t work in the World Trade Center. He was only there for a meeting, though my brother, his friend Andre (also a college roomie), and Jennifer [that's Bobby's would be fiancée, not the author] didn’t know this for sure until around 5 p.m., after a series of frantic phone calls to Bob’s employer (Merrill Lynch), then his previous employer, and then, desperately, to just about everyone they knew.

And earlier in that article:
...he probably made it all the way down from the 106th floor...

So there we have it for the first time that Bobby was supposed to have gone to the 106th floor of the World Trade Center that morning, although Mrs. Senior fails to spell out which of the twin towers.

Three years later, on the occasion of the 3rd anniversary, The Independent pulished an intervier with Bob sr., which affirms these points:
Recently promoted to assistant vice-president in the media division of Merrill Lynch, he had an office in the World Financial Centre, just across the street from the flaming towers. What his parents did not know was that on that day he was involved in setting up a trade show on the 106th floor of the north tower, just four floors below the restaurant Windows on the World.

Confirmation from a possibly independent source (independent of Bobby's family and friends) was first published in September 2006 (the article is dated 11 September 2018, but an Editor's note at the end says it was written for the 5th anniversary and has been updated):
My company lost three people that day. I knew one of them and went to his memorial service. He was a young man in his mid-20's who worked in our department. He was engaged to be married, with his whole life ahead of him. He was the new guy in the office.

In Vietnam, it was always "the new guy" who got it - the new guy who didn't know how dangerous the terrain was. That day the new guy didn't know he could get killed just by having breakfast in the wrong restaurant 100 floors above Manhattan.
On September 11, 2001, Fred [Yager, the author] was director of Global Broadcast Services and president of Merrill Lynch Television.

Bobby wasn't actually engaged yet - he was just about to get engaged when he died. He isn't mentioned by name here, but his age, 26, status as (almost) engaged, and as "new kid" in the company fit him perfectly. It would be quite the coincidence if another of the three losses that Merrill Lynch suffered fit the same criteria.

And finally, Jennifer Senior, the same who wrote two weeks after the events, the sister of Bobby's roommate, has far more detail on that meeting Bobby is believed to have gone to in her excellent essay in The Atlantic, August 2001 (unfortunately behind a paywall):
Then, on the morning of September 11, 2001, Bobby headed off to a conference at Windows on the World, a restaurant in a building to which he seldom had reason to go, for a media-relations job at Merrill Lynch he’d had only since July.
The story we’ve told ourselves all these years is that Bobby had already left the building when the planes hit. Bobby didn’t work in the World Trade Center; from what we could piece together, he’d gone to Windows on the World simply to help a new colleague set up for a morning presentation at an all-day conference, not to attend it.

And then, Jennifer Senior has this most interesting exchange with Bob sr., quoting him:
He rejects this explanation. “My theory is he was walking into the building at the time, because he had the conference up there.”

“I thought his conference started at 8:30?” I ask. The first plane hit at 8:46 a.m. That would have meant Bobby was arriving late.

“I thought it started at 9,” Bob Sr. says.

“Isn’t there a way to find out?” I ask.

“You know, to tell you the truth, I never …”

He’d never checked.

Breakfast and registration for the conference began at 8 o’clock. Opening remarks were scheduled for 8:30. Bobby’s colleague was scheduled to speak at 8:40. The full brochure is available on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s website.

And indeed, that full brochure shows the schedule:
And as you can see, a presentation of a Merrill Lynch manager was scheduled for 8:40 - just minutes before AA11 would hit.

There is no good reason at all for Bobby to arrive at the North Tower lobby around 8:46 if the plan was "to help a new colleague set up for a morning presentation", as Mrs. Senior put it. The time to do this would have been well before the Conference began at 8:30. Since Bobby's body was recovered with most body parts in one piece, and since everybody above the plane impact in the North Tower was trapped and died, it is clear Bobby was not there at 8:46, he either never showed up, or left before 8:46.

This debunks the theory that Bobby went into the lobby to go on up to the 106th floor when or just before the tower was hit around 8:46.

To round this out, Bob McIlvaine gave us plausible information on how Bobby may have made his way to the WTC that morning (starting at 50 s):
He worked at Merril-Lynch, across the street from the North Tower. He lived up at 66th [St] between 1st and 2nd [Ave.], took the subway down from uh Hunter College down there, gets it off at Fulton Street and heads across – he’d only been working there three weeks, and he would go through the Trade Center into – probably cutting through the North Tower, because Merril-Lynch is on the other side.

I checked that indeed the address described would be served by the Hunter College station and have trains going to Fulton St. I don't know exactly where a passenger heading for either the twin towers or the WFC would emerge from the Fulton St station, but as Fulton St itself is west of the plaza, near the north west corner of it, it is plausible that Bobby would have approached and entered the North Tower from the East. To then continue towards the WFC (and cross West St), one would most plausibly exit the tower via its western entrance and walk north towards the pedestrian North Brigde, which connects WTC6 and the WFC Winter Garden. See site plan:


As I am going on midnight, I will finish this post for today, although I have lots more to say on what is known about where and when Bobby's body was found, and what that tell us about where he was, and wasn't, when he died. Perhaps if you could refrain from posting too many replies before I get to it.......
You are, of course, referring (and linking) to the September 2021 issue.
The essay was published online in August, and in print in September 2021.
Just last month, it also came out as a small-format paperback booklet:

Jennifer Senior:
On Grief: Love, Loss, Memory
Atlantic Editions
ISBN-13: 978-1638930747
80 pages
About US$ 7 on Amazon in the USA. I paid €12 here in Germany.

Matter of fact: As I am following Mrs. Senior on Twitter, her tweets about this print edition prompted me to revisit the topic and finally write this debunk.