Lillie Leonardi's story may be unbelievable to some. But the former FBI officer, who retired after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder linked to her role in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks, continues to stick by her story. Leonardi's book, "In the Shadow of a Badge: A Spiritual Memoir," makes the claim that she saw legions of angels guarding the Pennsylvania site where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.
On the surface, it's one of those stories that seems fictitious and too good to be true, but Leonardi, 56, who served as a liaison between the families of the crew and passengers killed on the flight and law enforcement officials, isn't backing down from it. When she arrived at the site just three hours after the crash, encountering a scene that she vividly recalls, she was struck by numerous elements.
"I'm used to crime scenes but this one blew me out of the water. It just looked like the ground had swallowed up [the plane]," she recalls.
But aside from the unpleasant smells and sights, Leonardi saw something so startling that she decided to keep it to herself for fear that co-workers would think she had lost her scruples.
"That's when I started seeing like shimmery lights...and it was kind of misty and that's when I first saw, like, the angels there," she explains. "And I didn't say anything to the guys because you can imagine if I would have said, 'I just saw angels on the crash site,' they'd have called the office and they'd have said, 'She lost her mind and tell her to go home.'"
Here's how she describes the stunning scene in her book:
On this day, the shimmer of light began to grow and was almost blinding. I looked again and the light began to evolve into a foggy white mist. The white mist then began to take shape. It moved and swirled in patterns of spectacular white light. All at once, the mist took full shape and I saw what appeared to be angels. There were angels standing in the open area to the left of the crash site. There were hundreds of them standing in columns. There was a field of angels emerging from the realms of the mist. They were Archangels with their wings arched up toward the sky.”
Rather than initially telling others about what she saw, the former FBI staffer decided to keep it to herself for about two years. After she started to suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, she began confiding in a close circle of friends, telling them what she observed that day.
Watch Leonardi describe the scene:
As one could imagine, believing something that requires such a deep-seated faith is difficult. But it seems that at least some of those whom Leonardi confided in also believe her story. Kenneth McCabe, her former supervisor, is among the individuals who accepts her account of the "field of angels." Now also a retiree, the 59-year-old is backing the details presented in the book.
"I believe her. I read the whole book," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. "I know she believes 100 percent that's what she saw. I know she's a sane person so I'm not going to discount what she says she saw."
Now, Leonardi is looking for some healing. By sharing her story, she's hoping that's what she'll be able to find, while also driving home the fact that she wants readers to know that, despite the pain and devastation, God was present on 9/11. While she was raised a devout Catholic, the former law enforcement agent claims that she now practices "spiritualism."
Of course, she can't help but wonder why she -- and not others -- was permitted to see the angels. Certainly, she has no doubts about what she observed, but she finds herself stuck with the "Why?"
"To this day I know I saw those angels, I've never doubted that," she said. "What I doubted was, why me?"