Hundreds of pieces of jewelry from the wreckage still haven't been claimed.
NEW YORK -- The World Trade Center attacks stole everything that was precious from David McCourt -- his wife, Ruth, and their 4-year-old daughter, Juliana, were passengers aboard Flight 175, the plane that exploded into the south tower.
But last month, as if dropped from heaven, McCourt got something back from that awful day.
His wife's wedding ring, a pearl and diamond-encrusted band that inexplicably survived the fiery crash in pristine condition, was returned by the New York City police department.
"I think for me it is symbolic, in that it goes beyond the law of probability that I would get it back intact," McCourt told the New York Daily News. "I consider it a miracle. I just started crying because I felt like she was giving it back to me."
Five years after Sept. 11, the story of the McCourts' wedding band is one of luck and love, of persistence and pain, and of a disaster that continues to reveal buried secrets.
It also serves as a reminder that amid the tons of debris from that day, there are still some 400 pieces of jewelry -- most of them ghostly globs of half-melted metal -- sitting unclaimed at police headquarters.
"Some of it is in fairly decent and certainly recognizable condition," said Police Chief Joe McGrann, who oversees the property division. "But in many instances it will be a single stone, like a pearl, or an earring that is damaged, or a watch with no identifying marks on it."
The police department continues to try to reunite the lost treasures with victims' family members. But the process is cumbersome as relatives are required to submit detailed claims or photos describing each item and, even then, must prove they are the rightful heirs.
McCourt had stayed in contact with the police, hoping they would somehow find the distinctive ring with the South Sea pearl that he had placed on his wife's finger when they married at the Vatican in 1994.
She was a beautiful lass from County Cork, Ireland, who loved painting, gardening and, most of all, motherhood. The 45-year-old mom was flying from Boston to Disneyland with Juliana, born in 1997, that September morning in 2001.
Gave information to police
McCourt provided the ring's exact specifications to the police in 2004, thanks in part to the jeweler who made the sacred band. But McCourt never thought he'd find the ring, which unbeknown to him had been recovered amid the rubble in 2001 and safeguarded ever since, awaiting a claimant.
"Before, I could never look at a picture of Ruth," the 59-year-old cried. "It was just too painful. Now I can look at her picture again, so it was transformative for me in many respects."
In 2002, police had returned to McCourt his wife's wallet, which contained her ID as well as a papal coin from their wedding day -- a keepsake he never knew she carried with her.
"Now I wear it around my neck," he said of the coin. "I just want it close to me."
But unmarked jewelry has been much harder to connect with heirs -- in part because of a contract dispute between the police and a Connecticut-based company hired to electronically catalog the valuables.
The police say Sconset Technologies Corp. never worked out bugs in the cataloging program, but Sconset president Joe Ostroski says the program works fine.
None of that matters to McCourt, whose painstaking ordeal finally ended Aug. 31, when he walked into 1 Police Plaza and got back his band.