Fifteen Years Later, New York City Remembers

From Ground Zero to Liberty State Park across the Hudson, people commemorated the 9/11 attacks with speeches, music and tears.

img_2071Bells tolled, prayers were whispered, and hymns were sung, Sunday, as New Yorkers marked the 15th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center that cost the lives of nearly 3,000 people.  NY City Lens reporters covered some of the memorial services.

Moments of silence at the firehouse

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It was a gloomy Sunday morning, nothing like that crystal-clear day 15 years ago.  At 8:26 a.m., however, the sun broke through the clouds and sparkled on the medals of nearly two dozen firefighters who stood in front of the Engine 2015 Ladder 118 in Brooklyn Heights.   At 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, they took their caps off and observed a moment of silence.

The company lost eight firefighters that day—and on every 9/11 since then, those that survived honor their memory with a service.  Every year, family members of the firefighters that died also come to the service to share memories with the men who worked with them and knew them. This year, the service, was different— for the first time the memorial took place in the firehouse, not a church.

“Like it was yesterday,” said Irene Smith, the mother of Leon Smith, Jr., a firefighter who died on 9/11, who watched the ceremony on Ground Zero on a television set in the firehouse.  “It’s 15 years and the pain is still the same.”

One fireman showed her a photo of her son and one of his colleagues taken a week before 9/11 on a beach. She laughed, “I saw the picture before,” she said. But when all the firemen walked out to line up again at 9:59 a.m., her eyes filled with tears.

“I come every year with my sisters,” explained Smith, who along with her two sisters carried posters they had made of her son in 2002. “They didn’t find Leon’s body.”

Fifteen years ago, she said she watched the attack on TV in her house in Brooklyn. “I called the fire house. But they were already gone. I couldn’t do anything but sit there watching TV,” she remembered. Afterwards Smith said she came to the firehouse almost every week to talk to the other firefighters about her son, who’d served as a firefighter for nearly 20 years. The firefighters call her “Mother Smith.”

Smith wasn’t the only grieving parent at the firehouse ceremony Sunday. Salvatore Agnello, 83, said he got up at 5 a.m., and came to tBrooklyn Heights all the way from Staten Island. He was the father of Joseph Agnello, another firefighter who died on 9/11. When the attacks happened, Agnello said he was in the yard of his house in Staten Island.

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“I heard [what sounded like] a bomb around 9. I told my wife. And we saw the news on TV,” said Agnello. “I knew [Joseph] was there. We tried to call him, but no one answered.” Like Irene Smith, Salvatore Agnello was not able to speak with his son at all that day.

The late fireman’s two sons, Salvatore and Vincent, accompanied their grandfather to the service, along with their mother and grandmother.  Vincent was only 18 months old in September, 2001. He said he couldn’t understand what happened at that time.

“My family told me about 9/11. I grew up with this.” said Vincent, an actor whose TV show, Power, was aired Sunday night. “But I don’t know when I figured out what was really going on.”

VinnieCarla Agnello, his mother, remembered that it on his seventh birthday, Vincent asked for the first time about what happened to his father on 9/11.  “I was asking him what ice cream he wanted. He suddenly asked me, ‘Was my dad smashed?’” said his mother.

Two years ago, she wrote a memoir about her husband, Out of the Blue: A Suddenly Single Mother’s Memoir of Love, Intuition, and Healing. She said writing the book helped her to recover from the pain, and hoped to help others who lost their loved ones in 9/11.

In the memoir, VinnieCarla described how she desperately called her husband, but never reached him. Later that day, she received a call from Richie Murray, a firefighter who survived the 9/11 attacks. “My phone was the only one working,” said Murray, who had his own harrowing story about the day.

“When I was searching in the South Tower, the North Tower collapsed. I almost died,” he said.

His son, Richie Murray Jr. worked on Wall Street back in 2001. When Murray Jr. heard what happened, he went to the firehouse immediately. His father already had gone to Ground Zero. Murray Jr. said he borrowed what he found of his father’s gear (around 70 pounds of it) in the firehouse and went to Ground Zero to search for him. His mother later called him to tell him his father was okay.

“I grew up here in the firehouse. It was an instinct,” said Murray Jr., who volunteered to search and rescue people for days after 9/11.

Murray, Agnello and the others all gathered to celebrate mass in honor of their loved ones.  Father Michael Carrano led the service, and spoke after the six moments of silence that took place. After the mass, Fireman Gerard Bellettiere spoke to the congregation reminding them to always keep the memories of their colleagues who perished alive.

“When we go home, we have a family,” he said. “When we are here, we are a family. Never forget.”

The firefighters of this ladder company won’t. A poster of New York’s skyline with the Twin Towers hangs inside and outside, just a four minute walk away to the west, One World Trade Center, is visible, the new icon in the sky of the city.   — Yuqing Zhu

Prayers to never forget 

Randolph Freeman walked out of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, where a commemoration ceremony of the 15th anniversary was held Sunday morning, with 59 other members from his family. They all wore the same white T-shirts printed with the name and portrait of Tamitha Freeman, a 9/11 victim, who died at the age of 35.

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The 9/11 Memorial Museum and Ground Zero Plaza were only open to family members and responders until 3 p.m. Sunday, but locals and tourists still gathered outside the security line in the morning. They constantly looked up to the top of the new 1 World Trade Center, just like people did 15 years ago when they looked in horror at the smoky towers.

Throughout Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and across the Hudson River in New Jersey at Liberty State Park, memorial ceremonies marked the 15th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers, when nearly 3,000 people perished. Families, like those of Tamitha Freeman, honored their loved ones who died and others spent the morning recalling where they were when they heard the horrible news.

Freeman said he was working at John F. Kennedy International Airport, when he heard that the one of the towers had been hit. He knew his daughter Tamitha worked in the south tower for Aon Corporation. He kept calling, but could not get through, he said on Sunday.

“I was hoping that, my daughter was in the subway. Maybe she was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. And then the building collapsed,” said Freeman. Even then, he didn’t give up hope.

Across the Hudson in New Jersey, about 150 people attended a 15th anniversary ceremony near the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. At the park, where the service was held, twin walls point toward Ground Zero. New Jersey lost 749 people on 9/11, and their names are carved on the interior of the walls. As people gathered here to pay tribute to the victims, a band from the U.S. Military Academy played “Empty Sky,” a song written by Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey native.

On the day of the attacks, hundreds watched the buildings collapse from the site. Fifteen years later, the city’s new skyscraper and symbol of resilience, 1 World Trade Center, stands just across the Hudson River is visible, a symbol of resilience.

“We must remain united to fight this war on terrorism,” said Faith Miller, chairwoman of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Foundation, in her keynote speech. “Make humanity and kindness to one another outweigh the evil of terrorism.”

“I thought maybe she was trapped in it and tried to get out,” he added. “So we waited until the next day, but we hadn’t heard from her. No one heard from her. At that moment, I realized that, she was gone.”

Freeman left behind her one-year-old son, Xavier White, who is now a 15-year-old high school student.


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Linda Alviggi and her husband, who sat near the Empty Sky Memorial were luckier than the Freeman family. Fifteen years ago, Alviggi’s husband worked on the 103rd floor of the South Tower, and her office was at Exchange Place not too far away. But when the plane crashed into the first tower, they were both on their way to office, but stuck in the traffic in Jersey City. In their car, they watched the buildings falling down in front of them, in shock.

Then they realized their two kids were still at a daycare center. Their cell phones didn’t work, so they drove until they found a phone booth in Jersey City, lining up with fifteen other people to make a call to the daycare.

“I believe they thought I was out of mind, because I was yelling ‘Take the kids to the basement! We’re under attack!’” Alviggi said on Sunday.

Alviggi said her husband’s company lost 300 people at that day, and her husband did not work for about one year because his company’s office was destroyed. All her husband did that year was attending funerals. She said she too put aside her work for a week and drove as close as she could get to Ground Zero every day to donate food, batteries and water. For a few days after the attack, she said she was struck that she did not hear the sound of planes.

She said she still remembers the stillness and the pain, but on this Sunday, she wanted to get a picture of her son, Nicholas Alviggi, 15, who was a mere infant when the attacks happened, serve as a flag-bearer at the ceremony.

Christopher Rodriguez, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, also knows the importance of keeping the memory alive. He said he and his wife prayed every night for their children.

“We pray that they will never have to experience what we have experienced,” Rodriguez told the gathering, “that they will never have to confront the evil that we faced that day; that they will live a life devoid of fears, and full of endless possibilities.”    —  Xioxian Liu

A requiem for 9/11

The music for the closing processional at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, following Sunday mass was uncharacteristic, but fitting for the day, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  Instead of traditional church music, the choir sang “God Bless America.”  Sunday’s entire three-hour service was dedicated to those who lost their lives 15 years ago in the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

Services, of course, took place all over the city Sunday, but this one was unique. Throughout the service, Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor,” an orchestral piece with choral parts, was performed by The Schiller Institute NYC Community Chorus, a local choral group.  Monsignor Kieran Harrington, the rector of the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph, said it was the first time that Mozart’s piece has been performed at a mass since John F. Kennedy’s memorial service at Boston’s Holy Cross Cathedral in 1964.

“We wanted to do something different. This was very special,” Harrington said.

 

The mass was led by Nicholas DiMarzio, the Bishop of Brooklyn, honored firefighters from Brooklyn who died in the attacks, particularly those from Battalion 57 in Bedford Stuyvesant. But it also touched on the broad Catholic themes of absolution and repentance. Dressed in a green vestment decorated with gold embroidery, the bishop spoke about parables of care and forgiveness.

He cited an image from 9/11 of a fireman carrying a woman on his shoulders and said the image was one of the Good Shepherd.

“What can our response be to terrorism?” he said. “We must forgive as God forgives.”

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In introductory remarks before the mass, Thomas Callahan, a firefighter in Brooklyn’s Engine Company 219,  paid tribute to all the firefighters, first responders and volunteers who helped on September 11th. His speech highlighted the spirit of kinship among firefighters who risked their lives and perished.

“May God bless the memories of all those we lost and you,” said Callahan.

Sunday’s service began with a procession of flags down the church’s colonnaded central nave. They were carried by members of Engine Company 219. The names of 25 firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center were then solemnly recited.

Several of the readings were done by members of various local fire departments. One of the readings was by Anthony Palombo, a seminarian whose father, Frank, a member of Ladder Company 105, died on 9/11.  — Suzanne Ybarra

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