9/11 memorial ceremony at Ground Zero honors victims of terror attacks

The families of 9/11 victims gathered at Ground Zero for a memorial ceremony commemorating the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017.
The families of 9/11 victims gathered at Ground Zero for a memorial ceremony commemorating the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Nicole Brown

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Alison Fox and Laura Figueroa. It was written by Nicole Brown.

Families of the thousands of people who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, stood in solidarity at Monday’s ceremony at the 9/11 memorial, 16 years after the Twin Towers were attacked. 

“It gives me some kind of peace,” said Miriam Carrasquillo, 64, of Flushing, who lost her sister, Deborah, in the attacks. “If I stayed home I would be a wreck. At least here I can comfort other families.”

Six moments of silence were marked by bells at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. They tolled at 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center, and at 9:03, when United Airlines Flight 175 hit the south tower; at 9:37, when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon; at 9:59, when the south tower collapsed; at 10:03, when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania; and at 10:28, when the north tower fell.

Shortly after the first bell tolled, relatives began reading the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, from a stage on the 9/11 memorial plaza.

Toronto resident Maureen Basnicki, who lost her husband, Ken, in the attacks, said it’s important for the families of victims to be together.

“I’m here to share the loss with so many family members,” she said, adding she was there with her son. “We prefer to take another day to quietly remember, we do our family thing another time. But it’s important for solidarity.”

The ceremony was a way to remember victims as more than numbers, said Long Island resident Margie Miller, 67, who lost her husband, Joel. He worked on the 97th floor of the north tower for the firm Marsh and McLennan.

“I want people to know him for the life that he lived, not just the famous way he died,” Miller said.

She noted that every 9/11 victim was assigned a number following their death.  

“I always say I need to put a face on P-2714,” Miller said. “It’s not just a name on the wall, that he had lived a life and that he lived on this planet. He breathed and loved and had a family.”

For many, like Eleni Kousoulis, the remains of loved ones were never recovered. Kousoulis, 47, lost her sister, Danielle, who was a Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader working on the north tower’s 104th floor.

“We feel a connection to Danielle here,” Kousoulis said, wearing a photo of her sister around her neck. “To us, this is her final resting place.”

Despite the somberness of the day, children who had never met the grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others lost in the attacks offered moments of brightness, waving American flags, proudly holding flowers and gently hugging loved ones.

But for some, seeing the children whose relatives’ lives were cut short has made the time since the attacks even more difficult. 

“It’s actually a little harder now,” said Long Island resident Patrick McGovern, 62, who lost his brother, William, a battalion chief with the FDNY. “You see the children who never saw their parents. As bad as it was then, it’s worse now.”

“It’s a give and take,” he added. “I assured my mother, who is not with us anymore, that I would always be here.”

Bay Ridge resident Joanne Capestro, 55, was on the 87th floor of the north tower when the attack happened.

She and her friend, Harry Ramos, started making their way down, but Ramos, she recalled, stopped to help a man who was having a heart attack. Both he and that man died.

“I come here every year to keep his memory alive for his two children,” Capestro said. “I keep his name alive and memory alive. He’ll always be in my heart.”

At viewing spots surrounding the memorial plaza, tourists and office workers paused and gathered in clusters to mark the moments of silence. They snapped cellphone pictures, live streamed the ceremony from a distance and just stopped and looked.

Frank Gotlibowski, 49, of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, was standing on Greenwich and Cedar streets with a homemade sign to remember his friend Jeff Bittner, a researcher for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. who was on the south tower’s 87th floor. 

With friends watching a livestream on an iPhone of the ceremony, Gotlibowski recalled Bittner as competitive, reliable and punctual.

“Its important for me to be here. I think it helps a little. You talk about it. It helps you deal with it,” he said. “It’s important to stop and take time to reflect on what happened.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Schumer, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King were among the public officials at the ceremony.