Grieving family members of the nearly 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, gathered in lower Manhattan on Wednesday to mark the 18th anniversary of the terror attacks.
The annual ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial plaza began with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Houses of worship across the city tolled their bells as thousands of people, donning blue ribbons, remembered the loved ones lost. Flowers, balloons and signs with photos of the victims peppered the area around the ceremony.
George Bachmann, 68, of Park Slope, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was injured that day responding to the scene. "Time has a way of erasing memories, but for those who were here, it means a lot," he said.
Margie Miller, 68, lost her husband Joel, who worked at Marsh & McLennan on the 97th Floor of the north tower.
"I felt very compelled to come. Most of us have few remains, 40% of us have no remains. So in many, many ways this is our cemetery," Miller, of Long Island, said. "So even those who have remains, there is a sense of holiness to this ground, and I feel that way."
Reflecting on the 18th anniversary, Miller said grief still lingers for her and others whose loved ones perished in the terror attacks.
"Grief is like a shadow, it almost follows you, so I don’t think it’s something that you get over," she added. "If you ask any family member, it’s not something you get over, but I do think you get through it, hopefully in a healthy way."
Family members read the names of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, as well as those aboard Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The names of the six people who were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing also were read aloud.
La-Shawn Clark, 53, was among the family members who read names during the ceremony. Her husband, Benjamin Keefe Clark, 39, was working as an executive chef at Fiduciary Trust Company International in the south tower that tragic day.
“Everyone started calling me because they knew that my husband worked in the towers,” said Clark, who lived in Brooklyn at the time but later moved to Pennsylvania. “And I was still trying to get it together, and then the second tower was hit.”
Clark said after her husband initially evacuated, he went back into the building to help get people out. She and their five children never got his body back — only remains. Her first grandchild, a girl, is due in October.
“This year’s been a rough year, because my husband’s missed college graduations, he’s missed weddings. This is our first grandbaby. And he’s not going to be here to be a part of that,” she said. “There’s never closure, but when I come here, when the wind blows, it’s like a kiss to me. If the sun is shining, it’s a reminder of the lives that he’s touched. If it’s dewdrops, I can feel his touch. And I know when I look at my children, I know he’d be very proud of all of them.”
Staten Island resident Lev Shamay, 43, lost his brother Gideon “Gary” Shamay, who was 23 and worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Shamay honored his brother’s memory by naming his son Gary after him.
“This ceremony is especially important in paying tribute to everyone who has lost their lives. It’s important to keep their memories alive,” he said as he choked back tears.
The younger Gary, who read some of the victims’ names during the ceremony, said he doesn’t remember his uncle, but it gives him “a lot of honor carrying his name.”
As in years past, the solemn ceremony included six moments of silence:
- 8:46 a.m., when the north tower was struck
- 9:03 a.m., when the south tower was hit
- 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was struck
- 9:59 a.m., when the south tower collapsed
- 10:03 a.m., when Flight 93 crashed
- 10:28 a.m., when the north tower collapsed
The hours-long remembrance, organized by the September 11 Memorial and Museum, was open only to local officials and family members of those who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks. Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Attorney General Letitia James, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly were among the dignitaries in attendance.
The ceremony briefly waded into political waters as Nicholas Haros Jr., whose mother, Frances, was killed in the attacks, appeared to scold Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, for remarks she made about 9/11 in March.
Omar, speaking to the Council of American-Islamic Relations in California, said that "some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."
Haros responded Wednesday, criticizing Omar and three other freshmen Democratic congresswomen known as "The Squad" for disrespecting his mother.
"We are here today, congresswoman, to tell you and The Squad just who did what to whom," Haros said after he finished reading names at the ceremony. "Show respect in honoring them, please. American patriotism and your position demand it.”
The attacks were carried out by 19 hijackers affiliated with the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaida, led by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.
The 9/11 Memorial plaza is expected to reopen to the general public around 3 p.m. and remain open until midnight. As the sun sets on New York City, the museum’s Tribute in Light will once again illuminate the night sky until dawn on Thursday.
With Ivan Pereira, Matthew Chayes, Maya Rajamani and Robert Brodsky