NEW YORK — Anguish mixed uncomfortably with advocacy at ground zero as mourners again filled the sacred space for the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with a memorial service both sadly familiar and freshly heartbreaking.
The typically nonpartisan remembrance of the 2,753 victims killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack veered suddenly into the political Wednesday, with the son of a Sept. 11 victim ripping U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar shortly after the mother of a man killed in the Twin Towers called for an end to America’s continued gun violence.
Nicholas Haros Jr., whose 76-year-old mother, Frances, was among those slain on 9/11, blasted the first-term Minnesota Democrat after joining in the annual recitation of the victim’s names. He wore a black T-shirt with the words “Some people did something?” — a reference to Omar’s remark earlier this year about the morning when terrorists plowed a pair of hijacked planes into the Twin Towers.
“Today I am here to respond to you who exactly did what to whom,” said Haros, his voice rising. “Madam, objectively speaking, we know who and what was done. There is no uncertainty about that. Why your confusion? On that day, 19 Islamic terrorists, members of al-Qaida, killed over 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in economic damage.
“Is that clear?” he asked to applause from the crowd of mourners, firefighters and cops. Afterward, he said Omar — who claims her words were taken out of context — owed the American people more than a callous off-the-cuff remark.
“At the minimum, the person elected by Americans should have sympathy for Americans,” he said. “And so far, I think that has been lacking.”
Debra Epps, speaking earlier, delivered a plea for tighter gun laws after invoking the name of her brother, Christopher, a 9/11 victim.
“This country — in 18 years, you would think it had made changes to bring us to more peace,” she said to applause. “However, gun violence has gone rampant. We can live in peace and hope in the land of the brave.”
The CDC reported last year that the U.S. had 14,542 gun homicides in 2017, along with another 23,854 gun suicides.
This year’s memorial came beneath blue skies reminiscent of the sunny September morning when the two 110-story buildings crumbled. The service gave the mourners a chance to revisit the 16 acres where the World Trade Center once rose above the rest of Manhattan’s skyline.
“In many ways this is my cemetery,” said Margie Miller, whose husband, Joel, died on the 97th floor in his office. “He loved his work here, he loved being here, he died here and this is the place I feel closest to him. So I come here as often as I can but especially today. I am grateful they offer this opportunity to us.”
The annual acknowledgment of the victims once again featured relatives reciting the sad litany of the dead on the hallowed ground in lower Manhattan. The victims were firefighters and cops, financial workers and maintenance workers, employees of the Port Authority and the Windows of the World restaurant on the 107th floor — all killed in the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil.
“It feels special to be here,” said Joey Henry, 13, who read his namesake uncle’s name from the podium during the 3 1/2-hour ceremony. “I’m not only making myself proud, I’m making the people who aren’t here proud.”
The Long Island youth hails from a long line of firefighters, including his dad, his grandfather and his late uncle. Joey was born five years after 9/11, but he’s learned a few things about the older Joe — a 25-year-old assigned to Ladder Co. 21 in Manhattan.
“He was kind and funny,” the teen said. “He always played baseball. And he died doing what he loved.”
An increasing number of family members turned out to remember those lost working in the toxic rubble of the towers, digging vainly in hopes of finding survivors before the search turned into a grim hunt for the bodies of first responders and other victims.
Shalita Umpthery, 36, lost her NYPD father, Reginald Umpthery Sr., to cancer four years ago when he was just 54. She and her mom, Evangeline, came together in his name at the place where he was poisoned.
“It’s happy and sad being here,” said Evangeline, 59. “It’s happy because he’s remembered, but sad because everybody out here has lost so much.”
Those reciting the victims’ name inevitably mentioned the children and grandchildren born in the last 18 years, or the infants since grown into adults. Marie Downey Tortirici, the daughter of FDNY Deputy Chief Ray Downey Sr., sent along greetings from his 16 grandkids.
“We cherish the moments you gave us,” she said. “I love you, Dad. Until we meet again.”
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