Five years later: Mourners come from near and far
The chatter of old friends greeting one another at Colors Restaurant stopped Monday when 7-year-old Vanessa Valencia began to sing: "Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?"
Vanessa lost an uncle to the 9/11 attacks. Her father, Patricio Valencia, lost 73 colleagues from Windows on the World, the restaurant that sat atop one of the World Trade Center towers.
"I would be there, too, but my shift started at 10," said Valencia, 42, of Jackson Heights, now a bartender at Colors on Lafayette Street in Manhattan, which is owned and run by former World Trade Center restaurant workers.
At a memorial breakfast at Colors Monday, former Windows on the World staff joined relatives of their fallen friends.
Many wore T-shirts from ROC-NY, a organization they founded to campaign for restaurant workers' rights. They celebrated their victories -- the success of their restaurant, and the campaigns against abusive restaurant owners. And they remembered those who were no longer among them, lighting white candles next to bunches of white roses.
Gathering for a group snapshot, they chanted ROC-NY's motto in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin.
"We are power, we are strong!" they shouted, waving at the camera.
Then they hugged and laughed and cried.
For more than two hours Monday morning, Chris Whitman stood at the same spot along a sidewalk facing West Street as he tried to listen to the reading of victim names. He barely moved and stared intently even though with the traffic and noise from idling news trucks, he couldn't really make out the names.
"The least I can do is stand here and listen to names being rattled off," Whitman, 37, of Staten Island, said.
Every year, he takes the day off from working as a mechanic and goes to Ground Zero.
"It seems a little different this year," he said, turning briefly to glance at people laying on the grass under the sun. "People are more light-hearted. They're laughing and chatting. It is what it is to each individual."
He said he planned to spend most of the day there: "Day of reflection, I guess you can call it."
There were hundreds of tiny American flags stuck in the sand surrounding the reflecting pool at the base of the 9/11 memorial in Point Lookout Monday, each with its own tag and handwritten message.
Some had a message of hope, such as "Peace on Earth." Others carried general well-wishes, such as "For all those who passed and all who survived."
Still others had a message only the lost and those closest to them would understand.
"His pet saying was 'Later!' so that's what I wrote," said Cecilia Donnelly of Levittown. "We'll see you up in heaven, later."
Donnelly's son, Lt. Kevin Donnelly, 43, was one of 12 firefighters from Ladder Co. 3 on East 13th Street in Manhattan who died on 9/11. A 23-year FDNY veteran, he also volunteered with the Wantagh Fire Department.
After throwing a white carnation into the reflecting pool at the base of two 15-foot-tall crystalline towers representing the World Trade Center towers, Donnelly headed off to another ceremony to honor her son. She said this year's anniversary is just as difficult as any.
"Number five is no different from number one," she said. "He's gone and I'll never forget him."
Keali'i Reichel, one of Hawaii's most popular recording artists, was in Manhattan with a group of musicians and hula dancers from the island state to give a concert on Sunday.
Monday morning, Reichel and 16 of them felt compelled to share their Aloha spirit at Ground Zero. "Hawaii is as far as you can get from here," he said. "I think it would be stupid if we came this far on this auspicious day and not come and pay our respects."
For Reichel, Monday was his first visit to the World Trade Center site. During the first moment of silence, he found himself standing near a fire station, which made him emotional. "It was hard not to break down a little bit," he said.
Ten minutes before seven Monday morning, Debora Maldonado's survivors gathered at the World Trade Center in the spot reserved for families.
They wore shirts printed with Maldonado's name and picture and carried roses to pay tribute to the 47-year-old Flushing woman, who was an executive secretary on the 99th floor of Tower One. They listened as her name was read, nearly two hours after the ceremony began.
It's what they do every Sept. 11. But the fifth time Monday didn't bring the usual comfort to her sister, Miriam
Carrasquillo, 53, of Miami. That's because everything was almost exactly as it had been in the past.
"It's always the same," Carrasquillo said of what she called a lack of progress fixing up the site. "It doesn't make it any easier to move on."
She said it would help to see something new there. "I'd like to be able to come to an actual monument," she said, "so I can see my sister's name on a plaque or something and put flowers around it."
A big American flag hung over the baby grand, where pianist Chuck Folds played "All You Need is Love."
In the lobby of the Aon Center on 52nd Street in Manhattan, workers ate lunch at tables near the piano. Some sat alone,
reading newspaper coverage of the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11. Others chatted and laughed with friends and colleagues.
A few somber faces belied darker, more painful conversations.
A fountain's wall of water fell beside them, adding a soft "whushhh" to the jazzy soundtrack.
Workers rushed up and down escalators, in and out of elevators. Some paused by a list of the 175 Aon employees who worked on the 92nd, 99th and 100th floors of the south tower and died on Sept. 11. A large bouquet of white roses stood nearby.
Bill Tloczkowski, 48, of Greenpoint, who works in the building at another company, wore an American flag tie.
"Just to show my patriotism," he said, hurrying out of the building.
Kelly Trommels' daughter was too young to understand, but the lower Manhattan mom brought her to Ground Zero Monday anyway.
Trommels, 29, stood on West Street, cradling the sleeping child in her arms. From her high-rise apartment on Liberty Street, the mother had an aerial view of the pit. But the television audio was delayed, so she brought little Helena downstairs to hear the names.
"This is what we don't want to forget," Trommels explained.
Trommels, a pharmaceutical researcher, knew several of the victims, and calls lower Manhattan "a very special place."
"I remember what it was, and we know that it will be something else in 10 or 15 years," she said.
With their daughter Erin approaching her second birthday, Nancy Karcher, 37, and her husband Ed, 39, wanted to come up to Long Island from their home in Raleigh, N.C., to show off their little girl to family and friends. So they organized a late summer vacation, but when they finalized plans, they made sure to build it around one particular date: Sept. 11.
"We wanted to be here," said Ed, who donned a T-shirt honoring the NYPD officers killed on 9/11. "It was important."
The couple had wanted to go to Ground Zero, but with a toddler in tow, they thought it best to remain local. When they saw the memorial at Point Lookout on television yesterday morning, they drove down to the beach, reaching the sand as the last of the mourners left.
"We don't want people to forget all the people who lost their lives and all the heroes," said Nancy, who calls 9/11 a "defining moment" in her life.
She was just getting off the subway in the north tower when the first plane hit on 9/11. When she stepped outside onto Church Street, she saw burning American Airline safety cards raining down from the sky. As a former flight attendant for American, she knew what had happened.
Ed, then her boyfriend, was working on the 30th floor of a building blocks away, but he could feel the heat from the explosion "like a heat lamp on your face" and he knew as well.
The couple lost friends and co-workers to the terrorist attack that day.
Their experiences on Sept. 11 and in the weeks that followed left a lasting imprint on the couple. They decided to marry and move down South where they had always wanted to live. Ed quit his job as a trader and became a police officer.
Fidel "Tony" Oliver started working at the World Trade Center in 1972, in a mailroom job with the Port Authority. He narrowly escaped when terrorists bombed the complex in 1993. And he barely made it out, clambering down from a 68th floor office when the towers collapsed in the terrorist attacks of 2001.
His best friend and co-worker Edward Calderon did not, and Oliver went to St. Peter's Church in lower Manhattan yesterday to remember Calderon and 83 other colleagues who died that day.
"Have I come to terms with it? I'm not sure what that means," said Oliver, who lives in East Elmhurst. "There's no day that passes by that I don't think about the World Trade Center."
Five years on, the effects are complex and conflicting, said Oliver, now a photographer and videographer for the Port Authority. On one hand, he admits the attacks "added some fear to my life. ... I leave my house, and am I gonna come back home?"
But on the other, he said, "I feel that I'm an example for my friends that life goes on."
While a ceremony in Lower Manhattan marked the moments of the Sept. 11 attack Monday morning, dozens of
parishioners gathered for a mass at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Manhasset.
Amy Marsigliano, of Port Washington, said she took her two younger children out of school to bring them to church. Their friends lost their father, Timothy Kelly, then 37, of Port Washington, whose family also attended mass Monday. A total of 25 parishioners from St. Mary's lost a family member of 9/11.
"I don't think there's a day that goes by you don't think about it," Marsigliano said, noting that her son was 4-weeks-old when it happened, and watching him grow was a reminder of the time that has passed.
She said she wished the children didn't have school obligations on the day.
"It's hard to reflect on the day and have that time," Marsigliano said.
At about 7 a.m. Monday, Spaniard Hilda Cevallos boarded the downtown E train from Penn Station to Ground Zero with a camera hanging from her neck.
But the Madrid resident, 47, wasn't a typical tourist visiting to simply take in the sights. She and her husband arrived at a relative's home in Lodi, N.J. several days ago specifically for the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cevallos was compelled to travel to New York for the anniversary, "because I feel a lot of respect for the people who saved others."
Five years ago in Spain she watched the rescue efforts on television, and on Sunday, she went to a police substation and Army recruiting office in Times Square to offer words of gratitude.
Though Cevallos has been to New York many other times, this was her first time here during the anniversary. "We just want to pay our respects," she said. "It's like when you go to a funeral and say, 'My deepest sympathies.' "
Because of the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, Cevallos said people in her country can relate to New Yorkers. "There must be many, many people feeling sad today," she said. "In Spain, people know what this is."
An hourlong 9/11 memorial service in Hempstead Village Monday drew 100 people, the largest crowd since the village began its yearly event. At the Denton Green cemetery, red, white and blue wreaths were placed near a stone monument that lists each of the four village residents that died during the attack.
"You can never forget this, we lost four people, this is still a real tragedy," said Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall Sr.
As nine local church leaders spoke to the audience and a choir belted "God Bless America," four balloons were released into the sky for former Hempstead residents Dorothy Burke Morgan and Alva Jeffries Sanchez, both of whom worked in the World Trade Center, and firefighters Michael Kiefer, Durrell Pearsall.
When she heard about the Town of Hempstead's memorial service at Point Lookout Monday, Caprice Rines knew she had to come.
Although Rines, 38, of Uniondale, did not personally know anyone killed on 9/11, she knows sorrow in the aftermath of the attacks and she knows personal tragedy. Rines has watched as an uncle who volunteered with the cleanup at Ground Zero has fallen seriously ill with respiratory problems. And less than two months ago, a drunk driver took the life of her mother.
"Now I understand, when someone is ripped from you like my mother was ripped from me ... now I know how they feel,"
Rines looked at the two crystalline towers representing the World Trade Center that was at the center of the memorial service. She said the water rising from the top and cascading into a pool below was soothing and appropriate for the occasion. "Many of our hearts are so heavy from this and water brings cleansing," she said.
It is a green Huffy mountainbike, plastered with tiny law enforcement and American flag stickers and capped with fake carnations in red, white and blue. There is a rear antenna that holds a giant yellow ribbon, and Missing in Action and United States flags.
"Right after, I was kind of depressed in a way," Harris said. "There were too many people. I just didn't understand."
Harris is now 18, thinly built, bespectacled and wears braces. He didn't know the victims, but says they are not just names to him.
It was not his first memorial ceremony. But at 6 a.m., Monday the Bronx native pedaled 11 miles to Ground Zero from his Soundview neighborhood home, and planned to stay until nightfall.
"The people who died suffered so much," he said. "The least I could do is fix up my bike."