For 10 years or more, Bill Murphy kept a watchful eye over a Sept. 11 memorial on the corner of his Long Beach block, tending to potted plants, replacing ceramic angels when they were broken and hanging red bows around Christmastime.
That’s why, on Saturday morning, Murphy was devastated to see someone had apparently toppled the tall, flagpole-like structure overnight.
He was angry enough to hang a handwritten sign on a utility pole next to the memorial. “To the community: Some morons destroyed the 9/11 memorial last night,” it read, in part. “I have maintained it for years. We are living with awful people.”
Hours later, a Facebook page for Long Beach residents, Project 11561, had more than 30 comments from people mourning the destruction and offering to help fix it.
“As someone who lost family in this nightmare, I would be honored to help fix the memorial and even expand it,” one commenter wrote.
“As a survivor, I loved this,” wrote another.
Murphy, 77, said vandals had damaged the memorial before, but never to this degree.
“I can’t believe that someone would do this,” he said outside his California Street home. “I can’t fix this. I’m too old.”
Long Beach City police said they took a report of criminal mischief at the site about 9:30 a.m.
Murphy said the memorial was originally a Long Beach City road blockade meant to bar traffic on Oceanview Avenue, a side street. He said he painted the structure after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and began covering it with decorations that changed with the seasons: flags, tinsel, flowers. A photograph of an earlier New York City skyline with the Twin Towers intact was attached to a pole that stood 12 to 15 feet tall, he said.
Murphy said he’s not sure why he made the memorial, but it was in part because a neighbor lost a daughter in the attacks and, as a construction worker, he had worked on a number of renovations at the World Trade Center.
“I just felt like doing this,” he said.
Someone reattached the pole with duct tape in a temporary fix Saturday afternoon, Murphy said.
Long Beach Fire Department members Saturday afternoon volunteered to repair the memorial more permanently and planned to assess the damage Sunday morning, said firefighter Austin Glickman. The department lost two members in the World Trade Center attacks in lower Manhattan and two have died from health conditions related to their response.
“We’ve all been affected by 9/11 in some way shape or form,” said Glickman, who is also a New York City Police Department officer. “We had a lot of guys who were down there once the tower came down.”
Fire chief RJ Tuccillo said the makeshift memorial was well-known in a community that is home to many New York City police officers and firefighters. “This one was just special because it was made by somebody down on the West End,” he said. “It became part of Long Beach.”
On Saturday morning, a stream of walkers, runners and cyclists paused to look over the damage.
“Everyone on this block it affects, because we all grew up with him,” said Patricia Wagner, Murphy’s neighbor of the past 20 years. “I was crying my eyes out this morning.”
Murphy vowed that, perhaps with a little help from his neighbors, the memorial would rise again.
“It’s going to be rebuilt,” he said. “It’s going back.”