44° Good Afternoon
44° Good Afternoon
NewsNew York

9/11 unidentified remains return to Ground Zero; some families protest

The families of some 9/11 victims, including retired

The families of some 9/11 victims, including retired FDNY Deputy Chief Alexander Santora and wife Maureen, left, and Rosemary Cain, wear black sashes over their mouths in protest of the ceremonial transfer of unidentified victims' remains from the city medical examiner's office to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on Saturday, May 10, 2014. Credit: Bryan Smith

The unidentifiable remains of the 9/11 dead were entombed 70 feet below the surface of Ground Zero Saturday morning as some family members watched solemnly and others silently protested the decision on a final resting place.

An honor guard procession of NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority Police Department vehicles brought the remains there, in vacuum-sealed plastic envelopes containing 7,930 sets of remains, from their previous home at the city medical examiner's office.

There were no ceremonies, no speeches and no politicians as the remains were carried in silence into the site, near Liberty Street.

Three coffin-like metal transfer cases, each draped in an American flag, were carried through the foggy air from Greenwich Street. Construction workers building the Freedom Tower on the site paused. Firefighters from Ladder 10 and Engine 10, six of whose brethren died on 9/11, lined up in front of the firehouse.

About 41 percent of those who died at the trade center, or 1,118 people, could not be identified. Forensic science isn't advanced enough to match the body fragments interred Saturday to names, but officials are hoping for technological breakthroughs in the future.

Where the remains should rest has been a matter of bitter disagreement among the families. Some favor the plan executed Saturday: to put them in an underground depository at the trade center's bedrock, in a room at the new National September 11 Memorial & Museum accessible only to families and forensic staff. Others want the remains to go to a nearby memorial plaza.

Monica Iken-Murphy, whose husband, Michael Patrick Iken, died in the south tower, is on the board of the museum and supports the plan. The remains of Iken, a bond trader, have never been identified. "This is where they took their last breath," she said. "They're home now."

But the procession was picketed by a group of 9/11 victims' families who consider the location of the remains at the museum to be disrespectful. About a dozen opponents stood arm in arm with black gags over their mouths.

Alexander Santora, a retired FDNY chief, whose firefighter son Christopher died in the attacks, wants the remains elsewhere. "There is a beautiful place on the plaza where there are trees and waterfalls where they can be remembered," he said. "It is very sad day for the families -- this is not a burial."

Shortly after the remains were brought underground, tempers exploded nearby. Several opponents began yelling at proponents, saying the decision-making process -- on whether to charge for admission to the 9/11 museum, on where to put the unidentified remains, on how to remember their loved ones -- has left them feeling disenfranchised and disrespected.

Iken-Murphy fought back tears as fellow loved ones of 9/11 victims shouted: "Shame on you! How could you?"

With Maria Alvarez

More news