NEW YORK (AP) — Holding photos and reading names of loved ones lost 16 years ago, 9/11 victims’ relatives marked the anniversary of the attacks at ground zero on Monday with a solemn and personal ceremony.
Looking out at the solemn crowd at ground zero, Debra Epps said she views every day as time to do something to ensure that her brother, Christopher Epps, and thousands of others didn’t die in vain.
“I’ll come every year for the rest of my life,” the son said. “It’s where I get my strength.”
Thousands of family members, survivors, rescuers others gathered for the hours-long reading of victims’ names at the World Trade Center, while President Donald Trump spoke at the Pentagon and Vice President Mike Pence addressed an observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when terrorist-piloted planes hit those three sites, hurling America into a new consciousness of the threat of global terrorism.
Some victims’ family members said they couldn’t believe 16 years had passed since a tragedy that “still feels like yesterday,” as Corina La Touche put it while honoring her father, Jeffrey La Touche, at the ground zero gathering.
To others, it was an occasion to thank first responders and members of the military, to express concern for those affected by Hurricane Irma as it continued its destructive path as a tropical storm, or to plead for a return to the sense of unity they felt after the attacks.
“Our country came together that day. And it did not matter what color you were, or where you were from,” said a tearful Magaly Lemagne, who lost her brother, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Officer David Lemagne. She implored people to “stop for a moment and remember all the people who gave their lives that day.
“Maybe then we can put away our disagreements and become one country again.”
Trump, a native New Yorker observing the anniversary for the first time as the nation’s leader, said the nation grieves for the people “who were murdered by terrorists” 16 years ago.
Speaking at the Pentagon, the Republican president issued a warning to extremists, saying “America cannot be intimidated.”
When America is united, “no force on earth can break us apart,” he said.
At the Flight 93 National memorial, Vice President Mike Pence said the Flight 93 passengers who revolted against hijackers might well have saved his own life.
The Republican VP was a member of Congress on 9/11, and the Capitol was a possible target of the terrorist piloting Flight 93. Instead, it crashed near Shanksville after the passengers took action. Thirty-three passengers and seven crew members were killed.
The ceremony on the National Sept. 11 Memorial plaza in New York strives to be apolitical: Politicians can attend, but since 2011, they haven’t been allowed to read names or deliver remarks.
Yet last year’s 15th-anniversary ceremony became entangled in the narrative of a fractious presidential campaign when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton left abruptly, stumbled into a van and ultimately revealed she’d been diagnosed days earlier with pneumonia.
This year, the focus remained on the names read out beneath the waterfall pools and lines of trees.
Some name-readers gave updates on family graduations, marriages and births. Others remembered a loved one’s flair for surfing or drawing on coffee-shop napkins. A few never even got to know the relatives they lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I wish more than anything that I could have met you,” Ruth Daly said, her voice breaking, after she read names in remembrance of her slain grandmother, Ruth Lapin. “I’m very proud to be your namesake. I hope you’re watching down on me from heaven.”
“It does feel good to know you have other people who are feeling the same pain that you’re in,” Marvaline Monroe said as she headed into the ceremony to remember her brother, Keith Broomfield. She comes to the ceremony as often as she can.
“It’s very hard. We’ll never forget, but we just have to live with the memories that we have of him.”
Debra Epps said losing her brother, Christopher, left her with a mission: “I view each day as a day to do something different, so that my brother’s life and all of the people who have lost their lives on this day will not be in vain.”
Her brother stood against hatred, she said, and she believes “this world will make a change for the better.”
Delaney Colaio read names in honor of the three relatives she lost: her father, Mark Joseph Colaio, and her uncles Stephen J. Colaio and Thomas Pedicini. She is making a documentary about the children who lost parents in the attacks.
“I stand here as a reminder to the other families of 9/11 and to the world,” she said, “that no matter how dark moments life can get, there is light ahead if you just choose hope.”
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Rebecca Gibian in New York and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.