Visitors remember loved and lost ones at Ground Zero

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Downtown Manhattan was a bustling and rampant paradox Sunday as Americans and travelers flooded the streets in celebration and opposition of the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

While protestors rallied a few blocks from ground zero, military personnel, families and patrons in support gathered for the memorial ceremony at the 9/11 memorial site.

Some New Yorkers simply went about their daily routines as if 9/11 never happened.

Scarred buildings under construction stood as the backdrop for the memorial, with uniformed officers dotting every street and security checkpoint within three blocks surrounding the World Trade Center site.

Loudspeakers on streets echoed a haunting reminder of 9/11 as family members of deceased read the names of every soul lost. Teenagers who were only children at the time read the names of their lost fathers and mothers.

It was a day of remembrance and recognition. And while New Yorkers seemed ready to talk about that day, each had a differing opinion of how they remember and recognize it.

Queens native Wilfred Matias stood with tears in his eyes as he explained his escape from the north tower 10 years ago.

He was eating breakfast when he heard a loud sound and thought a train had crashed. When he started seeing papers flying around outside, he left the building while his colleague headed up to the 89th floor to say goodbye to his wife. He didn’t make it back out.

“About 40 minutes later, I was on a roof and saw a plane hit the tower,” Matias said. “I looked up and thought I saw cardboard falling down and then I saw that it was people coming down.”

Matias said Sunday was a day he wanted to support and then forget about altogether. He wants to believe 9/11 never happened.

New York graphic artist Keith Piaseczny shows his support each year by hanging up a memorial banner on the fence around ground zero. He’s designed the banner and other 9/11 artworks since Sept. 11 happened. Piaseczny watched the entire event in 2001 from his roof.

“It’s my response as an artist,” he said. “I lived next to a firehouse, and all those guys were lost. I became unofficially adopted by many family members of those lost people.”

People started packing the streets around 7 a.m. Sunday, maneuvering around street-lined barricades and cop cars. The general public herded into gated pens equipped with tall viewing screens where they stood, eyes glued to a screen while watching the ceremony. Military personnel and families of deceased got a first glimpse of Ground Zero’s memorial, which sits in the footprints of the Twin Towers with the names of those lost inscribed into bronze panels around two pools.

On Broadway Avenue, a block away from Ground Zero, protestors stood as contradictions, holding signs that read “Thank God for 9/11” and “Soldiers die, God laughs” while singing “God Bless America” and altering the words. Passers-by shouted back, repulsed.

A few blocks up, another group of protestors rallied across the street from St. Paul’s Church, insisting 9/11 was an “inside job,” blaming the government. Their signs questioned the fall of Tower 7, a skyscraper next to the Twin Towers, as they shouted, “Ask questions! Demand answers!”

A nearby police officer explained that the group believes the government, under the leadership of George Bush, implanted bombs in the towers.

“It’s their freedom of speech,” he admitted, but went on to explain his disbelief in their actions when he’s “standing here with all the country’s heroes.”

An older man with a white beard stood surrounded by the media, holding a Kuran and sporting a T-shirt reading, “Everything I needed to know about Islam I learned on 9/11. God bless us.”

Despite opposing dynamics present for the anniversary, the terror threat remained ingrained in everyone’s minds. Security in downtown was tighter than most airports.

No backpacks or large bags were permitted past checkpoints into Ground Zero. Everyone was body scanned before entering.

Eric Oertel traveled from Michigan to show his children, Elise and Andrew, Ground Zero and teach them about 9/11. He wasn’t in New York City when the towers fell, but he lost a high school friend, Christopher Ingrassia. His picture rests on the memorial banner at Ground Zero.

Another friend was saved that day by tardiness. He was running late for work and missed the planes crashing.

New York native Dan Chiltern said he was in the north tower’s lobby five minutes before the first plane hit.

“I had left and was in Little Italy when I saw the second plane fly over my head,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t even know who Osama bin Laden was.”

No matter what the reasoning for being in New York City or the belief about 9/11, Sunday showed once again that Americans ban together in a time of tragedy, and now forever in a time of remembrance.

After 10 years, Ground Zero still sits blocked off with caution tape and covered

fences. Uniformed officers and construction workers stand scattered around the

fence that encloses the site, but not much can be seen through cement barricades

and the general cluster of visitors and armed guardsmen.

Small, open spots offer a glimpse into the construction, where the memorials will sit

in place of the towers as “God Bless America” places through loud speakers.

Almost everyone visiting Ground Zero today knew someone lost on Sept. 11,

2001. That may seem like an exaggeration, but the unsettling reality is that it’s not.

One California family made the trip cross-country because an aunt lost a friend that

day. One man had an old high school friend who fell with the towers and another

friend who just missed towers falling because he was running late for work.

Many of these people are only visiting for the day, afraid of the terror threat on New

York City tomorrow. But for today, they’re remembering their lost and loved ones.

A Memorial Wall hangs on a fence, shielding New Yorkers and visitors alike from

seeing the two holes that sit empty. It’s dotted with the names and headshots of

those lost but engulfed with messages and prayers from those visiting.

Security is expected to be tight tomorrow at the various events and memorials

spread out through the city, but check back to for updates

throughout the day.

-Courtney Kerrigan

View “Remembering 9/11” on Storify