By Connor Adams Sheets
A Sept. 10 afternoon not much different from the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 — blue skies, no precipitation, temperature changing with autumn’s approach — brought together the families of the Queens police officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders who lost their lives in the World Trade Center in a tiny chapel in an East Elmhurst cemetery.
Widows, mothers, brothers, fathers, children and friends of those who perished that day dabbed their eyes but sat proud as they relived the horror for the ninth time and managed to retain hope for the futures of their families.
The event featured live vocal performances, a video slideshow of all the Queens responders who perished in the Twin Towers, a variety of prayers and testimonials by family members and local leaders.
“Nine years ago today the beautiful faces of all the first responders we saw in that video, they all had normal lives, but nine years ago tomorrow, unfortunately, all our lives were changed forever,” the master of ceremonies for the event, Queens Gazette publisher Tony Barsamian, told those assembled. “Every year we do this here in order to heal our wounds and share the love we feel for one another.”
Kew Gardens resident Linda Pickford lost her 32-year-old son Christopher, an FDNY firefighter, when the towers fell, and she said it is still incredibly difficult to accept that he is gone.
“This is a way of memorializing my son’s memory and also meeting my friends who also lost loved ones,” she said while fighting tears in front of the chapel at St. Michael’s Cemetery after the service. “People expect that in nine years it does get easier. But this is not that kind of loss. It doesn’t get easier.”
Retired Fire Department Deputy Chief Alexander Santora and his wife Maureen, the parents of Firefighter Christopher Santora — who at 23 was the youngest Queens member of the NYPD, FDNY or Port Authority police to die in the World Trade Center — were central to the event again this year. The vocal couple spoke about their son, as did his youngest sister, Megan. They said that although they miss him every day, they know he is waiting to see them again.
“Too many of our friends died that day. I remember them all, and it’s particularly tough for us at this time of year. But you have to remember they’re up there looking down at us. They’re not suffering anymore,” Alexander Santora said. “They wouldn’t want you to wither away. They’d want you to stand up and speak when there’s injustice.”
Many of the families and other people connected with the 9/11 tragedy have done just that: advocate on a variety of issues, particularly health care for living victims of the terrorist attack.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) spoke briefly at the event, saying she mourns the loss of life along with the gathered friends and family, and that she is focused on getting help for rescue workers who are now having health issues.
“I will not rest until we pass the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act,” she said. “The fallen from Queens, they will always be in our hearts and they will be with us forever.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.