By Gabriel Rom
In the immediate aftermath of the events of Sept. 11th 2001, the TimesLedger wrote, “the unthinkable terrorist attacks on Manhattan’s World Trade Center sent a shock wave through Queens…streets remained eerily quiet as people sat in restaurants and other businesses glued to televisions and radios.”
Fourteen years later, some of those same streets and avenues now bear names like Firefighter Michael Haub Road and Christopher Racaniello 9/11 Memorial Way, and while Queens residents are no longer in shock, many are still in mourning.
On the morning of Sept. 10, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) quietly hung wreaths across the borough, marking the beginning of a series of memorials and commemorations throughout Queens.
“This is simply something that we have to remember. It was a life-changing event for this country,” Avella said.
Avella’s motorcade was just one of the many commemorations and vigils that took place throughout the borough as Queens residents gathered yet again to remember the attacks.
The following day, on the actual anniversary, hundreds gathered at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village last Friday for an annual candle-lighting vigil.
“I can’t put this feeling into words,” said Michael Mesa of Rego Park, standing amidst banners declaring, “We will never forget.”
Struggling through tears, he continued, “Being here makes you feel bigger than yourself—to show respect. But each year there are fewer people. We forget.”
Margaret Schmidt an organizer of the vigil, pointed upwards, past the park and toward the Lower Manhattan skyline where a small patch of sky was illuminated by two beams of light where the towers once stood.
“That is beauty. That is my brother-in-law,” she laughed nervously to herself. “The names keep coming back. This is what we saw. That was our trade center. It’s just part of us.”
She went on to say, “Some days it feels like a long, long time ago, and some days it doesn’t. I have very mixed emotions and sometimes I find it very difficult. We were under attack that day. The first few years the whole park was filled. We’ve lost people over the years. People move on, they have lives.”
As the names of the deceased were read off, many in the crowd recalled neighbors, classmates and family members.
“We are out here to remember all the people from this neighborhood who died,” said Capt. Mark T. Wachter of the 104th Police Precinct. Wachter lost a friend who attended Christ the King high school with him on 9/11.
At a gathering held on the eve of the 11th by Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) in the heart of Jackson Heights—“the crossroads of the world,” as Dromm put it—religious leaders preached a message of tolerance and brotherly love, that the power of God could transcend conflict and mutual suspicion.
“What tonight is about is a collective effort from this community to say no to violence in all its forms,” Dromm said. “Also to remind our friends and neighbors that the horrific crime on 9/11 was not by all Muslims. I want to make that point clear. Islam is a beautiful faith that deserves to be respected. It is a faith that teaches tolerance.”
Concluding the event, Imam Qazi Qayyoom, founder of the Muhammadi Community Center, made a simple but deeply felt request.
“I have a message to those who are still planning to harm people: stop. Stop any type of radicalism, extremism and terrorism, especially in the name of religion.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at [email protected]