NEW YORK—About 50 family members of firefighters and other victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gathered outside the World Trade Center on Sunday to protest placing the remains of their loved ones 70 feet below ground, in the basement of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
“Families here today say, ‘No.’ They believe that the remains should be placed in a respectful, accessible location above ground and separate from the museum,” said Norman Siegel, attorney representing the families.
The group is seeking assistance from the city in notifying all 2,749 affected families about the museum’s current plans regarding the victims’ remains, said Siegel. The families also hope that museum officials will consult with and seek input from them regarding proper placement of the remains.
According to Siegel, 41 percent of the victims’ families have not received any of their loved ones’ remains to date. Hence, “wherever the city places these remains will be the only place family members can pay their respects,” he said.
Siegel explained that federal and state courts, including New York, recognize that the next of kin has property rights to the remains of deceased relatives.
The 9/11 museum’s website states that “the plans for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site include a [remains] repository at bedrock on the sacred ground of the site.”
The website also describes “a private seating and viewing area for family members.” The repository “will provide a dignified and reverential setting for the remains to repose—temporarily or in perpetuity—as identifications continue to be made,” “no portion of these spaces will be accessible to the public,” and family members will not be charged to enter the museum, states the website.
“We’d never had a meeting where all family members were invited and presented with the plan,” said Sally Regenhard, chairwoman of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign and vice-chairwoman of 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims. Her son, a firefighter, had died at ground zero amid the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
Regenhard found out about the decision to place the remains of the 9/11 victims below ground while attending a public meeting in 2009. “At that time, we asked [the museum] to send a letter to every single 9/11 family member, informing them of the plans and asking for their input, giving them choices. This was not done,” Regenhard said.
According to Rosemary Cain, who lost her son George, a firefighter, to the terrorist attacks, the museum indicated that it would not consider sending a letter to the families to advise them of the decision.
“They [museum officials] have no right to make that decision,” asserted Cain. According to several family members who were present at the press conference, no reasons were given as to why the museum did not send the letter.
“In the early years of the past decade, many individual family members were open and agreeable to returning the remains to ground zero—however, to a proper and respectable above-ground memorial repository for remains of their loved ones,” noted Regenhard. They were “led to believe by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) that they would have a separate, above-ground tomb-like structure, a hallowed ground fully accessible to the public with an adjacent private area for families to reflect,” she added.
FDNY Lieutenant Jim McCaffrey, who is co-chairman of the Advocates for a 9/11 Fallen Heroes Memorial, stated that only a few representatives of the 9/11 families agreed with the museum’s current decision. “This illusion of inclusion of the majority of the family members needs to stop today. Family members need genuine and real consultation,” he stated.
“It is horrific, outrageous to put human remains in the basement behind some concrete wall,” said Maureen Santora, 65, retired author and educator. Santora lost her only son on Sept. 11, 2001; 23-year old Christopher, a probationary firefighter, was among the youngest who died during the tragic day.
An emotional Cain spoke about how her son’s remains were “recovered out of that hell-hole” more than three months after the attacks. “I do not allow the city of New York to put him back down into that hell-hole,” she stated. “When I say he was recovered, it was a partial recovery. Body parts, bone fragments, arms and legs, that’s what the recovery was. … We’re considered lucky if we have [obtained] a part,” she further elaborated.
The group has established a website to reach out to the rest of the 2,749 families who lost loved ones in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks: www.respecthumanremainsatthe911memoral.com.
According to Regenhard, 100 families have visited the website thus far to express their opinion. “Out of 100 families, zero family members chose to put their human remains in the basement of the museum. That will give you an indication of what the family members want,” she said.