9/11 charity plans alternative ceremony to honor fallen

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation plans to host a 140-person, in-person reading near Ground Zero on Sept. 11


Sydney Kashiwagi
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The coronavirus may have stopped the annual 9/11 name reading ceremony at Ground Zero from taking place this year, where hundreds have gathered annually for nearly two decades to read the names of their fallen loved ones.

But this year, one group has plans to hold a smaller name reading nearby.

The speakers will read the names of the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks following social distancing measures. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
The speakers will read the names of the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks following social distancing measures. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

The Staten Island-based Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a nonprofit that honors fallen 9/11 firefighter Stephen Siller and other victims of the attacks, plans to host a 140-person, in-person reading near Ground Zero that day.

The speakers will read the names of the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks following social distancing measures.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation decided last week to hold a smaller in-person reading after the 9/11 Memorial and Museum announced it would play pre-recorded names of the victims from the museum’s Memoriam exhibition at the Lower Manhattan memorial rather than having family members go on stage and read the names of their loved ones as part of the annual ceremonial tradition.

Organizers of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum event said the way the annual ceremony is set up, with family members coming up on stage and reading the names of their loved ones one-by-one, would not have allowed them to social distance.

Tunnel to Towers Foundation CEO Frank Siller said the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s decision to switch to pre-recorded readings upset many 9/11 families, who he said, will already be gathered at Ground Zero that day to pay their respects.

Siller said he is confident the group can safely host an in-person reading and give 9/11 families the opportunity to honor their loved ones following “every possible” safety precaution.

“All 9/11 families are going to be down there and you can’t have somebody come up one person at a time [on stage] and make it safe?” Siller said of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s decision to switch to a pre-recorded reading and not allow families to go up on stage. “We didn’t get that, and that’s why we wanted to make sure that we gave that opportunity to families to read the names.”

“There’s a lot of families very upset and we know that, and we’re a 9/11 foundation, and our first mission is to make sure we never forget and we honor the sacrifice that was made that day,” Siller said.

The foundation says it will require attendees wear face coverings and will provide face coverings on site for all attendees listening to the name reading.

They will also enforce social distancing measures and make hand sanitizer available to attendees.

Siller said readers will wipe down microphones after reading the names of fallen 9/11 victims and that the foundation is even looking to set up multiple microphones to socially distance speakers.

CAN READING TAKE PLACE UNDER GUIDELINES?

But it is unclear whether the foundation’s in-person reading ceremony will be permitted under the city’s current guidelines.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in July that large events would be canceled through Sept. 30, while the state’s current guidelines only allow for social gatherings of up to 50 people.

The city said in July that permits would be denied for events larger than one block and for any stage or video events that require amplification. However, the city said protests, religious events, and press conferences would still be allowed.

City Hall did not respond to request for comment at press time when asked whether the in-person reading would be permitted under its current guidelines.

Siller did not say whether the group received city approval for the name reading, only saying that he was working with the NYPD and Port Authority Police Department who patrol the area.

Siller said the ceremony would be less than a block large and pointed out that the 9/11 families would be at the memorial that day already.

“I can guarantee to everybody that it will be done in such a safe way,” Siller said. “I would never jeopardize anybody’s health or well being and those families will be down there already at Ground Zero, we’re just giving them an opportunity to read the names.”

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation is planning its ceremony near Ground Zero for 8:40 a.m.

Family members who want to speak can register here.

On Staten Island, the borough’s annual 9/11 Postcards Memorial Ceremony will be held virtually this year. Families will read the names of their loved ones via videotape Borough President James Oddo will incorporate those videos into a live stream.

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©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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