September 11th Anniversary: NYC honors victims of 9/11 terror attacks

Live coverage of the 19th anniversary at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza near the World Trade Center

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Friday, September 11, 2020
NYC honors victims of 9/11 terror attacks
Jim Dolan reports on the memorial ceremonies held on the 19th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped countless American rituals, even the commemoration of 9/11 could not escape unchanged.

The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks was marked by dueling ceremonies in New York City at the September 11 memorial plaza and a corner near the World Trade Center, reflecting a divide over the memorial's decision to suspend a cherished tradition of relatives reading victims' names in person.

WATCH: Tree that survived 9/11 serves as inspiration for past, future

Bill Ritter has more on the inspiring story behind a tree that survived the devastating attacks on September 11th 19 years ago.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation objected to the memorial's decision to forgo the longstanding format, which includes family members offering poignant tributes.

CLICK HERE for more Eyewitness News reflections, photos and stories marking the anniversary of 9/11

Leaders of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum said their decision to have a pre-recorded reading of the names honored both virus precautions and 9/11 families' attachment to being at ground zero on the anniversary.

Still, families say it's important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon in Washington and near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001 - shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped countless American rituals, even the commemoration of 9/11 could not escape unchanged.

Kathy Swift arrived early at the alternative ceremony a few blocks away, wearing a T-shirt honoring her slain brother, Thomas Swift, who worked in finance.

Mike Marza reports on the alternate 9/11 ceremony at Zuccotti Park.

"We still have to remember," said Swift, 61. "The whole country's going downhill. It's one thing after another, and now with the COVID. I'm glad they're still having this, though."

WATCH: 2020 Reading of the Names

Around the country, some communities canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others went ahead, sometimes with modifications.

Vice President Mike Pence attended both ceremonies, reading the Bible's 23rd Psalm at the Tunnels to Towers event, and his wife, Karen, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks was marked by a divide over the memorial's decision to suspend a cherished tradition of relatives reading victims' names in person.

"For the families of the lost and friends they left behind, I pray these ancient words will comfort your heart and others," said the vice president, drawing applause from the crowd of hundreds.

Related: Eyewitness News 11 p.m. newscast from September 11, 2001

President Donald Trump addressed a ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

"The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall, and fight back," he said, recalling how the plane's crew and passengers tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers as headed for Washington.

Former Vice President Joe Biden attended the observance at the 9/11 memorial in New York City, exchanging an elbow bump with Pence before the ceremony began with the usual tolling of a bell.

Biden offered condolences to a woman he spotted crying in the crowd of hundreds, Amanda Barreto, who lost her aunt and godmother in the attacks. Barreto, 27, said Biden "wanted to let me know to keep the faith" and "wanted me to say strong," telling her he understood what it meant to lose a loved one. His first wife and their daughter died in a 1972 car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.

RELATED: WABC's late night newscast hours before the 2001 attacks in New York City

Biden didn't speak at the ceremony, which has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to make remarks. He also visited Shanksville later in the day, laying a wreath at the memorial and meeting with families.

A military F-18 jet flyover up the Hudson River initially planned for Friday afternoon has been canceled at the request of the mayor's office.

"City Hall had formally asked DOD not to proceed with this, and we're glad to hear it isn't happening," a mayoral spokesperson said.

A Navy spokesperson said it was a training flight.

"A training flight was cancelled by the squadron and rescheduled for a later date," the statement read. "That flight had been previously approved in accordance with all Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations, and was unrelated to any 9/11 memorial commemorations."

Meanwhile, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told current firefighters in a memo last month that the department "strongly recommends" members not participate in 9/11 observances. The department did hold a limited-attendance ceremony Wednesday to add names to a memorial wall recognizing members who died after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage.

Tensions over anniversary plans flared anew when the memorial announced last month it was nixing the Tribute in Light, twin blue beams that shine into the night sky over lower Manhattan. While there's no official gathering to view the lights, the memorial cited virus risks to the installation crew. The cancellation outraged some victims' relatives, police and fire unions and politicians, who noted that construction sites around the city were deemed safe to reopen months ago.

After the Tunnel to Towers foundation said it would organize the display on its own, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the memorial's billionaire chairman, stepped in to keep the memorial-sponsored lights on. (Tunnel to Towers is now stationing lights at the Flight 93 memorial and the Pentagon.)

More Coverage

Bill Ritter reflects on September 11th

N.J. Burkett's 9/11 Account (WARNING: Contains images of towers falling)

WARNING: Contains images of towers falling

Don DiFranco, WABC engineer killed on 9/11

Timeline: How the September 11th attacks unfolded

More September 11 stories

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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