PATERSON, NJ - Marina Arevalo fought back tears Wednesday morning as she spoke to the crowd of over 200 people who gathered near the Paterson train station at the plaza named after her son, Kenneth Lira.
Community residents, firefighters, police officers, EMT personnel, and local officials honored the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and especially remembered the then 29-year old Lira, the only Paterson resident to have perished in the worst terrorist attack in American history.
Lira boarded a train on that fateful morning to commute to his job as a computer technician on the upper floors of the south tower of the World Trade Center. In one of the specific moments that were referenced by a moment of silence at the commemoration, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the southwest face of the tower. 56 minutes later, the entire structure collapsed.
Nearly 3,000 employees, firefighters, police officers, first responders, and others, lost their lives in the attack.
The blue skies and comfortable breeze seen and felt during the memorial mirrored the sunny weather conditions which began that fateful day, 18 years ago.
“My anger is still here,” Arevalo told the hushed audience while standing at the podium in front of a large portrait of her son. “I hope you can understand that. I want to remember not only my son but all the people who lost their lives. After 18 years, my heart still grieves every day. All we can do is pray for the grieving families. I am disappointed that politicians use the attacks of 2001 in advertising for their campaigns just to get positions. I’m very proud of the place where I live, that we remember those who lost their lives.”
The observance included a processional by the Passaic County Police & Fire Pipes and Drums and the Paterson Fire and Police Department Honor Guards. Also present were members of the Passaic County Sherriff’s Department. Commemorations were read by representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Congressman Bill Pascrell, and Paterson legislative delegation of Senator Nellie Pou, Assemblywoman Shavonda, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly.
As a boy, Mayor Andre Sayegh said he attended St. Bernard’s Grammar School with Lira and grew up only a few houses away from his former friend.
“Kenneth loved to laugh, he loved skiing, and he loved life,” Sayegh reminisced. “The morning of September 11, 2001, he left this very train station never to return again. It was only two months before his birthday. We know now that he has a home in heaven. We also want him and his family to know he has a home in our hearts.”
During the ceremony, a trio of beautiful flower wreaths were placed at the center of the memorial park, one by Lira’s family members.
Following positioning of the fire department’s bouquet, Police Director Jerry Speziale placed his hand on Arevalo’s shoulder as officers carried in a garland with the familiar law enforcement colors of blue and white.
Fire Chief Brian McDermott especially remembered the 343 firefighters who lost their lives at 9/11.
“We must not forget the people who sacrificed their lives that day,” McDermott said. “Those firefighters’ shoes will never again be filled nor will their lockers ever be opened again.”
Police Chief Troy Oswald asked every person who responded to, or spent time cleaning up following the aftermath of 9/11, to step forward. The crowd responded by giving the brave heroes a round of applause.
Paterson School Superintendent Eileen Shafter read the portion of the service dedicated to victims at the Pentagon and also thanked the police department for, “protecting our children” while PBA Local 1 President Alex Cruz stressed the need for the continuance of support for those who currently suffer medical conditions from helping at Ground Zero after the tragedy.
The program handed out included comforting verses from Psalm 61:1-3 while Pastor Felix Valentin of the Christian Community of Praise prayed “We need you Lord to heal the pain that remains in our hearts.”
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