Essex County remembers 9/11 at Eagle Rock overlook

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County residents gathered at the Eagle Rock Reservation to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. With a view of the New York City skyline in the background, county officials read the names of the 57 area residents who died in the attacks. Among the speakers were Freeholder President Brendan Gill, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, District 29 State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, former Gov. Jon Corzine, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr.

Fontoura thanked the sheriff’s officers who attended the ceremony along with current police academy recruits. He described how first responders feel during a time of crisis.

“You’re always reminded that there may come a day that you’re running to what everyone is running away from,” Fontoura said at the ceremony. “In the academy, you’re always given a chance to step back if you want to, no shame. I’ve never met anyone in all my years who wanted to.”

He also remarked on the sense of unity felt in the wake of the 2001 attacks — a unity he said has been lost in the intervening years.

“We have lost that unity in the 18 years since,” Fontoura said. “We need everyone’s help to come together as we did then. Let us pledge to do that once again.”

Gill also thanked the first responders in his remarks and spoke about the strength of Essex County residents.

“Those people were our friends, our neighbors and, for some, our families,” Gill said at the ceremony. “Essex County residents have been resilient. It is these times when we remember how resilient we are. We pay homage to those first responders to keep us safe. We count them among our heroes. It is my hope in some small way we are inspired to make a positive change from this.”

Ruiz, whose district includes the eastern part of Newark and all of Belleville, spoke about her reaction to the attacks in 2001. She said she had just left a morning meeting when she heard what was going on across the Hudson River.

“When that happened, many of us were caught off guard,” Ruiz said. “Everything just stopped and shifted. Every American from every walk of life came together to lift this country up. This country is in a moment where we need to find that spirit again. We have a true responsibility to gather and to celebrate, but also to help those who are still hurting.”

In his speech, Corzine described human resilience and the drive to help others.

“It is from here that we can draw perspective on many things,” he said. “As we stand here and look at what was, we have to stay vigilant. It is imperative that we stay alert. What we also learned on that day was that humans are resilient. We can go forward, and we should. We have to do it together. But we have lost some of that unity that we felt then. We cared about giving and sharing and helping each other. I know that can be again, but it is not where we are today. We have to be resilient.”

Oliver was emotional when she spoke at the ceremony, asking those in attendance to think about the victims who were inside the Twin Towers during the attacks.

“Imagine what it was like for the victims trying to get out from the 88th floor,” Oliver said. “Think about the first responders who went across the Hudson to help. Think about the trauma those people survived. Their families will always carry the scar of losing someone.”

She said there is much the government can do to continue to help the victims and their families.

“There should never be a question about whether or not to provide health care, stability and economic help to those people,” Oliver said. “Let us in our hearts embrace the sanctity of life. Make certain you use every one of your talents to make a contribution to this world. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s live our lives each day like it’s the last one we will experience.”

Between the speeches, the names of Essex County victims were read aloud by Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne; Essex County Chief of Staff Philip Alagia; Megan Dugar, the daughter of Antionette Dugar, who died in the attacks; Deborah Calimano, a flight attendant for United Airlines; Elisa Charters, who worked on the 21st floor of the World Trade Center; Essex County Schools of Technology Superintendent James Pederson; and West Caldwell Tech student Kenneth Nieves.

Two moments of silence were held at the ceremony to coincide with the times the two planes hit the Twin Towers 18 years ago. Memorial wreaths were also laid at the monument and a new American flag was raised. A string quartet was on site to perform reverent selections of music after the ceremony, continuing into the early afternoon.

The Eagle Rock Sept. 11 Memorial was dedicated in October 2002, little more than a year after the attacks. Its many elements pay tribute to the many individuals — those going about their normal days and first responders — who lost their lives that day at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania and aboard the four hijacked airplanes that crashed that day. In 2011, a 7,400-pound steel and concrete artifact from the World Trade Center foundation was installed at the memorial, and a bronze plaque was dedicated to honor emergency medical technicians who responded to Ground Zero and those who provided aid to people returning from New York across the Hudson River. In 2016, the Essex County Search and Rescue Dog Statue was dedicated at the site to commemorate the role dogs had in the search and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center and Pentagon after the attacks.

The county chose to locate the memorial at the Eagle Rock overlook because of that site’s significance to area residents who visited the reservation for its view of the Twin Towers. An impromptu memorial was set up at the site on Sept. 11, 2001, and each year the county holds a memorial service at the site. “To do this for the last 17 years is not about myself,” DiVincenzo said of how he and the freeholders raised the money for the memorial at Eagle Rock. “Our world was changed forever. We made a commitment that day to never, ever forget. Essex will always remember that day and be here every year.” 

Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Courtesy of Glen Frieson

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