Essex County remembers the Sept. 11 attacks 21 years later

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County held its annual ceremony to honor the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the 21st anniversary of the attacks. At the ceremony at Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange, organizers read aloud the names of all 57 people from Essex County who died in the attacks. Those who spoke included Sheriff Armando Fontoura, U.S. Reps. Mikie Sherrill and Donald M. Payne Jr., Essex County Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson, United Airlines flight attendant Deborah Calimano and survivor Elisa Charters.

Calimano spoke about the pilots and flight attendants who were working on the four planes, which hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Stonycreek Township, Pa. She began with Victor Saracini, the Atlantic City native who was the captain of United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the WTC’s South Tower.

“He moved to Lower Makefield Township, Pa., and joined the local pilot community, many of whom worked for United,” Calimano said at the ceremony. “Most neighbors remembered him as a special person, a good pilot and a friend of many throughout Bucks County. He was a former Navy pilot, and he flew 767s during his 16-year career with United. He instilled his love of flying in his children, and his wife and daughters survive him.”

Calimano also spoke about First Officer Michael Horrocks, who was also on Flight 175. From Glen Mills, Pa., Horrocks was a former Marine and college football player; he is survived by his wife and two children.

“Today we’ll remember and miss those that were lost,” she said. “I ask for a moment to always remember the pilots and flight attendants, because they are sometimes forgotten. They also went to work that day and never made it home. Those crew members gave their lives to protect the integrity of those airplanes while protecting the passengers.”

Charters worked on the 21st floor of the WTC as a real estate financial analyst. At the ceremony, she paid tribute to the police officers and firefighters who helped her escape the building, even though she still doesn’t know all of their names.

“I will never forget the safety personnel harnessing the chaotic masses, commanding the attention of our immense hysteria, skillfully guiding us out to the safest possible area to cross the West Side Highway,” Charters said. “You are the reason I stand here today. We will never forget our country’s bravest efforts and those who followed to recover.”

She also remembered the colleagues she worked with and the friends she commuted to the city with from Nutley each morning, not all of whom survived the attacks.

“I will never forget the incredible efforts of our government officials,” Charters said. “When I stand here, I’m reminded of how much I love our country and all she represents in her magnificence. We will never forget each and every beloved individual we honor here today.”

Maxima Jean-Pierre worked on the 105th floor of the WTC and was a pantry chef. She did not survive the attacks. Her daughter Michelle honored her at the ceremony. A freshman in high school at the time, Michelle Jean-Pierre was about to have her class photo taken when the towers were hit.

“It wasn’t until a year later that I had to accept the fact that she was no longer here,” Michelle Jean-Pierre said. “It took so many years to realize that tomorrow is not promised for anyone. My mother’s life was cut short at the age of 40. A woman who was God-fearing and loved her community, she always instilled in her children to always trust the process. I stand here today as a product of my mother, and, though I was only able to embrace her for 15 years, I can say that the strength comes from what she instilled in her children. Though I may never get the answer as to why my mother was taken away from me at such a young age, I am proud of the woman I am today because of her.”

Sherrill was a pilot in the U.S. Navy in 2001 and was at the headquarters of the United States Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 11. She spoke about the beautiful weather that day and what a stark contrast it was to the tragedy that unfolded.

“Those of us who remember it remember one of the most perfect days of the year when we woke up, a sky so blue that a museum exhibit at Freedom Tower was dedicated to the color of the sky that day,” Sherrill said. “A day full of hope and promise as kids were going back to school, starting college, starting new jobs. So many of us were hopeful and optimistic for the future that day. Even today as we stand here, that dichotomy still stands. It’s up to each and every one of us to heal it. If we truly want to honor those who lost their lives, those who have given so much, if we want to honor them, it’s up to us to come together as a nation. It’s up to us to remind people of who we are and make sure that this nation never forgets.”

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Hailey Root, read several of the names at the ceremony, and, when he spoke, DiVincenzo explained that he believes she is now old enough to participate in this ceremony.

“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “We say that Essex remembers and we’ll never forget. We’re here now, but the future is our young people to carry on the tradition. Because what happened on that day always has to be remembered.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic