At Ground Zero, 9/11 Emotions Find a New Home

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ruver Fuentes tearfully remembered where she was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 — at the Bronx, N.Y., elementary school where she works as a teacher. Watching television on a break between classes, she did not realize she was looking at a live television broadcast of terrorists attacking the U.S. "I thought I had seen a movie. I asked 'Why are they showing such a violent film on television,' but they told me it was real," said Fuentes, 61. ďLater on I found out many of my studentsí parents were killed in the World Trade Center.Ē Fuentes was one of thousands of people who visited the site this past Monday, beginning at dawn. Some came to pay their respects to lost friends and relatives, others for solemn, if not emotional, observance; still others came to shout their opinions into the street supporting or criticizing the war in Iraq.

Droves of people made pilgrimages to the site, which has ironically become New York's most visited tourist attraction in the five years since the attacks. There was no end to the amount of cameras and camcorders documenting the anniversary, and there was also no end to the outpouring of emotion that would undoubtedly come with such a milestone.

"Time heals," said Ed Adkins, as he held on the steel gate guarding ground zero. "Sometimes I want to cry, but not often." Atkins served as a chaplain at the makeshift morgue set up in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. He gave last rites to victims there, and at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island where debris and human remains were taken. "There are thousands of stories that people are never going to hear," he said. "But weíre going on."

At the north end of the site — now a construction area for the Freedom Towers, scheduled for completion in 2012 — throngs of people gathered to express anger over the Bush Administrationís policy in the Middle East, or to support it. "I went to a mosque in Brooklyn once and I didnít see one flag, I didnít see any remorse, they told me Bush did it all," said Joe Arlak, 46 who backs President Bush. "We need to stop dividing as a country and get behind our commander-in-chief." Arlak argued with Joe Lias, 40, who said he was dissatisfied with the war effort in Iraq. "Bush still hasnít caught bin Laden," said Lias. "If youíre going to stop terrorism, you need to cut off the head of the guy who causes the problems." The debate was one of many that ignited as mourners left the site and picketers took their places.

But as far as Evelyn Rodriguez was concerned, neither side had any place at the site. "People shouldnít be protesting today, people havenít dealt with their grief yet," said Rodriguez, 42, who survived the devastating tsunami in Thailand in 2004. "There wasnít anyone to blame there, but Iíve got friends here who still have open wounds."

New Yorkers continued to visit the site as the evening progressed. It was eerily reminiscent of the sunny day when the Twin Towers collapsed. In the five years since, some have been able to move on and others are still frozen in time. Adkins, the chaplain, said a part of him always will be frozen. "I have memories of this that Iíll take to my grave," he said.