20 years after, towns pause to mourn victims of Sept. 11, 2001

An estimated 150 people gathered Friday night, Sept. 10, at St. Stephen’s Church in Kearny to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy during a Service of Remembrance.

Earlier in the day, a Remembrance Flag was raised in a ceremony at Kearny High School attended by family members of two of Kearny’s 9/11 victims, Antoinette Duger and George Strauch Jr.

Seven people who lived in Kearny or who had made their home in Kearny at some point were among the terrorist’s victims. They were: L. Patrick Dickinson, 35; Antoinette Duger, 44; Judith A. Reese, 56; Michell Lee Robotham, 32; Antonio Rocha, 34; George Strauch Jr., 53; and Thomas Sullivan, 38.

Kearny’s evening ceremony started on the church lawn, decorated with 2,977 mini-American flags, as a Kearny Police Department Honor Guard led guests and members of the multi-denominational clergy carrying lighted candles around the flag display and processing into the church for a service. Members of Boy Scout Troop 305 distributed programs and helped light candles.

Inside the church, soloist Nicole Gouveia sang from hymns “Christ, Be Our Light,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “My Soul is Thirsting for You, O Lord” and “God Bless America.”

In her sermon, the Rev. Dr. Lillian Ramos, pastor of First Baptist Church of Arlington in Kearny, reminded attendees that families of the dead have “worked to keep their memories alive … everyone from investment bankers to busboys and maître ds who worked at Windows on the World.”

As we honor the memory and contributions made by the victims, Ramos said, it’s important to keep alive the traits of “compassion and resiliency. The dark, evil stain does not define us – that’s the terrorists. It’s the good of people, not the bad(ness) of some that we remember.”

And the “dry bones” of the dead “rest securely in Him,” Ramos said. “They are no longer dry, not forgotten,” much as after the attacks, “we did not stop living…. United we stand, beloved of God.”

Since Sept. 11, 2001, she said, “we can remember where we were when it happened and how God helped us through those challenging days…. The dry bones “we turn into living memories and God turns our tears into living joy, living spirit.”

Joseph Reese, brother of victim Judith Reese, shared his memories of his late sister, remembering her as “a woman of strong conviction … tenacious” who exhibited a strong “sense of loyalty to family and friends.”

Joseph recalled Judith, who worked as an administrative assistant with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey at the World Trade Center, was an avid rooter for the New York Football Giants (Joe, conversely, is a major Rams’ fan) – as her fellow fans in Section 303 would affirm – and was a lover of country music which she’d tune to during car trips to Cape May and Kutztown, Pennsylvania. She was also known for her “delicious devilled eggs,” he said.  “Judith was determined to squeeze out every second of every day. The comfort of family and friends in Kearny means a lot and today, we treasure every moment we have. God bless our first responders.”

Mayor Alberto Santos said even with the passage of two decades since the attacks, “we still recall vividly the pain and trauma” and how people rallied by “coming to this and other churches to pray and hold hands. It was our faith that lifted us. We did not let a sense of revenge overcome us. We act on the hope for a better tomorrow.

“Guided by the faith of the Four Chaplains (memorialized with a bronze monument that stands outside St. Stephen’s) who joined in the service of love for others, we renew that commitment today,” the mayor said, through military or volunteer service. And, by so doing, “we found God in each other through community … We still grieve for those lost, but we still have faith.”

And the Rev. Joseph Mancini, pastor of St. Stephen’s, concluded the service, saying, “Evil can never defeat us. Each of us can make a difference.”

Lyndhurst also hosted a 9/11 memorial observance on Saturday, Sept. 11. The township lost three residents Craig Damian Lilore, Kenneth Grouzalis and Myung-woo Lee in the carnage.

Official accounts list a total of 2,977 people, including 19 terrorists, who perished in the attacks Sept. 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It is estimated that an additional 1,400 people who volunteered for rescue and recovery missions at Ground Zero died of exposure to toxins at the site.


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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York