New York City marks 9/11 20th anniversary with remembrance, reflection

Near ground zero in New York City, scenes of reflection were present all throughout the day on Sept. 11, 2021. The anniversary began with a commemoration at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and ended with the Tribute in Light stretching pillars of light above the city.

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Grace Smith

A citizen puts a flower in a victim’s name at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on Saturday, Sept.11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Josie Fischels, Managing Editor


In New York City, scenes of mourning, remembrance, and reflection on the 9/11 attacks could be seen from the moment sunlight broke over the city to the moment the moon took its place in the sky.

The day marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the sting of the day was just as visible near ground zero as it had been every year since the twin towers fell.

The blue, cloudless day began with thousands gathering at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum for a four-hour private ceremony for families of 9/11 victims. The annual reading of names took place, and moments of silence marked each minute a plane hit or one of the towers fell. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama, and former President Bill Clinton all attended the commemoration.

At the memorial fountain, which marks the spot where each World Trade Center tower stood, people left gifts and stuck flowers and small flags into the etched names of those lost on 9/11.

On the outskirts of the memorial, members of the public gathered in crowds behind fences. Some watched live coverage of the commemoration on their phones, others looked on soberly at the spot where the towers once stood. Even further out, some promoted conspiracy theories on the sidewalks. Some protested President Biden’s presence at the commemoration.

The weekend was also noticeably marked by parents educating their children about terrors that occurred before they were born.

“Did 9/11 happen during the day?” one boy asked his father as the two stood before the FDNY Ten House memorial wall the night before the 20th anniversary.

After the commemoration on Saturday, the 9/11 Memorial Plaza was open to the public. Thousands gathered around each memorial fountain, taking photos next to names, leaving items, or standing for a moment to silently look out at the water that poured down into the center of each fountain.

In the afternoon, New York resident Jody Lee came to the memorial fountain alone to pay respects to those who had lost their lives.

“The sorrow was overwhelming,” she said of that day 20 years ago. “My son was supposed to be here, he was supposed to be in this building, but he had a business in Portland.”

Looking out at the fountain, Lee said — although she didn’t know anyone who had died on 9/11 — she felt it was necessary to come to the memorial on a day when those who lost their lives would be remembered properly.

“I’ve been here before, just on any day, and I was appalled that a lot of people were treating it like a tourist attraction — taking selfies and laughing,” she said. “And I thought, ‘This is a gravesite, folks. Let’s keep a perspective here, thousands of people died in this spot.’ And so I felt like I wanted to honor it with people who were really feeling the depth of that loss.”

At night, people walked with their phone cameras tilted upward to snag a picture of the Tribute in Light shooting twin beams of blue into the sky.

“These are all our people. This is our blood, these are our folks, whoever they are, whatever country they were from,” Lee  said. “The loss was bigger than lives lost, it was a blow to our country, a blow to our financial industry — everything changed.”

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