Joined in Sadness at Ground Zero

On Oct. 28, grieving families and friends finally had the chance to see the graves of their loved ones and share the pain of their loss

By Diane Brady

Jay Morales is a little tired of reading about hero firemen. He knows that they did a valiant job in trying to rescue victims of the World Trade Center attacks. He believes that their families deserve money. But to him, the focus on martyred rescue workers seems to diminish the death of his wife's cousin and friend, Adriane Scibetta.

September 11 was supposed to be her day off at Cantor Fitzgerald. She could have been home, watching her husband put the final touches on their home extension. But Scibetta wanted Halloween off to be with her young children. Instead, she went to work and never came home. Now, her four-year-old daughter tells people her mother has melted away like the witch on The Wizard of Oz.

When Scibetta's family received an invitation to attend a memorial at Ground Zero on Oct. 28, they had to come. It wasn't just cathartic. It was an acknowledgement that victims like Scibetta were heroes, too. Still, they almost didn't make it. Swamped with far more family members than the 5,000-seat site could accommodate, officials turned some ticket holders away. Morales says the family was walking away when a police officer let them slip into a standing area near the back. "Here we are with passes, and it was total chaos," he says, shaking his head. "But at least this gives us a bit of closure."


  Some closure and, perhaps, a greater sense of a community bound by tragedy. The World Trade Center Family Memorial Service brought together for the first time those whose lives were directly shattered by hijacked planes plowing into the twin towers. This wasn't a star-studded concert for New York, although heavyweights like tenor Andrea Bocelli, soprano Renee Fleming, and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber were on hand to perform. Nor was it a chance for politicians like Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Governor George Pataki to say soothing things. They were all just part of the crowd. This was a chance for grieving families to see the graves of their loved ones and share the pain of their loss.

For many, it was almost too much to bear. Sobs cascaded through the crowd when Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts played the haunting Raisins and Almonds as scenes of the smoldering wreckage flashed on video screens. Attendees silently held up images of the people who perished: Claribel Hernandez on a laminated wallet card, Santos Valentin Jr. (papa) on a poster, Deborah Louise Medwig on a bouquet of white roses, Kevin Cosgrove on a sign that still listed a number to call if he was found alive. Others simply stared at the ground or the burnt carcasses of World Trade Center 4 and 5 on either side of the stage.

The service was catching people at a particularly vulnerable point in their grieving process, says Cathy Dressler, a social worker from Albany, N.Y., volunteering with the Red Cross. "A lot of people have been numb, and now that's starting to thaw," Dressler says, staring at the crowd with tears in her eyes. Not only do families have to contend with the unfathomable nature of these attacks but they also continue to live with the fear of more terrorism.

Add to that the likelihood that most of the bodies are now little more than ash. Says Cathy Mazzotta, whose 23-year-old daughter Jennifer died: "Nobody knows what you're going though -- nobody but the people who are here."


  Even some of the speakers seemed at a loss for words. Most kept their comments short and to the point. As New York Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan put it: "We have hardly any tears left to shed." New York Police Dept. Chaplain Imam Isak-El Mu'eed Pasha argued that "our differences should not lead us to the destruction of each other," while New York City Fire Dept. Chaplain Rabbi Joseph Potasnik called on people to "hold on to one another."

At times, the deference made for a somewhat charged atmosphere. Journalists were initally forbidden from speaking with anyone, except those who approached the press booth. Then, those conversations were banned as well. "I don't care if the Pope himself comes up and wants to talk to you," warns organizer Michael Dave Waters. "Any talking, and you're out," which is exactly what happened to a cameraman who was escorted away by police. When a French reporter decided to call in her story during the National Anthem, other journalists asked her several times to be quiet.

Everyone realized this crowd was different. Police officers didn't try to stop anyone from snapping photos of the wreckage, although it's still technically forbidden for passersby on the street. Red-eyed firemen carried bouquets and pictures to heap on the rubble, returning with rocks for family members to take home. One organizer yelled at a man to get down from a barricade and then hugged him when he started to cry. "It's like we've all been bleeding inside," one fireman said. "And now we're coming together to heal."

BusinessWeek Associate Editor Brady was at Ground Zero on Sunday, Oct. 28

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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