(ROCKWALL, TX — Sept. 11, 2016) Recordings of the chaos from the terrorist attacks on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 – the day that saw three hijacked planes crash into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon – rang out over the first responders, military members and others in uniform at Rest Haven Funeral Home’s Memorial Park. Some had their heads bowed, while others simply stared off into the distance with expressions full of pain and melancholy.
Area police, fire and military members joined city officials, residents and the Amy Parks Heath Elementary 6th Grade Starlight Choir on Friday, Sept. 9, in the Rest Haven 9/11 Memorial Ceremony to remember that fateful day 15 years ago and honor those who lost their lives. First responders in attendance included Rockwall Fire Chief Mark Poindexter, Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson, Rockwall Police Department Assistant Chief Kirk Aldridge, and Rockwall Police Sergeant Steven Brassil, who was in the NY City Police Academy on that Tuesday and saw his first official call for service as a police officer responding to Ground Zero.
To begin the ceremony, Poindexter took everyone through a timeline of the events on the morning of Sept. 11:
8:46 a.m. — Five hijackers crash American Airlines Flight 11 into floors 93-99 of the north World Trade Center tower; 76 passengers and 11 crew members, along with hundreds inside the building, were killed instantly; the crash severed all three emergency stairwells and trapped hundreds of people above the 91st floor
9:03 a.m. — Five hijackers crash United Airlines Flight 175 into floors 77-85 of the south World Trade Center tower, killing the 51 passengers and 9 crew members on board and an unknown number of people inside the building; the impact rendered two of the three emergency stairwells impassable and severed a majority of the elevator cables in the area, trapping many inside the impact zone and inside the elevator cars; estimates of the number of people who either jumped or fell to their deaths from the two towers range from 50 to 200
9:37 a.m. – Five hijackers crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing the 53 passengers and 6 crew members aboard; the crash and the ensuing fire killed 125 military personnel and civilians on the ground
9:59 a.m. – After burning for 56 minutes the south tower collapsed; more than 800 civilians and first responders were killed inside the building and the surrounding areas as a result of the attack on the south tower
10:03 a.m. – Five hijackers crash United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in the town of Shanksville of Somerset County, PA; after passengers and crew members stormed the cockpit, the 33 passengers and seven crew members on board perished; the crash site location is approximately 20 minutes’ flight time to Washington, D.C.
10:28 a.m. – The north tower collapsed after burning for 102 minutes; more than 1600 are killed as a result of the attack on the north tower
Up to 2,977 people were killed in the attacks on 9/11. Of those, 343 were firefighters and paramedics, 23 were New York City police officers, and 37 were Port Authority police officers.
Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson said there are three words which he believes best identify the traits of first responders in a way that reflects the respect and honor they deserve: character, commitment and courage. Those traits were displayed by each of the 411 first responders who sacrificed their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I believe that most, if not all, of the 411 first responders who entered the twin towers that morning knew there was a high probability they might not come out,” he said. “And yet they did it, despite the risks.”
Special guest speaker of the event was Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Gary Tittle, a 29-year veteran with the Dallas PD and a resident of Rockwall. Tittle paid tribute to those first responders who died on 9/11, and also invited folks to remember the recent attacks on law enforcement, specifically the sniper attack on July 7 during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas which took the lives of five police officers.
Tittle said the department found itself overwhelmed in the aftermath of the attack arranging funerals for the fallen officers, securing the crime scene and investigating the attack, all while dealing with the grief and shock of it all.
“There was an outpouring of support from sheriffs’ departments,” Tittle said. “Both local, county, state and federal, they came to our aid. We’re a huge department in comparison but we knew we couldn’t handle it all. We knew we could not do what we needed to do at that particular time to take care of our own and their families. But first responders came to our aid.”
Tittle said those in uniform must continue to do what is right and not take “an eye for an eye” approach in response to the attacks on law enforcement.
“Through tragedy must come change,” Tittle said. “We need to take the high road. It’s so easy to be angry, but that’s not the right thing. That’s not what first responders stand for. We will unite and we will make every effort possible to bring this country together. While we will never forget September 11th of 2001, I ask you to never forget July 7th of 2016.”
Heath Department of Public Safety Director Terry Garrett said in order to overcome the emotional turmoil that follows any tragic event like the terrorist attacks on 9/11 or the July sniper attack, we must take that sense of hopelessness and powerlessness and put it to good use.
“That negative energy can be devastating, but we need to turn it into something good,” Garrett said. “And in the last 15 years, I think we’ve managed to remember, honor and respect those who gave their lives, who were running up 110 floors to save someone they didn’t know.”
Speaking on behalf of Congressman John Ratcliffe, Lorrie Grinnan read a statement prepared by the Congressman urging citizens to not only remember and honor the victims of 9/11, but to reunite against terrorism in order to defend our freedom.
“We must do everything in our power to defeat terrorist groups at their core,” wrote Ratcliffe. “We must reunite against the common enemy, directing our efforts towards the true threats that we face. To do anything less would be a grave disservice to those we stand here today remembering, and to those first responders who stand with us today ready to answer the next call.”
Rest Haven also sponsored a special pregame 9/11 memorial ceremony during Friday night’s football showdown between the Rockwall Yellowjackets and Southlake Carroll Dragons at Wilkerson-Sanders Stadium. First responders lined the field as the Amy Parks Starlight Choir performed a powerful rendition of “God Bless America.”
Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News editor / senior reporter.
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