September 11th Anniversary Coverage: How this year’s ceremony will be different

New York News
NEW YORK (WABC) — In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped countless American rituals, even the commemoration of 9/11 could not escape unchanged.

The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks will be marked by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner near the World Trade Center, reflecting a divide over the memorial’s decision to suspend a cherished tradition of relatives reading victims’ names in person. Vice President Mike Pence is expected at both those remembrances in New York.

Joe Biden and his wife Jill will travel to New York City to attend the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s commemoration ceremony in the morning, and then will travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania in the afternoon to pay their respects to the victims of Flight 93.

WABC-TV live coverage of the official ceremony begins at 8:26 a.m. on Friday on Channel 7, our website, mobile news app and our family of Connected TV apps for Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV and Android TV.

READ: The 9/11 ceremony schedule of events

The FDNY has cited the virus in urging members to stay away from any observances of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, among them almost 350 firefighters. Some victims’ relatives say they understand the ground zero observance had to change in a year when so much else has. Others fear the pandemic is making plain what they have feared was happening unspoken: that the commitment to “Never Forget” is fading.

Leaders of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum said their plan for a no-reading ceremony would honor both virus precautions and 9/11 families’ attachment to being at ground zero on the anniversary. But another 9/11-related organization, the Stephen Stiller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, quickly arranged its own simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying victims’ relatives could recite names while keeping a safe distance.

RELATED: WABC’s late night newscast hours before the 2001 attacks in New York City

Meanwhile, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told current firefighters in a memo last month that the department “strongly recommends” members not participate in 9/11 observances. The department did hold a limited-attendance ceremony Wednesday to add names to a memorial wall recognizing members who died after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage.

Tensions over anniversary plans flared anew when the memorial announced last month it was nixing the Tribute in Light, twin blue beams that shine into the night sky over lower Manhattan. While there’s no official gathering to view the lights, the memorial cited virus risks to the installation crew. The cancellation outraged some victims’ relatives, police and fire unions and politicians, who noted that construction sites around the city were deemed safe to reopen months ago.

After the Tunnel to Towers foundation said it would organize the display on its own, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the memorial’s billionaire chairman, stepped in to keep the memorial-sponsored lights on. (Tunnel to Towers is now stationing lights at the Flight 93 memorial and the Pentagon.)

More Coverage

Bill Ritter reflects on September 11th

N.J. Burkett’s 9/11 Account (WARNING: Contains images of towers falling)

Don DiFranco, WABC engineer killed on 9/11

Timeline: How the September 11th attacks unfolded

More September 11 stories

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