9/11 anniversary a time of commemoration, reflection
by Laura Petrecca, Rick Hampson and Gary Strauss
A nation that stepped back from the brink of war with Syria Tuesday paused Wednesday to honor and reflect on the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11, the day terrorist attacks spurred two other long-running conflicts in the Middle East.
In New York, hundreds of friends and families of the victims stood silently — many holding photos of their loved ones — as bagpipes played. Relatives were to recite the names of those killed when two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into World Trade Center's Twin Towers. Another plane that day crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth plunged into the ground near Shanksville, Pa.
"No matter how many years pass, this time comes around each year — and it's always the same," said Karen Hinson of Seaford, N.Y., who lost her 34-year-old brother, Michael Wittenstein, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee. "My brother was never found, so this is where he is for us."
Denise Matuza, 46, from Staten Island, lost her husband, Walter, on 9/11. She plans to keep returning to the memorial ceremony each Sept. 11. "We'll still keep coming back," she said, as her 21-year-old son, also named Walter, and two other sons stood nearby.
In Shanksville, dozens of relatives of those who perished aboard United Flight 93 gathered at the crash site.
"This allows us to reconnect with each other and share the day together and the sorrow," said Gordon Felt, who lost his brother Ed. "We reignite the memories of that day, so that we don't forget what happened."
What happened on United 93, according to a federal commission, was as heroic as it was tragic.
After four hijackers seized control, passengers rebelled and rushed the cockpit.
The plane, which the commission said the hijackers probably planned to fly into the U.S. Capitol, crashed into the Somerset County countryside. The hijackers and all 40 passengers and crew were killed. Their names will be read and bells will be rung at a ceremony to start at 9:45 a.m., about the time investigators say passengers tried to re-take the plane.
Sally Hoagland, whose son Mark Bingham was on the flight, agreed with Felt that the anniversary serves a purpose. "I dread the day but I also welcome it, because we reconnect and because it's easier to be sad with other people who are, too," she said.
Hoagland was one of thousands around the nation who volunteered to work on various projects as part of a 9/11 National Day of Service, a campaign launched in 2002 by victims' relatives and supporters.
"It helped turn around 9/11 for me," by making the anniversary a more positive occasion, said Hoagland, who planned to help fix up a fire training facility.
The observance here was low key compared to recent years. The event was attended by first lady Michelle Obama in 2010; by President Obama on the 10th anniversary in 2011; and by Vice President Joe Biden last year.
But there were several milestones for the families to applaud: Ground was broken Tuesday for the memorial visitors center, and a National Park Service charity announced that $40 million had been raised to finish the building the memorial.
While preparations for New York's ceremony were underway, with police barricades blocking access to the site, life around the World Trade Center looked like any other morning, with workers rushing to their jobs and construction cranes looming over the area.
Name-reading, wreath-laying and other tributes also will be held at the Pentagon — including a morning ceremony for victims' relatives and an after observance for Pentagon employees.
President Obama was expected to be at the World Trade Center and later at the Pentagon.
As many New Yorkers scurried off to work, the atmosphere was calmer and more serene at the nearby Sept. 11 memorial. Noise from the memorial waterfalls could easily be heard above the voices of the small crowd that had gathered by 8 a.m. At times, bagpipes played.
Some people invited to the memorial — which contained a much smaller group of attendees than this time during last year's anniversary — hugged and kissed each other. Others held photos of their loved one who had perished.
One woman wore a shirt that was emblazoned with the image of a woman's face. "We love & miss you" it said.
Like she has done in years' past, Kent Place School teacher Reba Petraitis will have a special lesson about remembrance and memorials on Wednesday. Since the majority of her 12th-graders at the Summit, N.J., school don't have clear memories of 9/11, Petraitis tells them to think about another loss that affected them, such as the death of a grandparent, and then talk about the need to memorialize others.
"It's really a highly emotional lesson," Petraitis said.
For most of those students, "Sept. 11 is history – they don't remember it," she said. "I also ask them to go home and ask their parents what are their memories of the day to foster family discussions."
Throughout the school year, Petraitis and her students also discuss domestic and international terrorism, school shootings, what makes someone decide to become a terrorist and what students can do "to make this world a better place to live."
The class is a senior elective on contemporary history, she said, but it has a large focus on terrorism and 9/11.
She notes that as time goes on, the attacks will become "more history than a living event."
But "as long as there are museums and memorials, then there are reminders (of Sept. 11, 2001)," she said. "And that's the reason for the memorials."
In New York City's firehouse Engine 20, Ladder 20, there was solace in the air Tuesday night. About a dozen people stood in front of a Yet at nearby New York City firehouse Engine 20, Ladder 10, there was an air of solace. Just about a dozen people stood in front of a bronze memorial wall dedicated to the 343 firefighters who were killed on 9/11.
Two women approached the six-foot high memorial and rubbed their hands over the etched faces of the firefighters. One man, who had just been looking at the firefighter names listed beneath, did the sign of the cross.
Next to the bronze plaque, a lone, lit candle flickered in front of a framed display that had rows of photos of the deceased New York City firefighters.
In front of the bronze wall sat a few bouquets of fresh flowers as well as one large red, white and blue floral arrangement.
Final push on funds for memorial honoring United Flight 93 passengers is underway
by Al Kamen
When last we checked, back in May 2012, the memorial outside Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11 , 2001, was a whopping $8 million short of meeting its proposed $70 million budget.
The National Park Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, has closed the gap to about $1.5 million and has raised more than $40 million from 110,000 contributors. (The rest of the money has come from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and federal coffers.)
State lawmakers thinking about backing new gun control laws now have something extra to consider.
The capital fundraising campaign has been completed, foundation officials announced Monday, but that didn't include $1.5 million for the “Tower of Voices,” the site's signature feature, as well as some educational programs. The tower would stand 93 feet high and include 40 wind chimes — one for each of the passengers and crew members on Flight 93.
We should note that the memorial to victims at the Pentagon was completed five years ago. The World Trade Center Memorial was completed on Sept. 11, 2011. Shanksville, without the deep-pocketed defense industry here or the financial industry in New York, has struggled to raise the money to complete work there, though the memorial is open to visitors.
Now, let's see, were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers and crew, many of the estimated 5,000 people in and around the Capitol 12 years ago today would have been killed or injured.
That would include countless Hill staff members and tourists and surely a substantial number of well-heeled lobbyists. Oh, and a fair number of the 535 members of Congress who were up there as well. (Both houses were in session at the time.)
But it appears that well fewer than 15 contributions have came from lawmakers who were there that day or the 300 who have been elected to the House and Senate since then.
So more than 30 uniformed flight attendants walked the halls of Congress on Tuesday, dropping off letters appealing for help from each member, most all of whom are strong supporters of voluntary giving.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants and other unions are also re-soliciting their combined 100,000 members for a final push to close the funding gap and finish the memorial.
Former TSA employee arrested, accused of making threats against LAX
by Ruben Vives
Members of a federal task force late Tuesday arrested a former TSA screener who they accused of making threats against Los Angeles International Airport, including "unspecified threats" related to the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Nna Alpha Onuoha, 29, was taken into custody in Riverside before midnight by members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force with assistance from Riverside police officers, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
Pending additional investigation, Onuoha will be held on suspicion of making threats, she said.
The arrest came after Onuoha allegedly made threats against LAX terminals earlier in the day following his resignation from his post as a screener with the Transporation Security Administration. Onuoha held the position since 2006 but had been suspended recently, Eimiller said.
Details about his suspension were not immediately available.
Eimiller said federal authorities began investigating Onuoha on Tuesday afternoon after he resigned from his job and allegedly left a suspicious package addressed to another employee at the TSA's LAX headquarters. The Los Angeles Police Department's bomb squad inspected the package and determined that it contained no explosives or harmful substances, she said.
The package, however, contained an eight-page letter in which Onuoha expressed his thoughts about the incident that led to his suspension and his disdain for the United States, Eimiller said.
Later in the day, she said, a man who federal authorities believe to be Onuoha allegedly called the TSA and instructed an employee to “begin evacuating certain terminals at the airport.” According to Eimiller, the caller allegedly told the employee he would be watching to make sure his instructions were carried out.
Federal authorities said the same man called the TSA a second time, again instructing that terminals be evacuated. Police cleared the terminals, but there appeared to be no threat to the airport, Eimiller said.
While searching Onuoha's apartment in Inglewood, members of the terrorist task force discovered a note taped inside a closet, Eimiller said. The note, she said, contained “an unspecified threat citing the 9/11/13 anniversary.”
Federal authorities then arrested Onuoha. It's unclear why he was arrested in Riverside, and further details about his arrest were not immediately available.
DEA insists cold drug can be used in meth-making
by Jim Slater
ST. LOUIS — A cold and allergy decongestant now being sold nationwide contains a new form of pseudoephedrine that's being billed as difficult to use to make methamphetamine, but the Drug Enforcement Administration said Tuesday that it still won't allow it to be sold over the counter.
Government chemists were able to make meth from Zephrex-D, and its sale must therefore be restricted, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.
Zephrex-D has been sold in Missouri since December and the suburban St. Louis company Westport Pharmaceuticals has rolled the product out to more than 15,000 pharmacies in all 50 states over the past month.
Westport officials say meth can't be made with Zephrex-D through the so-called “one-pot” or “shake-and-bake” method in which the ingredients are mixed together in a soda bottle. The vast majority of homemade meth is now produced this way. The Missouri Narcotics Officers Association said it has not found the product in any meth labs.
Pseudoephedrine is a vital precursor for most meth recipes. The key to making meth with pseudoephedrine is crystallization. Westport officials say the pseudoephedrine in Zephrex-D, when heated, becomes a gooey substance rather than crystallizing.
Westport concedes that meth in very small quantities can be extracted from Zephrex-D through old-style meth labs, but so little that a single dose would cost $250 to $500 — or up to 20 times the street value.
“It's just not economically feasible for the meth-maker to use this product,” said Jason Grellner, narcotics enforcement commander in Franklin County, Mo., who has spoken to the Missouri Legislature on behalf of Westport Pharmaceuticals.
The U.S. Combat Meth Act requires that pseudoephedrine products be sold behind the counter. Buyers must show identification and their names are entered into a tracking database. Two states — Oregon and Mississippi — require prescriptions, as do more than 70 cities and counties in Missouri.
The DEA said sales of Zephrex-D must remain restricted to behind the counter.
“DEA commends the efforts of companies to develop products that deter the production of illicit drugs,” Payne said in a statement. “While this particular company claims that their ‘drug delivery system provides a new and unconventional approach to combat drug misuse,' this product can still be utilized to manufacture methamphetamine.”
Westport chose Missouri for the test run in part because the company is based there, but also because the state has led the nation in meth lab seizures in all but one year since 2003.
“We have a great product for legitimate sinus and cold sufferers, but meth-making criminals will have to look elsewhere,” Paul Hemings, vice president and general manager of Westport Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement.