Sense of moving on emerges as nation remembers Sept. 11 victims 11 years after attacks

NEW YORK - Wanda Ortiz understands why fewer people turned out at memorial services honoring the victims of 9/11 on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. But for her, the ceremonies are comforting. Her twin daughters, Amanda and Emily, were 5 months old when their father, Emilio Ortiz, was killed in the north tower of the World Trade Center,. At Tuesday's ground zero service in New York, Amanda did the reading for the family. Ortiz said she knows the ceremonies have less impact on people who did not lose someone in the tragedy, but she doesn't resent that. "It's human nature, so people move on," said Ortiz, of Queens. "My concern now is ... how I keep the memory of my husband alive." There were tearful messages to loved ones, moments of silence and other rituals that have come to define the annual ceremonies. But Americans appeared to have entered a new, scaled-back chapter of collective mourning for the worst terror attack in U.S. history. Crowds gathered, as always, at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania memorial to mourn the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 attacks. But they came in fewer numbers, ceremonies were less elaborate and some cities chose not to hold remembrances at all this year.A year after the milestone 10th anniversary, some said the memorials may have reached an emotional turning point. In Middletown, N.J., a bedroom community that lost 37 residents in the attacks, town officials laid a wreath at the entrance to a park in a small, silent ceremony. Last year, 3,700 people attended a remembrance with speeches, music and names read. "This year," said Deputy Mayor Stephen Massell, "I think less is more." This year also was one when politicians largely took a back seat to grieving families; no elected officials spoke at New York's 3 1/2-hour ceremony. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pulled negative campaign ads and avoided rallies, with the president laying a wreath at Continue Reading

FDNY EMS lieutenant, who helped Sept. 11 victims while off-duty, dies of 9/11-linked cervical cancer

An FDNY EMS lieutenant whose partner died when the Twin Towers fell is the latest casualty of the toxic dust at Ground Zero, according to her family. Forty-six-year-old Lt. Edith Torres, of Queens, died Wednesday of a Sept. 11-related illness, according to FDNY and union officials. Torres was off-duty when the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center, but responded anyway, said her brother, Jose Torres, a retired NYPD officer. “She had called me, probably around 6, 7 o'clock at night to see how I was doing,” said Torres. “She told me that things were very rough, things were very bad, it was a war zone, it was chaos and that she was exhausted but that she had work to do.” Her partner at Battalion 49 in Astoria, Paramedic Carlos Lillo, 37, perished while looking for his wife, who worked in the North Tower. Alongside him was Paramedic Ricardo Quinn. “She was trying to get in contact with him,” Torres said. “The buildings had collapsed, and she had not known at the time what happened.” Torres, a 23-year-veteran, was promoted to lieutenant in 2005, and worked in Emergency Medical Dispatch, helping field units on cardiac arrest calls and other medical emergencies. She learned she had a rare, fast-spreading form of cervical cancer in October, her brother said. “Lt. Edith Torres was a kind, caring dedicated professional who provided the best service to the people of New York City,” said Vincent Variale, the head of the FDNY’s Uniformed EMS Officers Union. “It is with great sorrow we say goodbye to our sister, another 9/11 hero.” Torres initially wanted to become a doctor, but chose the emergency medicine field instead, volunteering with the Jackson Heights Elmhurst Volunteer Ambulance Corps at age 20. “She liked that part of the medicine better, getting her hands on and saving people on the street in an emergency Continue Reading

President Obama blasted by Sept. 11 victims’ families for opposing legislation that could let them sue Saudi Arabia for 2001 terrorist attacks

President Obama's can-of-worms trip to Saudi Arabia got even more complex after families of 9/11 victims blasted him for opposing legislation that would give them the right to sue the Saudi government for any role it may have played in the terror attacks. “Your place in history should not be marked by a campaign to foreclose the judicial process as a venue in which the truth can be found,” more than a dozen relatives of Sept. 11 victims wrote in a letter to Obama on Monday. DE BLASIO TO JOIN DEMS TO OPPOSE OBAMA OVER SAUDI ARABIA The angry families also urged Obama to declassify and release a 28-page portion of a congressional report on possible links between the Saudi government and the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people. The report was issued in 2002, but those pages were held back by the George W. Bush administration in the interest of national security. “It is not acceptable ... to succumb to the demands of a foreign government that we abandon principles of American justice while we pursue our diplomatic goals,” the families wrote. The White House says it opposes the bill because it could expose Americans overseas to legal risk. CLINTON, SANDERS SUPPORT BILL TO LET 9/11 KIN SUE SAUDIS “If we open up the possibility that individuals in the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries,” Obama told CBS News. Obama flies to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that lawmakers need to review the bill “to make sure that we’re not making mistakes with our allies.” “The White House is opposed to it. It’s received some opposition here. We’re going to let these things work the process,” Ryan said. He noted that the White House is Continue Reading

WATCH: Relatives of Sept. 11 victims share inspiring messages to grief-stricken Paris

The children of family members killed during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shared inspirational messages to relatives of people killed in Paris earlier this month. “To the people of Paris — keep spreading love,” said Terrease Aiken, 22, in a new video from news outlet Vox. Aiken, like the three other young adults featured in the video were just children when their parents were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center that left nearly 3,000 people dead one fateful Tuesday 14 years ago. LIKE US ON FACEBOOK Years later, terrorism struck again — this time abroad during a series of gruesome shootings and suicide bombings led by militant group ISIS that killed at least 129 Parisians and injured hundreds. FRENCH DAD EXPLAINS PARIS TERROR ATTACKS TO YOUNG SON In the video, the 9/11 cohorts offer advice to Paris survivors and say they know the sorrow of losing a loved one in a horrifying way all too well. “(My father) was killed. He didn’t just die — it wasn’t a car accident, he didn’t have cancer — he was killed,” Francesca Picerno, now 23 and nine at the time of the attacks. The other family members of the 9/11 victims shared their grief. “I know what it’s like to have my father killed on national television,” said Juliette Candela, now 21 and just six when her father perished with the Twin Towers. Though the pain may still linger for the children of 9/11 victims and now for Paris survivors, they say staying brave in these troubling times is the key to finding personal vindication. FOLLOW US ON TWITTER “People look at you and they shouldn’t see tragedy — they should see hope,” said Joseph Palombo, 26, who lost his father at the age of 12 on 9/11. “The best attack you can have on a terrorist or a terrorist group Continue Reading

Lawyers of Sept. 11 victims’ families say evidence points to Saudi Arabia agents helping hijackers

Lawyers representing families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks say they have new evidence that agents of Saudi Arabia “directly and knowingly” aided the hijackers. Evidence includes testimony from a jailed Al Qaeda operative and principals of the U.S. government’s probes of the attacks. The latest filing meets a court-mandated deadline and includes an "expansive volume" of new evidence, from U.S. and foreign intelligence reports to testimony, which support lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from countries, companies and organizations that aided Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker of 9/11, claims – in an interview with lawyers last year while serving a life sentence at the Supermax prison in Colorado – that Saudi royal family members backed Al Qaeda. In a statement, the Saudi Embassy said the attack had been the “most intensely investigated crime in history, and the findings show no involvement by the Saudi government or Saudi officials.” The lawyers also said their case is boosted by sworn statements by 9/11 Commissioners John Lehman and Bob Kerrey, as well as Bob Graham, co-chairman of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11. Graham says he believes "there was a direct line" between some Sept. 11 terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia while Lehman, a former Navy secretary, explained close historical ties between the kingdom's government clerics and Al Qaeda, the lawyers noted. With With News Wire Services Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Fifteen Ground Zero first responders, including 14 firefighters, will be the first to receive money from the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund, officials announced Tuesday

Fifteen emergency responders who toiled at Ground Zero will be the first to receive money from the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund — but Tuesday’s announcement came a day late for one hero firefighter. FDNY Lt. Marty Fullam, a 9/11 survivor from Ladder 87 whose lungs were destroyed by Ground Zero toxins, died Monday, his family said. Fullam endured a lung transplant in 2009, and despite his illness made several trips to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress in support of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, a massive aid package that includes the Victims Compensation Fund. “Marty was a valiant warrior, and despite being sick he lobbied hard to help those who are sick now and those who will be in the future,” said Lt. Eddie Boles, a member of the Uniformed Fire Officers’ Association. The 57-year-old father of three was captured in one of the iconic images of 9/11, as he and several other firefighters cradled the battered body of FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge amidst the Twin Towers rubble. The Victims Compensation Fund that Fullam advocated for will provide its first benefit payments to 15 claimants — 14 firefighters and a state correction officer who responed to Ground Zero. All have respiratory conditions, none have cancer, and all are still alive. They will each receive 10% of their determined awards, ranging from $10,000 to $1.5 million, officials said Tuesday. “It’s the first step in the process of making payments, and we’re glad that we’re proceeding,” said Sheila Birnbaum, a New York lawyer who has been working as special master of the fund. “There is a lot more work to be done.” The $2.8 billion fund was created by Congress to compensate emergency responders who suffered chronic health problems after their service at scenes of the Sept. 11 attacks. It was signed into law as part of the Zadroga Act by President Obama in 2010. Birnbaum said Continue Reading

Retired Naval officer Cmdr. Charles Coughlin sentenced to  jail for defrauding Sept. 11 victims compensation fund

WASHINGTON — A retired naval officer honored for helping rescue fellow Pentagon workers in the 2001 terrorist attack was sentenced Monday to 3 1/2 years in prison for defrauding the Sept. 11 victims’ compensation fund. Retired Cmdr. Charles Coughlin of Severna Park, Md., claimed he was injured when objects fell on him as a hijacked plane struck the building and again later when he went back inside to rescue others and hit his head. But prosecutors said Coughlin was not hurt and instead used an old injury to get $331,034 in compensation from the fund. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, the chief of the Washington federal court, told Coughlin that stealing that much money from the government deserves a serious sentence. He allowed Coughlin to remain free pending appeal. Coughlin, a 52-year-old father of four and grandfather of two, did not react to the verdict. When Lamberth invited him to speak just before delivering the sentence, Coughlin only had one thing to say: “I take full responsibility for the errors and mistakes I made.” Coughlin is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard Business School who spent most of his 21-year naval career in the submarine service. He had a top-secret security clearance and commanded nuclear submarines. He was working at the Pentagon when a plane hijacked by terrorists crashed into the building about 75 feet from his office. He said he went back inside the burning building to help rescue others and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Purple Heart for his actions and injuries that day. Coughlin’s claim to the victims’ compensation fund said he was left with constant pain in his neck and headaches, as well as weakness in his left arm and numbness in his left hand and elbow. He said it changed his life physically — he used to work out daily, play basketball and lacrosse, run marathons and work on projects around the house. But prosecutors say he was able to Continue Reading

President invites family of Sept. 11 victims to discuss closing of Guantanamo Bay

The White House has invited some Sept. 11 victims' kin to a meeting Friday to address fears that closing the Guantanamo Bay prison will delay trials for the 2001 attacks, the Daily News has learned. Family members demanded the meeting - which President Obama is expected to attend. The relatives were irked that Obama didn't address prosecution of the 9/11 plotters when he announced that the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba will close within a year. "We're very supportive of the President," Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son Christian perished in the World Trade Center, told The News. "We just want to see these people prosecuted." But Obama has already called for a halt to Guantanamo trials while he decides what to do. Last night, the Pentagon's top judge overseeing terror trials at Guantanamo Bay dropped charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 destroyer Cole bombing in 2000. The legal move by Susan Crawford would bring all cases into compliance with Obama's executive order to halt terrorist court proceedings at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. New charges can be brought against Nashiri later, and he will remain in prison for the time being. Regenhard is taking a train to Washington with retired FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who also lost his firefighter son Jimmy on 9/11. "We are of the opinion - let's not go backward, let's go forward," Riches said. "And we want to see how Obama is going to do that." The White House had no immediate comment. One 9/11 relative involved in pressing for the meeting said Obama "is expected to be there," and he intends to have more meetings with the families. Most of the relatives were involved in the 7-1/2-year effort to get accountability for the government's past failures and reform intelligence agencies. The White House is under mounting pressure to explain how, and where, the 255 remaining detainees will be tried. Continue Reading

Sept. 11 victims’ families welcome candidates’ WTC appearance

Relatives of people killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 say the decision by Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain to appear together at ground zero on the seventh anniversary of the attacks is a welcome gesture of respect. "I think it's a wonderful thing," Sally Regenhard, whose son, Christian, was killed at the trade center, said Monday. "I assume that they're coming down here to pay respects to the people who lost their lives and to really affirm the fact that this is sacred ground for America." Obama and McCain, the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, said Saturday they would appear together at ground zero on Thursday "to honor the memory of each and every American who died." The campaigns already had agreed to halt television advertising critical of each other on Sept. 11. RELATED: McCAIN RIDES RNC BOUNCE IN POLLSThe welcome mat for McCain and Obama contrasts with the chilly reception some family members gave former New York mayor and then-presidential contender Rudy Giuliani one year ago. As Giuliani descended to the trade center site during the observance, one man yelled, "Scum! Scum!" Giuliani, who made his leadership after the terror attacks the cornerstone of his failed bid for the GOP nomination, spoke in 2007, as at previous ceremonies. Then-Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the 2007 observance in her capacity as a senator from New York but did not speak. In 2004, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry did not attend the anniversary observance at the trade center site. Bush visited on the eve of the fifth anniversary in 2006 but did not take part in the Sept. 11 ceremony. The McCain and Obama campaigns have not released details of the joint appearance, such as the timing of the visit or whether the candidates will speak. Rosaleen Tallon, who lost her brother, Sean, a rookie firefighter, said they should not speak. "It should just be where they're paying their respects," she said. Charles Wolf, Continue Reading

Families of Sept. 11 victims accuse city of losing remains

Lawyers for families of those who died at the World Trade Center in the 2001 terrorist attack said in court documents Friday that the city pressed workers cleaning up the site to take shortcuts that may have caused human remains to be lost forever. The papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan relied in part on affidavits from four people who participated in the recovery efforts at the Fresh Kills Refuse Site on Staten Island. Plaintiffs who brought the case against the city in 2005 include World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, a group of about 1,000 families whose relatives' remains are at Fresh Kills. Court papers said the city failed to deliver on a promise to sift all debris through delicate screens to find body parts, human remains and personal belongings as small as a quarter inch in diameter. Only about 63 percent of the 1.65 million tons of debris recovered from the trade center site were subjected to the sifting screens, the court papers said. In one affidavit, former police Sgt. John Barrett said supervisors at Fresh Kills pressured workers to sift through piles hurriedly. He said he once refused to sift quickly, only to see two other piles carted away and dumped without having been sifted at all. In another, construction worker Eric Beck, who worked at the landfill from October 2001 through July 2002, said recovery workers found as many as 2,000 bones a day in the early months, along with personal belongings including keys, wallets, pictures and jewelry. But he said some debris that had been through the quarter-inch sifting equipment was later loaded onto tractors by the city and used to pave roads and fill in potholes. The court papers said Beck's statement was proof that the city had failed to deliver on a promise that sifted material would be set aside and maintained with reverence. Since the families sued over the landfill, more than 1,200 human remains - ranging from small slivers to full arm bones - have been Continue Reading