Out of the chaos, to the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, John Mahony, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was managing projects for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, sensed something that reminded him of when his mother would wrap him up as he’d climb out of a cold swimming pool, and he would be held, safe and warm, in loving arms.
“As I walked down that stair, somewhere between the 12th floor and the 10th, somewhere between ‘Our Father’ and ‘Thy will be done,’ that same feeling came over me," Mahony said. "Suddenly, I was wrapped in warmth, and love, and comfort. In that smoky, wet stairway, in a burning building, surrounded by a thousand frightened people; I felt wonder. I felt God’s peace, and I knew that regardless of the physical outcome, everything would be all right.”
It was a clear May day on Staten Island in New York, clouds high and wispy against the cerulean sky. A slight Atlantic breeze bent the scrub grass along the highway. Then the wind direction changed, and I inhaled the sickly sweet smell of decomposition. I had arrived at the Fresh Kills Landfill run by the New York City Department of Sanitation—the mass grave for hundreds of victims of 9/11.
“It’s a pretty formidable place,” Diane Horning told me as we looked across nearly 2,200 acres of prettied-up garbage dump, approximately 40 acres of which holds refuse from the World Trade Center. “You can’t bring the elderly. You can’t bring young children. There’s no place to put flowers.”
The Horning’s 26-year-old son, Matthew, was killed on Sept. 11. He worked for the Marsh & McLennan insurance company on the 95th floor of the north tower at the World Trade Center. O f the 295 Marsh & McLennan employees killed that day, many have had no remains found. Of the 2,749 people killed at the Trade Center, more than 40 percent lack any identified remains.
In 2003, Diane Horning founded World Trade Center Families for a Proper Burial with Arlene and Arthur Russo, whose son Wayne had also died. The organization’s express purpose is to retrieve the remains of the 9/11 victims in the Fresh Kills Landfill and give them a proper burial. They represent about 1,000 families.
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