Families of WTC Victims Honor Unidentified 9/11 Remains

By DNAinfo Staff on September 11, 2011 12:53am

Sally Regenhard (center), clutches a photo of her son Christian at a memorial for unidentified remains of 9/11 victims on Sept. 10, 2011. To her right is Joyce Mercer (mother of firefighter Scott Kopytko) and to her left is Rosemary Cain (mother of firefighter George Cain).
Sally Regenhard (center), clutches a photo of her son Christian at a memorial for unidentified remains of 9/11 victims on Sept. 10, 2011. To her right is Joyce Mercer (mother of firefighter Scott Kopytko) and to her left is Rosemary Cain (mother of firefighter George Cain).
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DNAinfo/Meghan Keneally

By Meghan Keneally

Special to DNAinfo

KIPS BAY — Families of firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11 gathered at the Medical Examiner's office Saturday evening to memorialize the remains of their loved ones that were never identified.

They hoped that their presence would bring attention to the city’s plan to move the unidentified remains into the basement of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which they find to be an insult to the dead.

“No other memorial would give the indignity of putting human remains in the basement of a private museum,” said Sally Regenhard, whose son Christian was a firefighter and died in the attacks.

Many of the attendees were upset that the remains will be kept in a place that is open to the public and plans to charge an admission. They also feel that the city should have notified them of their plans or asked for their opinions on the issue.

Seventeen family members, some of whom were in attendance on Saturday, are filing a freedom of information lawsuit against the city in order to obtain the contact information for the next of kin for all Trade Center victims.  They hope to contact them about the city's plans.

“It raises a very important issue and that is who decides what happens to human remains,” said Norman Siegel, the lawyer filing the suit. “Is it the government or the family members?”

Approximately 6,000 human remains have been stored in a tent outside of the Medical Examiner's Office on 30th Street between First Avenue and the FDR Drive.

Some 20 people attended the ceremony where the family members laid a memorial wreath beside the gate surrounding the tent.

“In 2002 we were told by the mayor and everyone else that the remains were going to be separate and distinct from any museum or any visitor center," said Deputy Chief Jim Riches, a retired firefighter who lost his son Jimmy, 29, also a member of the FDNY, in the North Tower.

"I guess they lied to us because In 2009 we found out that they intended to put them seven stories below grade in a museum where they’re going to charge $20.”

Retired FDNY Dep. Chief Jimmy Riches, who lost his firefighter son Jimmy in the 9/11 attacks, speaks at a memorial for unidentified remains on Sept. 10, 2011 at the Medical Examiner's Office.
Retired FDNY Dep. Chief Jimmy Riches, who lost his firefighter son Jimmy in the 9/11 attacks, speaks at a memorial for unidentified remains on Sept. 10, 2011 at the Medical Examiner's Office.
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DNAinfo/Meghan Keneally

Instead, they are calling for "a memorial above grade like a tomb of the unknown where we can go at night and it's not closed," Riches said.

"At night, if I’m driving by, I can go and leave flower, say a prayer.”

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is scheduled to open in September 2012, but the lawsuit is scheduled to be brought to a hearing in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.

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