LOWER MANHATTAN — Survivors who fled the flaming World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 will not be allowed to attend the city's annual commemoration ceremony at Ground Zero this year, DNAinfo has learned.
The mayor's office, which runs the ceremony, informed the World Trade Center Survivors' Network last week that there will be no room for them at this year's 10th anniversary ceremony, which will be held for the first time at the newly built 9/11 memorial, the city said.
"In years past, members of this survivors' group were permitted to attend once it was clear that attendance numbers of victims’ family members would allow it," said Andrew Brent, spokesman for the mayor's office.
"The commemoration ceremony is for victims' family members, and this year – on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 – the expectation is there will be no opportunity for members of the group to attend."
September 11th will again be an emotional day for victims’ family members, survivors, responders, millions of New Yorkers and people from all over the country and the world, but obvious space constraints on the Memorial plaza will limit the attendees to victims’ families," Brent added.
Survivors of the 9/11 attacks had called the mayor's office in the runup to the anniversary to ask for permission to attend again this year. Survivors were initially not allowed to attend the name-reading ceremony in the years immediately following the terrorist attacks, but were later granted access, the group said.
Leaders of the WTC Survivors' Network emailed to alert its members Tuesday night.
"We were recently informed by the mayor's office that attendance at this year's September 11th name reading ceremony will be reserved for family members only and if an exception is made for us we won't know until just a few days beforehand," wrote organizers Richard Zimbler and Brendan Chellis.
"I'm sure we speak for everyone in saying that this is particularly disappointing because we have attended the ceremony every year since the mayor's office first allowed us to go."
Survivors still plan to go to the memorial, either by attending on Sept. 12 or by finding out at the last minute that there is room for them on the anniversary, they said.
"We do intend to be there one way or another...," they wrote. "Even when they could barely get a thousand people there, or when the weather was horrible, survivors were there to remember those who were lost and show our thanks for being the lucky ones to get out."
Staff at National September 11 Memorial & Museum have previously said they expect record attendance from victims' family members on the 10th anniversary of the attack, and the new 9/11 memorial has a limited capacity because it is surrounded by construction.
But for those who almost lost their lives that day, the exclusion is too much.
"It's a real slap in the face on top of everything else we've already had to go through," said Shannon Loy, who escaped the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 after going to the building on business. "It makes me really sad."
Loy, 38, who lives in North Kansas City, MO, started an online petition asking the city to reconsider its decision. The petition has already gathered more than 500 signatures, many accompanied by emotional pleas.
"There is a scar inside us that needs to heal," wrote one person who signed the petition.
Unlike some of the other survivors, Loy has not returned to New York City since the Twin Towers crumbled around her.
She didn't want any reminders of the terrorist attack that nearly killed her along with almost 3,000 other people: The sight of the burned, bloodied bodies as she evacuated the North Tower was seared in her mind, and the breathing problems she developed from inhaling the toxic dust made the events impossible to forget.
Loy finally felt ready to return, with her husband and 14-year-old daughter by her side, and saved money and vacation days for the trip to attend the 10th anniversary.
She even asked the mayor's office about reading some of the victims' names at the ceremony, she said.
"I thought it would help me," Loy said. "It's like going to a funeral. There's not any closure, but it's a sacred site. There were people who gave their lives so I could get out."
Loy also hoped to meet for the first time with other survivors, to hear their stories and learn about how they have been coping for the past 10 years. Now she says she will have to find another way to mark the day.
As Loy looks back, one moment in particular sticks in her mind, reinforcing her desire to participate in the ceremony.
When Loy was fleeing the damaged towers, she paused to look up and take a picture. A woman in a Port Authority uniform told her to put away her camera and run.
Loy obeyed and made it to the relative safety of a subway platform as the first tower collapsed.
"I don't know if that woman is alive," Loy said, "but she saved my life."
Jill Colvin contributed reporting.