Eventually, hundreds showed up at the park to attend the annual candlelight vigil, marking the 18th anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
The remembrance event is organized every year by the 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee of Queens, a group of volunteers whose mission is to ensure the memories of those killed on that tragic day are kept alive.
Paul Abate, a committee member for the past five years and a retired FDNY EMS lieutenant, said he feels heartbreak every time he thinks about September 11th.
“It hits my right here every single year,” he said, pointing to his heart. “I lost many friends that day, and even more after that.”
Among the residents who attended the candlelight vigil was Liz Burzynski from Middle Village. She lost a friend, firefighter Vincent Morello, on that day.
“We’re here to remember that horrible day, to pay tribute to those that lost their lives, and the ones that helped,” she said.
Burzynski also recalled that her oldest child had just started kindergarten around that time, which added to the fears when the attack occurred.
“It was horrible not knowing where they were or what was going to happen,” she added.
Sitting next to Burzynski was Karen Bernhard from Elmhurst, who said she attends the vigil every year.
Bernhard, who worked in a school then, recalled that one of her friends had a radio, so they were listening to reports after the attacks.
“You could see it from where I was, where the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge are,” Bernhard said. “You could see people walking across the bridge.”
Similar to the annual 9/11 ceremony at the World Trade Center site, the program at the Juniper Park vigil included a reading of the names of Middle Village residents who died that day.
The committee announced that starting with next year’s event, the vigil will also include the names of rescue and recovery workers who have died from 9/11-related illnesses.
They also touted a recently signed state law that establishes September 11th Remembrance Day, and allows for a brief moment of silence in public schools every year on that day.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who sponsored the legislation, said it’s important for children who were not born then to remember how American lives changed forever after the September 11th attacks.
“It is an ongoing tragedy we witness today,” he said. “I did it also for the families who still grieve.”
Abate cited Pearl Harbor as an example of an American tragedy that “people don’t remember as well as they should.”
“I really think we need to keep this remembrance going on every year,” he said.
The retired EMS lieutenant was happy with the attendance at this year’s vigil, which he partly attributes to the high number of people from Middle Village who perished.
“I love seeing large turnouts like this,” Abate said. “It means that people have never forgotten.”