17 years after 9/11 lies a lifetime of grief along with unbreakable kinship (with video)

Fernando Cornejo and Devan Patel/KCBY-TV


Photo by Karen Lu

During the Patriot Day ceremony on the morning of Sept. 11, Coppell Deputy Chief Jim Cook bows his head in prayer with his fellow officers before Coppell Town Center Hall. In honor of the lives of those lost 17 years ago, a moment of silence is taken by the attendees to commemorate the loss of the victims and the bravery shown in the last moments of their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Karen Lu, Staff Writer

Before the steps of Town Center Hall on the morning of Sept. 11 stand police officers, firefighters, paramedics and citizens of Coppell gathered under the peppering of rain and gloomy sky to commemorate the legacies of those lost 17 years prior.


Sept. 11, 2001 is a date often synonymous with tragedy and heartbreak—an unimaginable event that devastated the nation. For many alive during that time, the last incident of this magnitude was the attack on Pearl Harbor, 60 years before what is now simply known as “9/11.”


Coppell resident Maria Gaffner remembers that eventful day as if it had just happened yesterday.


“I was teaching at Mockingbird Elementary when I found out the truth of what had happened, that the planes had flown into the towers,” Gaffner said.  “It was disbelief at first. My heart sank partly because I knew two of my [students] had parents who were either flight attendants or pilots, and I didn’t know what airline; I didn’t know anything.”


After the initial fear and bewilderment had passed, one of the only things the community had left was each other.


“I got out of the school, I went to church, and there were people there,” Gaffner said. “There were people in churches all over this community, and we pulled together and there was this sense of unity and commitment to America. It was just awe-inspiring to realize that we all do have this American spirit.”


The annual Patriot Day ceremony is simply another opportunity for connecting the community through commemoration. After the Pledge of Allegiance and ringing of the fireman’s bell as a symbol of coming home for those who died on duty, a prayer dedicated to the memories of the victims was said.


For Coppell police officer Andrew Chmiel, who responded on 9/11 as a police detective for New York City, the continuance of the victims in the nation’s memories is the best way to honor them and to never let that kind of a tragedy happen again.


“The reason for doing this is to remember those who we lost on that day and more importantly, as you remember, to hopefully never repeat what happened,” Chmiel said. “[Remembrance] keeps the community strong because it wasn’t just police officers that passed away on that day. A day like this remembers everyone who came together, that it wasn’t just first responders and law enforcement, but it was everybody of every race that came down to ground zero to [help].”


The kinship shared between Americans on that fateful day can still be felt today, as citizens of Coppell joined together under the dismal sky for the sole purpose of honoring the victims. Coppell High School EMT/Pharmacy Technician teacher Gary Beyer, a former firefighter-paramedic and current paramedic, emphasizes the connection between Americans that rose from the ashes of 9/11.


“It’s how people came together, how people worked to help each other,” Beyer said. “They didn’t care if you were old or young or male or female, white, black, pink, purple, from this country, not from this country… it didn’t matter. Everybody had truly just come together for a common goal.”


Despite the adversity that surrounds the date of Sept. 11, 2001, the purpose of this year’s Patriot Day ceremony was not only to mourn for the victims, but to honor their memories and vow to keep moving forward together as a community.


“That’s what usually brings people together, unfortunately,” Beyer said. “It’s the phrase, ‘Some good always comes out of tragedy.’”


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