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USA Today

WTC families want remains out of landfill

10/5/2004

By Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY
NEW YORK — A half-million tons of dust and ash from Ground Zero lies atop a hill in the huge Fresh Kills landfill where debris from the World Trade Center was searched and sorted.

Diane and Kurt Horning believe the remains of their son, Matthew, and the 2,748 others who died with him on Sept. 11, 2001, are mingled with tons of crushed concrete, sheetrock and glass.

And the Hornings are determined that Matthew not spend eternity in a garbage dump.

New York City is beginning the years-long process of turning the world's largest landfill, located in Staten Island, into a park. On the West Mound, where debris from the Trade Center was taken, planners envision a memorial to the 9/11 victims and a monument to the recovery operation.

The monument is planned to be two embankments whose length equals the height of the 110-story twin towers. Visitors will be able to walk atop them and look across the harbor to the Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.

But the Hornings, of Scotch Plains, N.J., have been pleading with city officials for two years to rebury the dust and ash somewhere other than the landfill, despite what would likely be the enormous cost. That way the families of the 1,169 victims who still have not received any remains would have a grave to visit. And Matthew Horning's final resting place would not be separated by only 18 inches of dirt from a hill of city trash. The couple made their case again Tuesday night at a public meeting on Staten Island.

"They're asking us to do something that we feel is morally and emotionally reprehensible," says Diane Horning, a retired teacher.

The Hornings' chance of success appears to be dwindling. They have met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and he said no. The City Planning Department is moving forward with the proposed 2,200-acre park. The first parts won't be built for at least five years. The city Sanitation Department is piling truckloads of dirt on top of the West Mound, so it can be "capped" in about 2010 and seeded with grass.

Relocating the ashes would be a big job. One estimate put the cost at $450 million to move the 500,000 tons of ashes. The Hornings say that is much too high, given that the initial sorting through the Trade Center debris at Fresh Kills cost $67 million. The Hornings think the federal government should pay for digging up and separating the debris a second time.

Matthew Horning, 26, worked on the 95th floor of the north tower as a database administrator for Marsh & McLennan insurance company. He and his father were set to go shopping Sept. 12 for a diamond ring for Matthew's girlfriend, Maura Landry.

He survived the initial impact of the hijacked jet despite the intense fire, sending messages over his pager to a colleague outside the building until shortly before the tower collapsed. Among them, his father said, was the message, "Tell Maura I love her." His final communication: "Scared."

On the Hornings' first visit to Fresh Kills, during the 10 months of sifting and sorting material from Ground Zero, the couple saw the ashes and asked to have some to bury. They say they were told the ashes, or "fines," were being kept separate from the building debris. The family would be able to bury some after the sorting process ended.

But when the sorting operation closed down in June 2002, the Hornings discovered that the fines and larger debris were put together into the landfill — separated by a layer of dirt from the last of the city's trash hauled there before Fresh Kills closed in March 2001.

Horrified and angry, the Hornings and a small group of other families formed the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial. They have gathered nearly 46,000 signatures on a petition on their Internet site. By Diane Horning's count, relatives of more than 1,000 victims of the terrorist attack have signed it.

Among them is Karen Homer of Milford, Mass., whose husband, Herbert, died on United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the south tower.

"Although I believe that my husband's spirit is free as a hawk, and that no bureaucracy can confine that to a dump or a memorial site, I do respectfully request that these remains be removed from the dump site," she wrote on the petition. "We know that these are remains of loved ones. We know that it is not trash."

The city says it doesn't intend to move the material.

"After months of evaluating the complex concerns raised by members of WTC Families for Proper Burial, we have concluded that we will proceed with plans for a respectful memorial at the recovery site," Jennifer Falk, Bloomberg's spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement.

The area where the material from Ground Zero is buried "will continue to be protected. ... We are committed to the creation of a sensitive and appropriate tribute to those lost and those who worked tirelessly in the recovery effort," Falk said.

Identification process goes on

The impasse between some families and the city over Fresh Kills contrasts with the intense search after Sept. 11 to find human remains at Ground Zero and the landfill. Forensic teams from the FBI and New York police sifted the material three times: Nothing larger than one-quarter inch escaped examination. The medical examiner's office received nearly 20,000 human remains from both sites and is still working to identify them.

The search also turned up thousands of possessions of people who fled the twin towers or died there. The Hornings, for example, received Matthew's wallet, including his employee identification, subway fare card, five $20 bills and a ticket stub from a baseball game. They also received three small fragments of remains, less than 1% of Matthew's body, his father says.

Now his mother visits Fresh Kills "as a watchdog. I don't go because it gives me any sense of connection or peace. I feel his presence, but in an unsettled way, that in essence I'm being asked not to leave him there."

'A fitting resting ground'

It will take years to turn the big oval hill of the West Mound into a memorial site. Material from the World Trade Center covers a 48-acre area on the west face of the hill. The 1.2 million tons of material reaches a depth ranging from 10 feet to 20 feet. The smell of methane from rotting garbage underground is still strong. Only family members may visit, escorted by Sanitation Department employees. An American flag flies at one end of the site.

"For me, it's a fitting resting ground for the Trade Center," says Dennis Diggins, director of Fresh Kills for the city Sanitation Department. "I know everybody that worked on the project from here knew what we were handling. We were handling it with the respect that it called for. We still treat the area with respect, and we always will."

Not all 9/11 families may feel as intensely as the Hornings that significant amounts of human remains are in the landfill. The unidentified remains turned over to the medical examiner's office — currently 10,260 fragments — will be interred in the memorial at the World Trade Center site.

But that's not the problem with the city's refusal, says Nikki Stern, executive director of Families of September 11. Her husband, James Potorti, was killed in the attack.

"More compassion and more respect could have been shown to these families early on," says Stern, who also has received only a fragment of remains. "The issue is not whether I personally believe that part of my husband is at Fresh Kills. ... The issue is, there are family members who do believe that. How are they being treated, and how were they treated? People who have this belief are not crazy and should not be treated as such."

The New Jersey Legislature agrees: It passed a law in December ordering the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the Trade Center, to move the dust and ash. But the law has no effect unless the New York Legislature passes the same law.

New York Gov. George Pataki is "sympathetic" to the group, spokeswoman Lynn Rasic says. "We are looking into the issue and hoping that a resolution can be reached soon."

'We are asking for a cemetery'

Diane and Kurt Horning say there are other 9/11 memorials where they can feel Matthew's spirit and talk to him: on their street corner, in a park in the next town, at the Marsh & McLennan building in Manhattan. "People say, how many memorials do you want?" Diane Horning says. "We are not asking for a memorial. We are asking for a cemetery. ... A very simple, tended cemetery." She says it would be a place where each victim has a marker, and families can visit in privacy.

That's something Anthony Gardner would like, too.

His family has received no remains of his brother, Harvey, 35, of Spring Lake, N.J.

"You never think that having a grave site for your loved one is a luxury. But it is when your family is denied that, and your memorial service constitutes a photo in the front of the church," he says. "It's hard, it's really hard."

The suggestion that the Ground Zero memorial would be a "symbolic" cemetery makes Diane Horning angry. "Only if my son is 'symbolically' dead," she says. "But if he's really dead, then I really want him buried."
 

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Voice of America

Families of 9/11 Victims Sue to Have Remains Removed from Landfill

Kerry Sheridan
New York
15 Oct 2004, 21:19 UTC

After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, debris from the destroyed World Trade Center towers was shipped to a garbage dump on the city's Staten Island where it was sifted for bodily remains, which were removed for proper burial. Some victims' families have filed legal action against New York City, because they say unidentifiable ash and dust has been left in the landfill and treated as trash.

A group called World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial says New York City has failed to live up to its promise to treat all those who died in the attacks with dignity.

The group says much of the ash and dust that remained after small bits of bone were sifted and removed has been left in the 20 hectare landfill and buried along with tons of garbage. Family members say that ash contains the remains of the some 1,200 unidentified victims.

Kurt Horning is the co-founder of the group. He says he is pursuing legal action against the city because officials led families to believe the remains would be kept apart and placed in a separate memorial site.

"That's what we find so insulting and annoying and aggravating and anguishing," he said. "Not only were our loved ones killed by hatred from foreigners who couldn't understand our way of life. But then whatever was left of them is now being treated as garbage and nobody cares."

Mr. Horning's 26-year-old son, Matthew, worked on the 95th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and was among the office workers who died when the planes struck. His remains were never found.

Of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed that day, only about 250 full bodies were recovered. Some victims were identified by body parts or bone fragments.

But for many victims' families, their loved ones' cemetery is the city garbage dump. The dump closed in March 2001, then reopened so that officials could examine over the World Trade Center wreckage there. Any debris that remained after being sorted for recognizable fragments, personal effects and steel, was bulldozed over the top layer of the dump. The landfill closed again for good in June of 2002.

Mr. Horning's group wants federal funds to pay for the removal of that debris, and for the creation of a national cemetery to honor the some 1200 unidentified victims of the terror attack. He estimates the operation could cost at least $10 million.

New York city officials have not commented on the legal action, which does not ask for specific damages but paves the way for future lawsuits if the families' demands are not met.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has opposed the idea of removing the World Trade Center remains from the landfill because he says it would cost too much.
 
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