NEW YORK – A young woman stood in the crowd on Church Street one block north of the ruins of the World Trade Center. It was just two months after the Sept. 11 attack and smoke was still rising from the rubble.
Fire blackened girders erupted from the broken concrete like the masts and spars of a wrecked clipper ship.
The reek of wet ash filled the air. The sense of standing on hallowed ground is intense because all traffic except official vehicles has been banned from lower Manhattan. Only pedestrians are permitted. The crowd was hushed. But tears were streaming down the cheeks of the young woman.
“My name is Mary Diaz and I am an American Airlines crewmember,” she told me. “I lost many friends in this disaster.”
Janet West, a community health care worker at a Manhattan hospital, told me, “This is so heart-wrenching. Many of the wounded who escaped the World Trade Center were brought to my hospital. It was devastating to see them. I think America has to be more vigilant.”
Louis Avitabile, a retired New York City math teacher, said he has come five times to Ground Zero. “It is a very somber feeling walking down Broadway. Every time I walk past the spot where families have left teddy bears I choke up,” he said.” “Children have written messages, ‘I miss you Daddy.’ My personal opinion is that we have to get rid of these terrorists. Otherwise we will face this forever.”
Two blocks west, another site gave an even clearer view of the wreckage and the crowd stood in awed silence.
I was holding my notepad and a man standing at my elbow recognized me as a reporter. He introduced himself as Gilbert Bustillo of River Edge, New Jersey.
“My brother, Milton Bustillo, died Sept. 11,” he said.
“He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost about 700 people in the collapse of the World Trade Center. After two months of pain, I finally managed to come here to see the devastation left behind.
I asked him how the family is coping with their loss.
“We brought my cousin, Jorge Bustillo, from Cartagena, Colombia. He was given us tremendous comfort.”
Just then, Jorge walked up and Gilbert introduced us.
“What have you been telling your family here in the United States?” I asked him.
With Gilbert serving as interpreter, he replied in Spanish, “The important thing is not to lose faith in God or in the people. We must pray for those who died and move on to make things better for the living,” he said.
“If we do that, it will help to unite us and by being united we can also stop the violence, stop the poverty, stop the hunger.”
Gilbert explained that his cousin runs a program in Cartagena called Remanso de Amor that provides food, clothing, shelter, health care and schooling for 400 children displaced by the civil strife in that country.
“I brought him here so he could see what happened. Gilbert said we must help the children so they don’t become violent. We have to work to make the world a better place to live.”
The holiday season was coming on. So many families would be celebrating the season while grieving the loss of a next of kin. Who could blame them for feelings of anger and revenge? And who would argue against bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice?
Yet the words of Gilbert and Jorge Bustillo seemed to echo in the world’s wealthiest financial district, a call for an end to poverty, the renunciation of violence, for peaceful coexistence, even as they grieved the loss of their brother and cousin.