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Families Remember September 11 Attack Victims

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today marks 19 years since 9/11. The pandemic is disrupting how some families honor their lost loved ones. Jim Riches is a retired deputy chief in the New York City Fire Department.

JIM RICHES: And my son, Jimmy, he was a firefighter who died on 9/11. He was the oldest of four boys - fun-loving kid, had a lot of friends. And he lived each day like it was his last. Little did we know that, you know, he was going to die young at 29 years old.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

His son was among the first firefighters at the north tower of the World Trade Center. His other sons became firefighters, too. Typically, they would take part in a ceremony at Ground Zero. In previous years, family members have read the victims' names to music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: CeCelia Richard.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Vernon Allen Richard.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And my brother, firefighter Jimmy Riches. We miss you like it was yesterday. We'll never forget you. And the proof of that is in your nieces and nephew. We talk about you each day like you're in the room with them.

MARTIN: This year, Jim Riches says he won't be visiting the site. His health is fragile because of lasting health problems from the rescue efforts on 9/11.

RICHES: I was down at Ground Zero for 9/11. And I got sick after it. I was in a coma for 16 days. I had ARDS, my lungs shutting down. I eventually came out of it, thank God. I think my son was looking over me. But now with the COVID, the doctor said I shouldn't go down there because I have the preexisting conditions.

MARTIN: Also, because of the pandemic, the memorial replaced the usual live reading of names with a recording. Riches says that's a mistake.

RICHES: For everybody, it's just a name. But, you know, for 2 1/2 hours, there's names read. Those are all dead people. People have to remember that and never forget what happened to us on that day.

INSKEEP: Christopher Epps worked as an accountant on the 98th floor in the north tower. He was 29. His sister, Debra Epps, of Long Island, is forgoing the memorial this year because of the pandemic.

DEBRA EPPS: I am thinking about going out to the cemetery where the remains are. And it'll be a hard day not because I'm not at Ground Zero, it's because it was the day that took away the life of a beautiful human being.

MARTIN: Paul Remenschneider visits every year to remember his uncle Christopher Wodenshek.

PAUL REMENSCHNEIDER: To me, it's a cemetery. Those bronze plates on the pools are headstones. My uncle wasn't found. So I know he's in there somewhere in some form. It's just my way of honoring that.

MARTIN: During the current pandemic, he is remembering how the country felt unified after September 11.

REMENSCHNEIDER: I was 33. And I saw politics get put aside. And the world came together in a grieving process.

INSKEEP: So today, despite the pandemic, Remenschneider will pay his respects at Ground Zero with a face mask and observing social distance.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUSHED'S "AGAINST A PALER SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.