Burlington County holds first ceremony to mark Sept. 11 attacks

Sheriff Anthony Basantis, Mount Laurel Police Chief Steve Riedener; Westampton Fire Chief Craig Farnsworth and Endeavor Emergency Squad Chief David Ekelburg salute a wreath placed at the base of a county monument to fallen emergency services members.

WESTAMPTON – Burlington County officials, first responders and residents came together on Sept. 11 during a solemn 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony to pay their respects to the more than 3,000 victims who lost their lives 19 years ago.

Held outside the County Emergency Services Training Center, the 30-minute ceremony marked the first time the county hosted a memorial service on the anniversary date, according to information provided by the county.

Deputy Director Tom Pullion said the county opted to start the new tradition this year in order to honor the victims and remember the tragedy amid the country’s struggle against the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused many annual 9/11 services to be cancelled or held virtually.

Pullion, who led the service, said the county and nation still has a responsibility to remember the attacks and the lives that were lost.

“We have a responsibility to remember the victims and share with both current and future generations the raw emotions of that day. The confusion. The uncertainty. The fear, anger and sadness but also the selflessness and heroism shown as first responders rushed into the burning towers and Pentagon without a moment’s hesitation or how volunteers traveled miles away to Ground Zero to assist with the recovery effort. And most importantly, how such a horrible tragedy brought us together as one nation, blind to race, religion, status or political party. We became one national family, united in mourning but also in belief that together we can overcome whatever challenges we face,” Pullion said in the statement.

“Today, with our country once again facing enormous challenges, we need that same unity, that same resolve and that same faith. We hope that today’s ceremony can help put us on that path,” he added.

The ceremony also featured remarks from Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, state Senator Troy Singleton, Congressman Andy Kim and County Board member Dan O’Connell, who read the names and biographies of seven of the victims who resided in Burlington County or had strong ties to the county.

The seven 9/11 victims with Burlington County ties are as follows:

Nicholas Bogdan, 34, Pemberton Township resident

Pamela Gaff, 51, Westampon native

Joan D. Griffith, 39, Willingboro resident

LeRoy W. Homer Jr., 36, Evesham resident

Gricelda James, 44, Willingboro resident

Patrick Quigley IV, 40, Willingboro native

Kevin York, 41, Pemberton Township native

“This isn’t just a tragedy for our generation and those that were living 19 years ago. It is a tragedy for our country now and forever, and it is something that should always guide our nation going forward for generations to come,” Congressman Kim said during his remarks, according to the statement. “So I’m glad we’re gathering here today and I hope we will continue to do this for as long as we’re alive. I hope we continue to do this for as long as we’re a nation, because that is what this moment is for us. It changed us forever and we know it will make us stronger forever.”

Coffina, who is the county’s highest ranking law enforcement official, said the ceremony marked his first time addressing a 9/11 service.

“Perhaps the worst day in our history was in some ways also our finest hour. First responders honored their calling by rushing towards danger in order to save others, while ordinary people, who took no oath, demonstrated their humanity by trying to help their co-workers and perfect strangers find their way out of the burning towers,” Coffina said, according to the statement. “As a nation we woke up on Sept. 12 truly unified. We could all benefit from finding that spirit again. It should not take such a traumatic event for us to do so.”

Singleton also called for residents to remember the selflessness of the police, fire and emergency service personnel who were willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to try to save “every life they could.”

“Nineteen years ago our country was transfixed and transformed. But out of that anguish and pain, there was a sense of unity in our country that pulled us forward,” Singleton said, according to the statement.  “When we look at the conditions we have today … we should harken back to the selflessness that was demonstrated by those in public safety that day. Use their selflessness as not just a testament to their own personal character but a testament to what is truly the fabric of our country and what has strengthened our country through its darkest moments and carried us forward; it is the resolve that we are always stronger together and when we work together.”

Following the remarks and the reading of the Burlington County victims, Sheriff Basantis placed a wreath at the base of the obelisk memorializing the county’s fallen emergency services members. The sheriff was joined by Mount Laurel Police Chief Steve Riedener, Westampton Fire and EMS Chief Craig Farnsworth and Endeavor Emergency Squad Chief David Ekelburg.

The ceremony was livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and video from the ceremony is available on the page.

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