MANSFIELD -- Friday morning the weather was much like it was 20 years ago, sunny, bright, a crisp feel of impending autumn in the air.
That atmosphere was shattered at 8:45 a.m. in New York City. On Sept. 11, 2001, the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil took place when the first of two jets smashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers. Before the day was done, nearly 3,000 people were killed in attacks with epicenter's in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania -- and America was changed forever.
Mansfield city officials, Richland County commissioners, representatives of the local police and fire departments gathered with a handful of citizens in a brief, somber ceremony at Central Park to remember that day.
"We wanted to do this today, so the city's workers could come out," safety service director Lori Cope said.
The program included a first-person account from John Fuller, a Mansfield Police officer who was on duty that morning and volunteered to go to New York as part of an Ohio contingent of approximately 20 law enforcement officers assisting on site.
"If you've ever smelled death, you'll never forget it," Fuller said, his voice crackling with emotion. "(At Ground Zero) multiply that by a million."
Fuller said one man came up to him and asked if he'd found anything yet. When Fuller said no, the man replied, "My brother's in there. I appreciate you guys trying to find him."
Fuller noted one of his worst experiences was finding a yellow purse with colored flowers and a little girl's shoe next to it.
"She was probably 3 or 4," Fuller said. "Maybe she was holding a parent's hand, or going to the park ... The innocent people, those coward terrorists took their lives away like it was nothing."
Fuller said the people of New York treated him and other volunteers like heroes.
"I didn't do anything any of you wouldn't have done yourselves if you had the opportunity," Fuller said. "I don't look at myself like a hero, and I never will."
The Rev. El Akuchie, of the Richland Community Prayer Network, offered hopeful closing remarks.
"It's important to keep this memory alive," El Akuchie said. "What's happening in America today, where is that spirit?
"God has got America under control. Let's hope we can arise and be strong."
The ceremony was one of a myriad of similar events conducted around the country.
Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that all U.S. and Ohio flags be flown at half-staff upon all public buildings and grounds throughout the state on Patriot Day.
The order is in effect from sunrise to sunset on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
DeWine also asked all Ohio citizens observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. tomorrow, which is the time that the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), of Mansfield, issued the following statement honoring the lives lost 20 years ago.
“As we mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks tomorrow, let us reflect on the memories of every life we lost. We honor and thank those who responded to the call to action that day, and every day since – our first responders, our military, and all those who sacrifice to keep us safe. This tragedy was one of our nation’s darkest moments, but it brought out the best in so many of us. It showed the world our country’s spirit of service, determination, and unity.
“Twenty years later, too often that spirit of unity seems broken. Today, let us recommit ourselves to the values that make our country great – our compassion, our diversity, our optimism. America is not steel towers, it’s not embodied in any one building or one person. It’s an idea – and one that so many have sacrificed so much to defend.
“Today, and every day, let’s honor the memories of the neighbors we lost, and all those who dedicate their lives to serving our communities and our country.”