Families Protest Burying Remains At 9/11 Memorial

Families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are at odds with officials over how to handle the unidentified remains of those killed at the World Trade Center. Officials have been planning to place them in bedrock underneath the memorial in New York City. But families say the memorial is not a graveyard and they should be the ones to make the decision on a final resting place. The dispute comes days after news that remains from some unidentified victims were dumped in landfills.

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Some family members of 9/11 victims are criticizing a plan for the unidentified remains of people who died in the attacks. Officials in New York plan to place the remains below ground at the National September 11th Memorial Museum. At a news conference yesterday, relatives called that a desecration.

NPR's Margot Adler has the story.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: The group of family members brought their own survey of 9/11 families to the news conference. One family member had an email list of more than 2,000 names. Of 350 responses, they say only 18 approved the present plan.

Norman Siegel is the New York attorney representing 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and World Trade Center Victims.

NORMAN SIEGEL: Their position is very simple: Human remains do not belong in a landfill or in a museum. They're calling for a congressional hearing on this crucial issue.

ADLER: A number of family members filed a lawsuit against New York City. They lost the first round and the lawsuit is being appealed. Of the more than 2,700 people who died in the attack on the World Trade Center, the remains of more than a thousand have not been identified.

Sunday's news conference also comes only days after an independent panel reported that some unidentified remains of those killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon on September 11th were incinerated and put in a landfill at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. But the family members were clearly most upset at the idea of the remains being used in a commercial fashion by the museum.

Rosaleen Tallon-Doras is the sister of firefighter Sean Tallon, who died in the 9/11 attack.

ROSALEEN TALLON-DORAS: This is where they plan to put the remains - 70 feet below ground?

ADLER: And then she held up a key chain with words that are also on the memorial wall.

TALLON-DORAS: And that's the epitaph: No day shall erase you from the memory of time. That's what they're using for their trinkets. That's what they're using for their key chains. They're marketing our loved ones' deaths to make money for their museum.

ADLER: Museum officials have said that the remains will not be in view of commercial activity. The president of the museum, Joseph Daniels, released a statement saying that the 9/11 families have wanted the unidentified remains to go back to ground zero, and that's the plan that is being honored and implemented.

But attorney Norman Siegel, speaking for the families who are contesting this decision, says yes, they do want the remains to be at ground zero - just not in a museum, and not 70 feet underground.

SIEGEL: My clients want the repository to be separate and distinct from the museum and above ground, akin to the Tomb of the Unknowns. And what did the government in Washington do with regard to the remains from the Pentagon? They put it in an above-ground entombment in Arlington. They didn't put it in a museum, and they didn't put it below ground.

ADLER: Siegel argues that even at this late date, if you sat down and consulted with family members, there could be common ground.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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