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‘That is a crime’: Families protest plan to move 9/11 victims’ unidentified remains

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NEW YORK (PIX11) — They had asked that the unidentified remains of their family members who lost their lives on 9/11 be moved to the World Trade Center site, and it will finally happen on Saturday.

However, the specific location within the World Trade Center grounds, and the access to those remains, has some family members of people who perished protesting and seeking help from Washington to halt the process.

“We asked for the remains to be brought back to the World Trade Center, separate and distinct from any museum, and that’s what we were promised,” said Jim Riches, a deputy fire chief who lost his firefighter son, Jimmy, on 9/11.

Riches is also among some family members who made a public appeal in front of the 9/11 Firefighters Memorial on Thursday calling for a halt to the planned transfer on Saturday of the unidentified remains of more than 1,100 people who perished in the terror attacks.

The protesting families said they’d sent letters to the president and other elected officials to try and stop the transfer of the remains from the city medical examiner’s office to a facility at the 9/11 Museum.

Relatives protest plan to move remains of unidentified 9/11 victims

That facility is separate from the main exhibition area, which will be open to the general public. Still, some family members are angry, because that location is well below ground. Since parts of the World Trade Center construction site flooded during Superstorm Sandy, some relatives of those who perished are concerned that their loved ones’ remains will suffer further.

“Eight-thousand remains are being closed off from loving family members that have the right to visit these remains, and pay respects to these remains,” said Sally Regenhard, an activist for 9/11 family members, who lost her son, Christian, a probationary firefighter. “That is a crime.”

The plan being carried out by the city, in conjunction with the 9/11 Memorial and other organizations, is to move the unidentified remains to the bedrock of the site, as most family members have requested for years. Still, some loved ones say that to do so, and to do it in the museum building, which will have the highest admission price for New York City travel destination, is wrong.

“We want [an] above [ground] memorial that’s respectful to them, that is not charging admission,” said Chief Riches. “Twenty-four dollars for my son’s friends to get in? I think it’s offensive.”

While the protesting families are not few in number, there are more than 2,800 families in total. Lee Ielpi does not represent all of them in his position as president of the September 11th Families’ Association. Yet, in that capacity, he represents hundreds of families, and coordinates with hundreds more in affiliated groups. He has for years listened to and worked for those families’ preferences.

“Before there was even a dream of what the museum would look like,” Ielpi, himself a retired firefighter, “the words [from all of the families regarding remains] were ‘brought back to the site and placed at bedrock'”.

He told PIX11 News that, because there are so many family members worldwide, there’s no way they can all agree. One place of possible common ground, however, he said, is expanding free access beyond only immediate family to the part of the museum building where the remains will be located.

Specifically, Ielpi said, he would appreciate access without an admission fee for rescue workers who located the remains over weeks and months after September 11th.

“Shouldn’t they be able to go down?” asked Ielpi. “Of course. If we can work that out in the future, perhaps we can.”

The placing of the unidentified remains at the 9/11 Museum is scheduled to happen about 7:00 a.m. Saturday, and will feature a procession from the medical examiner’s office in Midtown to the World Trade Center Memorial in Lower Manhattan. FDNY firefighters and officers from the NYPD and Port Authority Police Department will lead the procession.

Regenhard, Riches and some other family members said they will be present for the relocation, but said they will be gathered in protest, if they are unsuccessful in the meantime in getting the transfer postponed.