NEW YORK — The unidentified remains of those killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were returned to New York’s World Trade Center site Saturday in a quiet motorcade through the streets of lower Manhattan.
Under an overcast sky, the remains moved slowly from the medical examiner’s office several miles away in a solemn procession that included police and fire department vehicles with lights flashing. A handful of passers-by paused along the way to take notice.
There were no dignitaries or speeches as the remains were delivered to their final resting place in an underground repository in the same building as the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
“They are finally home,” said Monica Iken, whose husband, Michael Patrick, perished when the towers collapsed. “We should be thanking God they are home in the right place. This is where they died. This is where they took their last step, their last breath.”
As she spoke, a group of protesters who favor placing the remains in a monument separate from the museum interrupted Iken in a sign of the longstanding dispute over what to do with the unidentified remains of victims of the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history.
“How dare you say that the remains … belong in a museum?” said one protester. “How dare you. Shame on you!”
“You’re disrespecting the loved ones,” Monica Iken said.
Opponents of the move have said that a museum vulnerable to flooding and which charges $24 admission is not an adequate resting place for the victims.
“The issue here is that the remains we’re talking about — some 8,500 we believe — are unidentified,” said Norman Siegel, an attorney representing those opposed to the move. “I hate to be crass. But who owns them? And who has the say in what happens to the unidentified remains?”
In 2011, 17 families of 9/11 victims petitioned a court to force the museum to consult with the families before deciding what to do with the remains. They also asked for a congressional hearing. Both efforts were unsuccessful.
The remains will be stored behind a museum wall inscribed with a quote from the Roman poet Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”
The medical examiner’s office has custody of 7,930 unidentified remains, which account for 36% of the 21,906 remains recovered, according to the office’s most recent statistics. The medical examiner will continue to work to identify the remains.
Families of the victims will be able to visit the repository’s Reflection Room in the days before the museum’s official opening on May 21. After that, they can schedule appointments to visit the private room.
“Finally our loved ones are home,” Iken said. “They are … in the best place.”