NEW YORK — On the granite plaza of the World Trade Center memorial, families of 9/11 victims gathered Saturday morning below mist-shrouded skyscrapers to watch as the unidentified remains of people killed there nearly 13 years ago were moved to what may be their final resting place.
A slow-moving procession transferred the remains on their short journey from a city medical examiner’s office to a specially built repository at ground zero, between the footprints of the old Twin Towers.
In what the mayor’s office called “a ceremonial transfer,” the convoy arrived at the site at 7 a.m. carrying three coffin-size metal military transfer cases, one borne by a New York Police Department vehicle, another on a Fire Department truck, the third by a Port Authority Police Emergency Service Unit.
After they passed by a Fire Department honor guard, uniformed bearers stepped up to each flag-draped case and carried it through swamp white oak trees on the plaza, past family members and into the medical examiner’s repository, in the same building as the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum, but separated from it by a wall.
A few dozen families attended. Some families, who do not want the remains stored at ground zero, wore black gags to protest what they said was a lack of consultation about the decision to remove the remains to what is likely to be a major tourist attraction.
City officials have said that victims’ families would be able to visit a private “reflection room” in the repository, but that the entire repository area would be closed to the public.
Alexander Santora, 77, a retired deputy fire chief, was among those who wore a gag.
“We had no say in what was going on here,” said Santora, whose son Christopher, 23, a probationary firefighter, was killed in the attacks. “You can’t tell me that tour guides aren’t going to be going inside that building and saying, ‘Behind that wall are the victims of 9/11.’ That’s a dog and pony show.”
But other families supported the decision and were critical of the protesters.
“I thought it was just ridiculous; everyone is too political over this,” said Lisa Vukaj, 34, who wore a badge bearing a photo of her brother Simon Marash Dedvukaj, who was killed. She said she thought the ceremonial transfer was “appro
priate and fitting” and added: “I just wanted to come and pay my respects, to be in the moment.”
The remains will stay under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner’s office, and identification work will be done off-site at its DNA laboratory, with some families hoping future advances may allow identification of more of the remains.
Of the 2,753 people reported missing at the World Trade Center after the 2001 attacks, 1,115 remain unidentified.
Museum officials have said the repository is separate from the museum and is run by the medical examiner’s office.