More than two decades after a picture-perfect September day was pierced by scenes of terror, and of selfless bravery, families of Massachusetts residents who died on Sept. 11, 2001, paid solemn tribute to their loved ones.
Outside the State House Sunday morning, families gathered with local leaders including Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, and Attorney General Maura Healey, to read the names of more than 200 people from Massachusetts who were killed that day.
Karin Charles, whose husband, Kenneth Albert Zelman, died on 9/11, said the event was intended to pay tribute to both the victims and their families.
“We read their names in honor of their memory and our commitment to always remember,” Charles said in her remarks. “Behind every name is a unique person that was taken far too soon, and a family forever changed with their loss.”
Shortly afterward, officials bestowed an award named for Madeline Amy Sweeney, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 who called ground crews to tell them what was happening after her plane was hijacked.
Baker, speaking during the Sweeney award ceremony, said Sunday’s events and tributes gave families the opportunity to grieve together and “renew our commitment to never forget the loved ones that have been left behind.”
“Let’s make sure that we do, in fact, pledge to never, ever forget,” he said.
Boston firefighters held their own tribute to the victims of Sept. 11 at the department’s Hotel Vendome Memorial in the Back Bay, where they also honored nine of their fallen members who died battling a devastating blaze in 1972 and are commemorated by a statue at the site.
“It was firefighters that shone light into that darkness, and it was members of our profession that met terror, and met hatred, and met evil, and they met it head on,” said Sam Dillon, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718.
At the State House, families, friends, and loved ones gathered at the capital building’s Ashburton Park to listen as the names of Massachusetts residents who died on 9/11 were read, one by one. Some names were read by Baker, Wu, and Healey, others by family.
A few added brief, touching details, such as Sonia Puopolo, who wore the ring once owned by her “beautiful mom,” Sonia Mercedes Morales Puopolo.
Puopolo’s mother died on Flight 11, and the ring was later discovered under tons of rubble at Ground Zero, she said.
Irene Ross read the name of her “beloved brother,” Richard Barry Ross, who also died on Flight 11. A roadway in Boston now carries his name — Richard B. Ross Way stretches between Van Ness and Boylston streets near Fenway Park.
“God bless him, and God bless all who we’ve lost,” Ross said.
A short time later, Boston firefighters were joined by city leaders at the Vendome monument.
The deaths of nine firefighters who perished in the fire at the Vendome at Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street a half-century ago remain the largest loss of life in the history of the Boston Fire Department.
Wu, in her remarks at the site, said the city stood behind its firefighters.
“We have your back,” Wu told the firefighters in attendance. “We will always remember what you take on every single day.”
She hoped those attending the ceremony would encourage people to turn to one another for support.
“I hope this is also a time that we get strength from each other, and maybe a little bit of solidarity, and good humor, and memories,” Wu said.
Inside the State House, families who lost loved ones 21 years ago watched tribute videos, including one that highlighted the heroism of flight crew members like Sweeney.
Anna Sweeney, who was a young child when her mother died on Flight 11 as it crashed into the World Trade Center, said the families never stop remembering those they lost.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mom, and how proud she would be of everything my brother and I have accomplished,” Sweeney said.
She helped present the civilian bravery award to Paul Galotti of Easthampton, who was recognized for carrying a neighbor out of his burning home to safety in May.
“I was lucky to be in a position to be able to get there fast enough and make a difference,” Galotti told reporters after the ceremony.
Later in the afternoon, Ethan Charles, 22, said he watched as a large crowd gathered for an afternoon wreath-laying ceremony with Wu at the Public Garden’s 9/11 memorial.
He was just 14 months old when his father, Zelman, died in the trade center’s North Tower.
When Charles last saw his father, he was on his way to work, Karin Charles said. The little boy blew his father kisses to say goodbye, she said.
On Sunday, people’s response to the tributes helped the families.
“It’s comforting that people can relate,” he said. “It feels good to have the community be so supportive, and be there for us.”
Patrick Bavis, whose brother, Mark Bavis, was a passenger on Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center, said in a brief interview after the name-reading ceremony that it was important to honor the memory of each victim.
“You never get over it,” he said, but Sunday’s ceremony brought comfort.
“It’s taking the time to remember their names,” Bavis said. “We remember the loved ones that we lost.”