During Garner’s annual September 11 ceremony, keynote speaker Linda Hayes hearkened back to a time another historic event rocked the collective consciousness of the nation. She heard a sniper had shot President John F. Kennedy.
“I grew up on a farm. I had never heard the word sniper,” said Hayes, who is a former secretary of the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and chair of the Governor’s Crime Commission.
Hayes and other speakers noted the profound impact Sept. 11, 2001 had on emergency responders and the nation as a whole at the event in the gym at First Baptist Church of Garner. Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams initiated the event three years ago.
Several called on the audience to remember the togetherness and patriotism of the immediate aftermath as well as the dedication, service and risk those first responders undertake daily, nationwide.
Musical performances were sprinkled in among the speeches as former Miss Garner and Miss North Carolina Johna Edmonds served as emcee. Unlike prior years, the event was held during lunch hours. Like prior years, it ended with the fire department ringing a bell to signify the end of a call to service.
During his speech, Garner Police Chief Brandon Zuidema noted that there were 71 law enforcement officers who died in New York that day when a plane hit each of the two Twin Towers at the World Trade Center and collapsed. That figure outstrips the entire Garner Police Department’s force.
The 343 firefighters killed constitutes more than six times the number of full-time firefighters employed by Garner Fire Volunteer and Rescue.
Zuidema noted a difference in semantics, saying the responders “gave their lives” rather than “lost” them.
“It’s an important difference,” Zuidema said, later adding: “I acknowledge my bias, but I don’t apologize for it. I see the work police, firefighters, EMS and other emergency workers do every day.”
Many of the roughly 200 attendees were Garner firefighters and police officers. Fire chief Matt Poole asked the non-emergency responders to stand and be thanked by emergency responders for not forgetting what the day meant and attending the free lunch.
Hayes, the former juvenile justice secretary, talked about how the tragedy changed the way various law enforcement agencies worked together.
“We were not communicating,” Hayes said. She said organizations throughout the state learned in the aftermath. “It was an eye opening experience for someone who wasn’t a first responder.”
Hayes also lamented the impact of the attack attributed to 19 Al Qaeda-sponsored hijackers of four planes, one of which hit the Pentagon and the other which crashed in Pennsylvania. Along with the nearly 3,000 killed, she said the attacks shattered the nation’s sense of safety, citing airport security and general nervousness about flying on planes.
“The tragedy is the impact for the last 13 years,” Hayes said.
The event included a national anthem sung by Robert Davis of the Wake County Sheriff’s Department. Former Garner Outstanding Teen Rachel Chaves sang “On my knees” just before lunch provided by the town, First Baptist Church and Dove II LLC. Former Outstanding Little Miss Garner Leilani Carr also sang at the event.