Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Family of September 11 Victims Criticize Plan for Unidentified Remains
Sunday, April 03, 2011 - 06:39 PM
A group of family members who lost loved ones on September 11 criticized plans to have thousands of unidentified victim remains placed underground at the museum at the former World Trade Center site.
"We were always led to believe by the LMDC that we would have a separate, above-ground tomb-like structure," said Sally Regenhard, referring to the guidelines issued in 2003 by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and whose son Christian died during on September 11.
"A hallowed ground, fully accessible to the public, with an adjacent private area for families to reflect."
The city failed to survey family members about what should be done with the remains, some of the opponents say.
"The city doesn't have a right to determine what they're going to do with the human remains," said Russell Mercer, who held up a photo of his late son, Scott Kopytko, during a press conference near Ground Zero. "That's up to the family. That's the family's sole jurisdiction."
A request for comments from the Memorial and Museum staff was met with a statement from Christy Ferer, a board member of the institution as well as a September 11 family member herself.
“9/11 family groups overwhelmingly asked that the unidentified remains return to bedrock of the World Trade Center site," she said in the statement. "The decision was made long ago through years of outreach and feedback from family members and stakeholders. Families expressed how crucial it was for the remains to be housed at bedrock with a private area for families to contemplate and reflect. The only others with proximity to the remains are the staff of the city medical examiner’s office. It is everyone’s hope, as DNA technology improves one day, all of the remains will be identified and there will be no need for this repository.”
However, family members at the press conference Sunday claimed they hadn't been consulted, and say the city is in a position to survey all family members but refuses to because it wants to control the process of where the remains are eventually located.
"It's not so much the merits of the issues, but the process," said attorney Norman Siegel, who spoke on behalf of some family members. "The city has not only the names but the addresses of all 2,749 families so the families here today can't reach out to the universe of the 9/11 family members, because they don't have the information that would allow them to send the letter."
Siegel and others suggest that placing the remains within the museum would attract tourists while undermining the sanctity of the victims.
"A museum attracts tourists, it sells trinkets, it sells material postcards, books. It does have a commercial aspect to it," said Siegel. "We know that there's going to be not only a gift shop, but also probably a cafeteria in the museum."
Joyce Mercer, wife of Russell, said that having "human remains, as part of the museum, a programmable part of the museum" was "not acceptable."