Family, Officials: On the Avenging of 37 Middletown Residents Lost to 9/11
Joan Smith, Middletown mayor during 9/11 reacts today
The news of Osama bin Laden's death spread rapidly across New Jersey on Sunday evening, despite the late hour. In Middletown, 37 residents were lost in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center — more than anywhere in any one municipality in the United States.
Among them was Kenneth Tietjen, Port Authority police officer and native to the Belford section of the township, where his parents still live. Tietjen, who has been memorialized as a true hero of the attacks, had escaped one of the buildings only to return to attempt the rescue of others.
The World Trade Center Memorial Gardens in the township stands symbolically next to the train station as a continuing testament to the 37 residents whose lives were lost that day on Sept. 11, 2001.
Then Middletown Mayor Joan Smith could only say in response to what was, in the moment, a loss of proportion to the township that she did not yet know. "Fly your flags," she said that day. "We need to show solidarity and unity in the face of this."
Today, after the capture and death of bin Laden, Smith vividly recalled the morning of 9/11 and reacted to what happened last night.
"As we're speaking now, tears still come to my eyes and I get choked up," a now retired Smith said in an interview from her Middletown home. "It was such a dramatic day. It felt like we were all related. It was so sad, yet so bonding for Middletown. What a good feeling today to know that bin Laden is gone. Though I tend to think we are all peace-loving people, I'd have to say that if there is any justice in this world this (bin Laden's capture and killing) is part of it. I think this is just the way it had to end. We can’t bring our loved ones back, but at least we know their senseless killings have been avenged."
Smith continued to say that what "shines" in her mind to this day was how Middletown's emergency teams, of every type, went to work immediately to protect the township. She also recaled the bonding feeling of the community which had the greatest loss "standing up and saying, 'We're gonna get through this.' And we did!"
Middletown's present mayor, Tony Fiore, who is in the job for the first time and was not in Middletown at the time, said, "This is the first 'good news' story for every American in years. Like every other American I’m extremely happy to see bin Laden brought to justice." While Fiore wasn't in Middletown at the time, he said he had lost a close friend to the attacks on the World Trade Center and
Middletown is in the midst of planning it's 10-year anniversary 9/11 memorial service. That in mind, Fiore said the bin Laden news "adds more meaning to the 10-year memorial for us. It is a reminder to us that we must never forget and continue to remain vigilant and thankful to our troops for keeping us safe. We must continue to reflect on it and the fact that this is our way of life now — to remain vigilant and prevent any further terrorist attacks from people that don’t appreciate our way of life."
Those 37 commuter residents left for work that day, most from the train station, and never returned. Since then, Middletown has become the poster child for tragedy and loss in the wake of 9/11.
A couple of those were Middletown natives Roseann and Brendan Lang, daughter and grandson to Rose and William Lang, Middletown. Rose said she got five phone calls late last night from some of her children to tell her that Osama Bin Laden was killed.
“I was absolutely shocked since it’s been almost 10 years," she said. "I feel very grateful that finally this evil person is gone. He was a murderer and I feel justice was done."
Gary Lang, brother to Rosanne and uncle to Brendan, said: “I have mixed emotions right now. I’m glad that he is not around anymore to cause anyone else harm. But his death won’t bring back everyone who was lost.”
Mary Lou Byrd, who lost her sister, Rosanne and nephew, Brendan, said: "I feel detached in a way — because I’m not as jubilant as the crowd at the Mets vs. Phillies game last night, or those at Ground Zero today. Maybe because I lost my sister and nephew, my reaction is different. It is turning out to be an emotional day for me, because all the painful memories of that fateful day have now come rushing back. After hearing of Bin Laden’s death, I did breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Bin will never kill again. This evil man is now gone from this earth, and has a higher authority to answer to."
Senator Joseph Kyrillos, a Middletown resident and native, whose office is in the township, reacted via a released statement:
"Nearly ten years after the unspeakable attack on America on 9/11 justice is done."
Monmouth County paid a disproportionate price that day, losing 147 of its residents who never came back home.
"I speak for all New Jerseyans and Americans in acknowledging the relief and sense of justice felt by the victim's families as well as the pride we all feel in the heroic efforts of America's armed forces and national security professionals stationed here and abroad.
"Today all the world sees the determination and perseverance of America and its citizens to protect and secure our great nation."
Reaction on a national level was swift and almost universal: Exultation that one of the United States' most elusive foes was dead, and dead as a result of U.S. action.
In an extraordinary address, President Obama interrupted almost every U.S. TV channel to announce the news. While he did not provide details, he said that the U.S. has been tracking bin Laden for months and finally located him in a residence in Pakistan. After a firefight, the president said, bin Laden was killed, with no loss of U.S. lives.
"I want to commend President Obama's Administration for its commitment and dedication to finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. As the former U.S. Attorney and now Governor of New Jersey, I speak for all the families of this state who have courageously endured the unspeakable and devastating consequences of terrorism," said Govenor Chris Christie in a released statement. "There is hardly a life that has gone untouched in New Jersey by the horrifying assault on American soil that took place on September 11th and today, after years of waiting, justice has finally been delivered."
Governor Christie acknowledged a justice and closure found in the death of bin Laden. "While our fight against terrorism continues, Osama bin Laden's reign of terror has come to an end, sending a clear signal that even in the face of immeasurable horror, democracy and freedom continue to prevail."
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Click on the items to the right for the complete list of Middletown residents lost to 9/11 and a history of the Memorial Gardens provided by the township.