NEW YORK CITY (BP)–Family members standing by the hundreds lined sidewalks surrounding the armory in Manhattan, holding pictures and hoping for word of their relatives and friends who were in or near the World Trade Center towers destroyed Sept. 11 in a terrorist attack.
Fliers and posters with photographs and personal information about the more than 4,763 missing New Yorkers blanketed walls, mailboxes and windows of business near the armory.
Inside, an army of Red Cross and law enforcement chaplains counseled family members of the missing, creating a safe haven far away from the cameras and television cameras massed outside the building.
Many of them, cold and wet from a driving rainstorm, told stories of how they last heard from their loved ones, many making last-minute calls from within the burning 110-story buildings.
A Southern Baptist chaplain from Indiana, who asked not to be identified, told Baptist Press hundreds of chaplains have arrived to minister to the grieving families.
“The Red Cross set this up so that out-of-town chaplains are doing administrative work and the local ministers and chaplains are actually doing the counseling,” the chaplain said. “That way when this is over, the victims will have made local connections with ministers.”
Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Sept. 13 the list of missing had grown to 4,763 people.
Families have been trapped in limbo since the Sept. 11 terrorist onslaught — not certain whether to mourn the missing person or continue hoping that their wives, husbands, sisters, brothers or other relatives are alive.
Most carried homemade fliers with pictures and phone numbers. The posters were taped to police barricades, windows and telephone poles.
“We just have to find her. We know we will,” said one woman holding a photo of her sister, Margaret Echtermann. “We covered all the hospitals.”
Thousands have lined up to go inside the armory that has been converted into a center for family members near Gramercy Park. There, they fill out the more than half-dozen pages of questions about their missing loved one, such as color of eyes, hair, height, weight, the size and inscriptions of wedding bands, the color and length of fingernails, all aimed at identifying any recovered remains.
Once they tell everything they know about the person, they are allowed to examine two lists, one of the victims who have been hospitalized and another list of the remains that have been identified.
Many are haunted by the last words from their family members and friends in the moments during and after two hijacked planes slammed into the landmark twin towers, setting off an inferno that caused the buildings to collapse into a mountain of twisted metal and debris.
The stories of others were similar — a man looking for his brother who had just bought a new house for his wife and seven-month-old daughter; a woman who talked to her sister who was on the 94th floor of the first tower minutes before it exploded into flames — all now frantically searching for any shred of evidence that might give them hope of finding their loved ones alive.
The anguish of the families is so great that it draws tears from reporters trying to cover the scene.
The Southern Baptist chaplain said that whenever a tragedy happens, people often turn to God.
“I think when this happened, people came to realize there is one God and it’s up to us as chaplains to comfort people who are hurting,” the chaplain said. “In the midst of terror, people must understand that God is there and he does love us.”
Even chaplains aren’t immune to the emotionally wrenching scenes being displayed throughout the armory. The Southern Baptist chaplain said prayer is the key to surviving.
“I also call home and talk to people, share with them what I’m experiencing,” the chaplain said. “We also talk as a team. It’s a very difficult job, but it’s one that must be done.”