The River Crossed:
Reporting Back From Ground Zero
Angela Montefinise and Tamara
the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the Queens Tribune was preparing
to spend the day covering primary elections and politics when it
received a simple cell phone call – one that would change everything.
From her car on the Verrazano Bridge, the
Tribune’s art director called to tell the newsroom that
something had hit one of the Twin Towers.
The first few hours after that call were
a muddled mix of moving forward with the business of a newsroom and
trying to understand what was happening to the City. By noon, all other
business was thrown aside as the morning’s events began to reach out
into the lives and homes of Queens.
The Long Road Home
“From the front lines of disaster,
survivors . . . walked the Queensboro Bridge throughout Sept. 11. Some
cradled children. Others held hands. And many, finally at a safe
distance, paused to look back at the massive smoke cloud where the Twin
Towers once stood.”
The aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11
as viewed from the Queensboro Bridge.
Tribune photo by Nick Abadjian
That was the opening image described in
the Tribune’s story of the slow, sad march that so many
people made from the smoke-covered island of Manhattan to the perceived
safety of neighboring Queens.
During the commute, some shocked
residents tried to comprehend what they had witnessed. No one could
explain what had happened just after 9 a.m. that day, but everyone had
the need to share their story and compare it with others to piece
together something logical.
In the newsroom, most phone calls were
made on cell phones that only worked part of the time, but every
conversation began with, “Are you alright? Is everyone alright?”
The hometown lines between boroughs
evaporated and without anyone noticing, a proud borough of Queens became
part of the swelling pride of New Yorkers.
Ready To Heal –
Though ambulances rushed past the Tribune’s
windows and down the closed Long Island Expressway almost every half
hour during the afternoon and evening of Sept. 11, by the paper’s
first deadline on Sept. 12, the numbers were disheartening.
In the hours and days after Sept. 11,
Shea Stadium was transformed into a base to the massive relief efforts.
Tribune photo by Angela Montefinise
The “vast majority” of patients
coming into Queens hospitals were “walk-ins” who had walked home
from Manhattan and decided to see a doctor.
The Tribune reported, “Elmhurst
Hospital, 37; Flushing Hospital, 9; Jamaica Hospital, 49; Mary
Immaculate, 25; New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, 30; North
Shore Hospital at Forest Hills, 27; Queens Hospital Center, 1.”
Three doctors from Jamaica Hospital
reported back to Queens from what would come to be known just as
“ground zero” at noon on deadline day. They had been stationed at
the foot of what was the Twin Towers. Doctor Reginald Hughes told the Tribune,
“We didn’t encounter many survivors.”
Every hour from noon until midnight on
Sept. 11, the editor checked in with the “command centers” at the
Queens hospitals. Rufus King park had been cleared out for helicopters
to transport victims to Queens.
All reporters were on alert to report to
hospitals that were active.
At midnight, the Trib editor
stopped calling, and called the sleeping assistant editor instead. The
message was one of disbelief that wouldn’t sink in until the next day.
“They’re all dead,” was all there
was to report.
It began with Fire Department First
Deputy Commissioner William Feehan.
By the time the Tribune went to
press on Sept. 12, his was the only name the paper knew for sure . . .
the only neighbor confirmed dead in the attack on the Twin Towers.
But the names of the missing started
flooding in immediately.
By the second week of coverage, there
were more names than the paper could handle. Firefighters from Rescue 4
were among the first to be found in the debris.
Rescue workers also found Elmhurst pastry
chef Norberto Hernandez, who had been working at Windows on the World,
Emergency Service Unit 10 Officer Brian McDonnell, Police Officer Paul
Talty and Officer Thomas Langone.
By Sept. 18, Bayside resident Alphonse
Niedermayer’s body hadn’t been found, but his family decided to hold
a memorial mass.
Then there was a list of the missing. It
included James Parham of Jackson Heights and Anthony Savas of Astoria,
who had been working for the Port Authority.
Local 3 electrician Thomas Ashton,
Commonwealth Cricket League Captain Nezam Hafiz, Elevator Operator
Steven Strauss of Flushing, and Cantor Fitzgerald’s Joseph Eacobacci
of Fresh Meadows never came home. Corona’s Anthony Luparello had
called his wife from the 101st floor of Tower Two, but wasn’t heard
Rescue 4 Firefighter Terrence Farrell,
Richmond Hill’s Paula Morales, Flushing Firefighter Scott Kopytko and
Bayside Firefighter Michael Mullan were all missing.
Moira Kelly of Queens Village was the
only female member of the New York City Police Department to be dubbed
And the list kept growing.
The Spirit of New York
The Queens field of dreams – Shea
Stadium – was transformed overnight into a command post for “doing
something,” “organizing,” and “trying to help.”
Borough Hall volunteers rolled up their
sleeves to package donations to be ferried or bused to Manhattan.
There were daily updates from Claire
Shulman’s office on what was needed, and nightly a handful of calls
from local residents trying to find out who they could give to and how
they could help. Reporters were issued a basic fact sheet of emergency
numbers, donation needs and help lines so that anyone could answer the
phone and pass along the word.
Neighbors of every age and race
volunteered, donated and then lit a candle and marched through the
streets to prove that Queens was mourning, but not afraid.
The Tribune reached out to the
Muslim community of Queens and began a long process of education on the
faith and discovered just how much the paper needed to learn about the
Afghanistan piece of the world, it’s history and culture. And the
borough, which had in a heart beat turned away from it’s differences
to pull together as a vital piece of the City, began to turn out in a
procession of mourning.
As The Dust Cleared
As the days went on, the list of those
missing grew and grew while hope faded.
Eventually, it was clear. There were no
Over the next two years, reporters
attended street renaming after street renaming – the City’s way of
honoring those locals who gave everything at the World Trade Center on
There was a memorial service at “Ground
Zero” on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, as well as a
memorial march across the five boroughs. The march brought bagpipers
across the Queensboro Bridge – a powerful reminder of what happened
the day the Towers fell.
The name of every person lost in the
tragedy was read, while their family members walked across the empty
site where the massive Towers once stood strong.
Many Queens residents made that long
walk, placing roses in the center of the site. All of the borough felt
their pain, and said a difficult collective goodbye to their friends and
In the months following, Queens residents
came together to help those neighbors rebuild their lives and grow
It’s a process that will never be fully
But it’s one that is too important to
give up on.
It has been said that life will never be
the same after Sept. 11, 2001.
It is a simple statement that carries so
much truth. The Tribune has captured images of national guardsmen
carrying M16s in our airports and bravely masked civilians opening the
There have been memorials and
fundraisers. Mourning and stories of incredible courage.
There have been terror warnings, bomb
scares, check points and false alarms.
Life has changed.
But this overwhelming news story has a
life of its own that doesn’t close in the span of a newspaper or a
year and isn’t contained in one borough or one City.
We have reported on terrible sorrow, but
also amazing courage, strength of character and ability to survive,
unify, and persevere.
We will rebuild together. It’s only a
matter of time.