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9/11 Ceremony In San Diego Marks 15 Years Since Terrorist Attacks

Photo by Susan Murphy

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer talks to firefighters, police and other first responders and community members during a ceremony to mark 15 years since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Sept. 7, 2016.

San Diego leaders and first responders gathered Wednesday at the San Diego Civic Concourse to mark 15 years since 9/11.

San Diego leaders and first responders gathered Wednesday at the San Diego Civic Concourse to mark 15 years since 9/11. The ceremony paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks, including 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and eight paramedics.

"In the face of terrorism, first responders chose patriotism. And in the face of fear, they chose heroism. They will never be forgotten," Mayor Kevin Faulconer told the crowd at the somber event.

The tribute included a color guard presentation, a moment of silence and testimony from Joe Torillo, a retired New York fire lieutenant who survived the attack of the World Trade Center.

"In the rescue effort I got caught in the collapse and buried alive and declared dead for three days," said Torillo, who now tours as a speaker about the day that "rearranged the lives'' of Americans.

"I was buried in the darkness — I couldn't see — darker than midnight with all these other people,'' he said. "They're all screaming at the top of their lungs, but we couldn't see each other.''

Photo by Susan Murphy

Joe Torillo, a retired New York fire lieutenant who survived the attack of the World Trade Center, talks to KPBS News about his experience at a 9/11 ceremony in San Diego, Sept. 7, 2016.

Torillo suffered a fractured skull and broken bones throughout his body.

"The back of my head split wide open, all my ribs were broken, my left arm was snapped in half, my shoulder was torn up, my neck and spine (were) crushed, I was bleeding internally,'' Torillo said.

Six firefighters from Torillo's firehouse died that day.

"I have this obligation to share my story of the heroes, those that were carried to the cemetery," Torillo told KPBS. "To give people an opportunity to really connect to that day. And to really resurrect a sense of patriotism in this country."

He presented Mayor Kevin Faulconer, police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and fire-rescue Chief Brian Fennessy with plaques honoring them for their support of first responders.

Fennessy said America "saw the face of evil'' that day, but responded with ordinary citizens rising to the occasion.

"We saw courage in office workers who were trapped on the high floors of burning skyscrapers and called home so their last words to their families would be of comfort and love,'' Fennessy said.

"We saw courage in passengers aboard Flight 93, who recited the 23rd Psalm and then charged the cockpit,'' he said. "And we saw courage in the Pentagon staff, who made it out of the flames and smoke, and ran back in to answer the cries for help.''

The tribute was held Wednesday since the actual anniversary falls on a Sunday.

Other scheduled events commemorating the anniversary of the attacks include a Thursday morning stop by a fire truck, which was able to go back into service after 11 of its crew members were killed, at the Toby Wells Family YMCA; the annual San Diego 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, one of about 30 similar climbs nationwide, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront on Saturday morning; and a memorial ceremony at Centennial Plaza in El Cajon on Sunday morning.

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