Seventeen years ago, Cecily Christian was on her way to meeting at the Pentagon when a television screen caught her eye and she saw the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on fire.

Christian, 53, of Columbia, was on active duty Sept. 11, 2001, working at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade. After seeing the first tower fall, she stayed at Fort Meade to keep those in the building safe.


“It was shocking,” Christian said. “I had to ensure that the students were safe, many were fearful, as they had not seen anything like that before.”

On Tuesday, Christian, who has retired from the Air Force Reserve, went to the Garden of Hope in Centennial Park in Ellicott City to pay her respects to those who lost their lives during coordinated terrorist attacks.

Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed when hijacked passenger jets were flown into the World Trade Center towers, in New York City, the Pentagon in Northern Virginia and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

On a foggy and damp Tuesday, at 8:46 a.m., when the North Tower of the World Trade Center fell, Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, county, state and federal elected officials, command members from the county police and fire departments, the Howard County Sheriff’s Office and community members gathered at the park to honor those who lost their lives. Four Howard County residents were among those killed.

Sarah Clark, 65, of Columbia, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.

Retired Master Sgt. Max Beilke, 69, of Laurel, Lt. Darin Howard Pontell, 26, of Columbia and Col. Ronald F. Golinski, of Columbia, died at the Pentagon, according to the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

As two bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” all in attendance at Centennial Park were invited to tie purple and white bows on trees to pay tribute to all 2,996 victims. A white remembrance wreath was placed at the garden.

The Garden of Hope was designed and dedicated 16 years ago.

“I clearly remember that day,” Christian said. “I went down to the Pentagon a few days later to lay down flowers and mourn.”

Participants left the ceremony silently, passing by two county fire trucks with an American flag hung between their extended ladders.