The weather in downtown Bel Air was gray and misty Tuesday morning, but, as Harford County Executive Barry Glassman recalled, it had been clear and sunny on another Tuesday morning 17 years ago when terrorists attacked the United States using hijacked airplanes, killing nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was the brightest and bluest sky I think I had ever seen on a fall morning,” Glassman said during a wreath-laying ceremony in front of the county administration building Tuesday morning.
About 75 to 100 people attended. Many were county employees, as well as a few people passing by, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.
The crowd included elected leaders, county staffers, department heads, Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies, commanders and civilian workers, plus representatives of veterans’ organizations.
Glassman spoke briefly, flanked by Sheriff’s Office deputies, veterans organization leaders and fire and EMS personnel.
County Councilman Joe Woods was part of that group. The Fallston Volunteer Fire & Ambulance Company member — and former chief — wore his fire company dress uniform. Councilman James McMahan, an Army veteran, stood with his fellow veterans and led a salute to members of the military.
The 9/11 attacks, which were carried out by 19 members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network led by the late Osama bin Laden, happened when airliners were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. The fourth plane, United Flight 93, crashed in western Pennsylvania after passengers tried to retake the cockpit.
Tuesday’s ceremony in Harford County included a moment of silence around 8:46 a.m., the moment when the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. The ceremony was meant to honor those who died on 9/11, including three people with ties to Harford County.
“Today, we give that refrain that we will never forget,” Glassman said.
Joseph V. Maggitti, an Abingdon resident, died at the World Trade Center. Willie Q. Troy, who lived at Aberdeen Proving Ground, died at the Pentagon. Deborah Jacobs Welsh died on Flight 93, on which she was a flight attendant. Welsh’s husband, Patrick, grew up in Bel Air and is a graduate of The John Carroll School.
Many others with ties to Harford have died while serving in the military in the 17-year War on Terror that followed the 9/11 attacks.
“We have lost a lot of American boys and girls that went over to bring justice to the terrorists that brought down those buildings, but also to root out and find the culprit, which we did,” Glassman said.
Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 when Navy SEALs raided his compound in Pakistan.
“As we lay this wreath, we thank God for the blessings that America has brought to us and that we have risen above those terrorist attacks, and we are stronger today,” Glassman said.
Glassman stressed “we are all Americans,” no matter who tries to divide people into opposing groups.
“At the end of the day we all are Americans, and we stand together in these times,” he said.
Hundreds of first responders — firefighters, EMS workers and police officers — died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York.
The attacks changed Americans’ perception of first responders, leading many to regard them as heroes.
The attacks also changed how first responders approach their job, not only by incorporating terrorism into emergency planning, but also in how agencies share information, improve communications and interact with those they serve.
Firefighters and EMS personnel must consider their own safety as well as the needs of those in peril when responding to a scene, not only because of 9/11, but also the increase in mass shootings and assaults on first responders in recent years, according to Edward Hopkins, director of the county’s Department of Emergency Services.
That means first responders taking a more “guarded” approach at a scene, and 911 dispatchers asking multiple questions to get as much information as possible about the scene, Hopkins said.
Hopkins is a veteran member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company and a former chief. He has also worked for the Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and served as a Bel Air town commissioner and mayor.
“9/11 reminds us we can never be complacent,” he said.