US marks 20th anniversary of 9/11

By Fernando Alfonso III, Adrienne Vogt and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 4:23 p.m. ET, September 11, 2021
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11:54 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

The days of unity seen after 9/11 "seem distant," former President Bush says

Former US President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush hold hands as they attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021. 
Former US President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush hold hands as they attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021.  Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush made an appeal for unity and honored 9/11 victims during the remembrance ceremony at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

 "In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own," Bush said in a speech this morning.

"Malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together. I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I've seen. On America's day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor's hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know," he said.

Bush also called on Americans to continue to be vigilant against terrorism both at home and abroad.

"Many Americans struggled to understand why an enemy would hate us with such zeal. The security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability. And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them," Bush said.

Bush also honored the passengers aboard Flight 93.

"This is not mere nostalgia. It is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been and what we can be again. 20 years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans on a routine flight to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror. The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all. The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people," Bush said.

"Whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look to the skies and remember," he added.

Watch:

11:03 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

Former President Bush: 20 years ago, "our lives would be changed forever"

Former US President George W. Bush speaks during a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021.
Former US President George W. Bush speaks during a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President George W. Bush spoke in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at the Flight 93 Memorial, remembering how 20 years ago today "the world was loud with carnage and sirens."

"Twenty years ago, we all found, in different ways, in different places, but all at the same moment, that our lives would be changed forever. The world was loud with carnage and sirens, then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again. These lives remain precious to our country and infinitely precious to many of you. Today, we remember your loss. We share your sorrow, and we honor the men and women you have loved so long and so well," Bush said in a speech.

Bush added: "There was horror at the scale of destruction and awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it. There was shock at the audacity of evil and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it. In the sacrifice of the first responders and the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace, the actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people. We were proud of our wounded nation."

Watch:

10:58 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

US Muslims reflect on how 9/11 changed their lives and what the future holds for them

From CNN's Alaa Elassar

Many Muslims in the United States point to September 11, 2001, as the day their relationship with the country changed.

Islamophobia had always existed, but the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia seemingly made it worse -- much worse.

Muslims of all stripes -- citizens, immigrants and refugees -- faced backlash. Many were ostracized and harassed, some physically assaulted and even killed. Charged rhetoric, successive wars and attacks further inflamed the situation.

Feeling condemned for crimes they didn't commit, some Muslims changed their names and clothing to conceal their identities, while others clung even tighter to their faith. A few became outspoken advocates for the community.

Every Muslim in America has a story to tell. Here is one of them.

Ruwa Romman

Ruwa Romman, 28, is a Palestinian American community organizer and policy analyst living in Duluth, Georgia.

(Courtesy Ruwa Romman)
(Courtesy Ruwa Romman)

When the terrorists attacked, she was 8 years old and had just recently immigrated to the US with her parents. But the dream she had of building a new life in America quickly turned into a nightmare.

"I remember the hallways and the day seemed darker even though I remember it was sunny outside," Romman told CNN about her experience in school that day. "I don't think I fully understood what was happening since I barely spoke English."

Still, she recalls the long list of insults hurled at her as a child: "terrorist" and "sand n****r." Some even asked if she was related to Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda mastermind behind the attacks.

Romman says she can't remember a single day in elementary school when the bullying stopped. High school wasn't much better -- with one teacher pulling her out of class to ask if her family belongs to a terrorist group.

Outside of school, a close friend's family banned her from their home because she was Muslim and "dangerous," she said. Airport travel required numerous bag checks -- sometimes three times during a single trip.

The bullying and harassment set Romman on a path to educate and advocate for her community, even at a young age.

"I felt this sense of duty to never respond to every terrible comment made to me and instead try to educate people," Romman said. "Looking back at my younger self, I'm so angry and sad for her. I didn't have to do any of that. I was a kid trying to grow up and figure out my life. All of a sudden I'd become an ambassador for a billion people around the world."

In 2016, Romman joined the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, as their communications director. She's since become a community organizer, policy analyst and consultant working on related issues.

Romman says advocating for US Muslims and the issues they face is daunting, but sees hope in every small victory.

"We will continue to be politically engaged and unapologetically so." Romman said. "Muslims are no longer willing to carry that burden. None of us committed 9/11. Why should we carry that burden?"

Read more here.

10:44 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

NYPD intelligence strategies employed after 9/11 are now used to fight everyday crime

From CNN’s Mark Morales

Port Authority Police officers look over a 9/11 memorial during a 9/11 memorial service and dedication of a display case at Port Authority Bus Terminal on September 09, 2021 in New York City. 
Port Authority Police officers look over a 9/11 memorial during a 9/11 memorial service and dedication of a display case at Port Authority Bus Terminal on September 09, 2021 in New York City.  (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of 9/11, New York City law enforcement officials developed a strategy designed to gain intelligence and develop technology to prevent any more attacks.

Twenty years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, those same strategies and technological advancements are used to solve crimes.

The NYPD has made significant technological changes since the destruction of the World Trade Center, adding more cameras, installing license plate readers at points of entry as well as in police cars, and giving their officers smart phones that have access to records and information, officials said. These advances, among others, were developed using federal funding.

Since 2017, the NYPD has spent over $300 million each year on intelligence and counterterrorism, according to the city's independent budget office. The tab for 2021 is also expected to be above $300 million, a spokesperson said.

And since 9/11, the NYPD has stopped 51 terror incidents that have either emanated from New York City or where the city was the target, according to John Miller, deputy commissioner for intelligence and counter-terrorism. And 25 of those incidents have happened within the last five years, according to Miller.

The department's anti-terror tools also are being used to solve more run-of-the-mill crimes.

"The systems that were built with Homeland Security funding in the years after 9/11 are for protecting New York City from the threat of terrorism," Miller said. "We would be remiss, and the federal government fully agrees with this, if we did not use those same tools to fight crime. Our job is to protect life and property and dual use for these tools is a legal and accepted practice."

Read more here.

10:16 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

Ringing of the Bells of Remembrance has begun in Shanksville

(CNN)
(CNN)

The ringing of the Bells of Remembrance has begun in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in honor of the victims of United Airlines Flight 93. 

Memorial officials read the names of the passengers and crew and rang bells for each person. 

"It is truly fitting that we pause to remember those individuals who lost their lives and save so many when flight 93 crashed into the hallowed ground," said Stephen Clark, superintendent of the National Parks of Western Pennsylvania. 

Clark welcomed dignitaries in attendance at the start of the ceremony, which include: Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff; President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush; and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. 

The opening prayer was led by Reverend Dr. Margaret Grun Kibben, chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, who said 20 years ago, "our nation's peace was shattered...our country fractured by the devastation." 

Clark asked that everyone in attendance "join us is wearing a face covering." 

"We have come together with the families as passengers and crew members to honor the 40 heroes of Flight 93, by observing this precaution we can best protect ourselves, and look out for each other," said Clark. 

The United States Marine band played the National Anthem at the start of the somber event. 

10:42 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs pays tribute to 9/11 victims and fallen service members

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley speaks during a remembrance ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on September 11, 2021. 
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley speaks during a remembrance ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on September 11, 2021.  (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley honored the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, and the US service members who died in the Afghanistan War on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"All of the values and principles embedded in our Constitution and made real in our daily lives were paid for with the blood of the fallen on this place at 9:37 on Sept. 11, 2001," Milley said, speaking at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. 

In his remarks, he implored Americans to never forget the victims and to stand up to hatred.

"On 9/11, they tried to destroy us. They tried to divide us. They tried ultimately in vain to terrify us. But their murderous intent was never realized. Instead of sowing fear individually, we gathered in New York and Pennsylvania and right here at the Pentagon, and we came together as a nation, with acts of heroism, unity, and perseverance," Milley said.

Milley said US service members have fought "tirelessly" against terrorism since the attacks, including the 13 who died during the Kabul airport attack on Aug. 26.

"Their talent and their efforts and their courage, their personal valor has carried this fight day and night. We did not fear what was in front of us, because we love what was behind us. 800,000 of us in uniform served in Afghanistan in the last 20 years. Tens of thousands more served elsewhere, in the collective fight against terrorism. And thousands more stand watch today, all around the world. 2,461 of us gave the last full measure of devotion, including 13 just two weeks ago," he said.

Watch:

9:57 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

9/11 ceremony underway in Shanksville 

From CNN's Melissa Alonso 

Former US President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021.
Former US President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Shanksville, Pennsylvania, observance ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is now underway. 

At 10:03 a.m. ET, the moment United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, the names of the 40 passengers and crew members who perished will be read aloud. 

Former President George W. Bush will deliver keynote remarks in a ceremony open to the families of those killed on United Flight 93 and invited guests. 

9:47 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

Sister of 9/11 victim says after the attacks, the "whole country seemed to put its arm around us"

(CNN)
(CNN)

Anthoula Katsimatides, the former assistant vice president for family relations at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), spoke about her "larger-than-life" brother John who worked on the 104th floor of Tower One on Sept. 11, 2001.

"When I look back on these last 20 years, I find myself thinking about September 12th, and everything that happened after that. When thousands of us became members of a club that we never signed up for with no idea of what to do next except to cry. Right? But then something unexpected happened. An unlimited amount of kindness kept pouring in, to each of us. From friends and strangers," Katsimatides said in lower Manhattan.

Katsimatides added: "The whole country seemed to put its arm around us. And that lent me just enough strength to get up the next day and the day after that, and the day after that, and I realized that all this kindness and giving reminded me of my brother. My larger-than-life, live-out-loud big brother, who loved to make people laugh, and he was always there, whenever something was needed."

10:26 a.m. ET, September 11, 2021

He had a comfortable job in finance. 9/11 set him on a dramatically different path.

Jeremy Booth was just coming in to his finance job at San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid building when the Twin Towers were struck.

Watching coverage of the rescue efforts later, what he saw of the FDNY’s heroic response set him on a dramatically different path.

After years of training, he is now a captain with the Richmond Fire Department in California and says those scenes still impact how he does his work.

Listen to Booth's story, in his own words:

CNN asked readers to share how their lives have changed in the past 20 years. Listen to more of their stories here.