A flag flew at half-staff in the background as hundreds of Seal Beach residents gathered at Grace Community Church to remember the tragedy that took place 10 years ago.
The mood was somber, and emotions were high as the people sat with an American flag in one hand, a candle in the other and the memory of where they were the day America changed forever, Sept. 11, 2001.
The Sunday night vigil featured three speakers: a former Secret Service agent and expert on terror, Ron Williams; former Seal Beach Police Chief Jeff Kirkpatrick, a responder to the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the attacks; and Senior Pastor Don Shoemaker.
Though the speakers came from different backgrounds and with different messages, one theme rang true in each of their speeches: Never forget.
Williams said it is important for Americans to gather and remember a day like this, a day that changed the country.
“This is the United States of America, where freedom and liberty for the individual is the rule of law,” he said. “And looking out into the crowd tonight, seeing the turnout, shows there is still loyalty and patriotism in this country, and there always will be.”
This isn’t the first ceremony held by the church; a candlelight vigil and march to the beach were held in 2002, the first anniversary, and Shoemaker said nearly 2,000 were in attendance. But he knew that on this day, his community needed a place to gather, and nearly 1,000 did.
“We haven’t held an event in the past five years, but we knew the national emotions would be running high on the 10th anniversary, and we wanted to give our community a place to go together,” he said.
A question Shoemaker often receives: “Where was God when evil struck?”
His answer: “We all questioned where God was, but God was there, and is still there. He is often behind the scenes, and he works through people who are doing his will.”
Williams said the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were “designed to cripple our country economically and strike fear into the heart of every American, but despite this grand plan and the terrific damage, the loss of innocent lives, the terrorists failed.”
It was the bravery and courage of flight attendants and pilots, police officers and firefighters that made this plan, this attack on the United States, fail, Williams said.
While showing a personal-picture slide show, Kirkpatrick shared his memories of Ground Zero. Stunning images, footage that most of those in attendance had never been privy to, brought many to tears.
“We are the strongest nation in this world. We are one of the proudest nations in this world, and that single event brought us together as Americans,” Kirkpatrick said. “Let us not forget the attacks on Sept. 11, and let us continue to stand together as one nation.”