Special Reports

Families join public in mourning Flight 93 victims

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — A bell tolled 40 times Wednesday, once for each victim of United Flight 93, as thousands of people gathered in a grassy field remembered the passengers and crew hailed as heroes for struggling to take back their hijacked plane.

“These 40 amazing, extraordinary people had character in abundance,” said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who was governor of Pennsylvania at the time of the terrorist attacks. “They were heroes every single day.”

One crew member used to save airline meals to feed the needy, he said. Another victim helped restore a shelter for battered women, and yet another volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center.

“Today is not just to mark their tragic and honorable deaths, but to celebrate their lives and mark a nation’s gratitude for their actions,” Ridge said.

His remarks were followed by a 21-gun salute and the release of 40 doves.

The tolling, accompanied by the reading of each victim’s name, led up to the moment that the plane crashed at 10:06 a.m. last Sept. 11. It followed a minute of silence “for world peace” and a fly-over by three military planes.

Flight 93 crashed in a field about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Investigators say people on board confronted their four hijackers and brought down the flight far from some intended target in Washington, D.C., possibly the White House or the Capitol.

The crater was filed months ago and replanted. The only evidence of the crash is a metal fence surrounding the spot to keep people from digging in the area, still considered a crime scene, and the flags, photographs and flowers left as a memorial to the victims.

“It helps me a lot to know it’s such a beautiful place,” said Alice Hoglan, 52, of Los Gatos, Calif., whose son Mark Bingham died in the crash. She joined more than 500 relatives and friends of the victims who toured the crash site privately Tuesday.

President Bush was expected to visit the site later Wednesday, after the ceremony, and meet privately with families inside the fence.

“The most important thing to me is that we do not forget,” said Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, Md., whose father and stepmother were killed.