The community of Great Falls remains deeply affected by the repercussions of that tragic day 22 years ago. On Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 at 7 p.m., the Great Falls community gathered at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial for a Remembrance Ceremony.
The keynote speaker would be Vitale Christy of Great Falls. He was an 8-year-old student at a Fairfax County Public School in Great Falls, Forestville Elementary, on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Sept. 11, 2023, the Great Falls community remembered those whose lives were violently and abruptly cut short in heinous acts of terrorism unfolding at the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York City, and a grassy field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They came to the Great Falls Freedom Memorial to honor and remember.
Christy said that while much of that day 22 years ago is a blur, he recalled anxious excitement in the classroom as child after child was excused to the principal’s office, not to be seen the rest of the day. The teachers told them nothing. When Christy got off the bus, he asked his dad why everyone was leaving class early. His dad said they’d talk later and "go play." While the rest of the country was captivated by the horror of black smoke towering in the sky, Christy's eyes were consumed by the imaginative possibilities of his Legos on the floor in the foyer.
It was with heavy hearts that the Great Falls community came to honor individually their six friends, loved ones, and colleagues who died during the 9/11 terrorist attack aboard American Airlines Flight 77, from Washington to Los Angeles, that crashed into the Pentagon with 64 people aboard.
They are Richard Peter Gabriel Sr.; George W. Simmons and his wife, Diane M. Simmons; Ann Judge, 49; Barbara Olson, 45; and Lisa J. Raines, 42.
United States Marine Corps First Lieutenant Richard Peter Gabriel Sr., of Arlington, Va., age 54, a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Richard was a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 77. His service to his country will forever be remembered.
George W. Simmons and his wife, Diane M. Simmons, of Great Falls, were two souls taken too soon during the attack. They boarded Flight 77 on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, en route to Kauai, Hawaii, to bury Diane’s father, Bill Helm. He had asked that his remains be sprinkled over Kauai. "George will be remembered as a very special man who left a lasting positive impression on everyone he met. He will be missed but never forgotten," according to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Heroes.
The terrorists claimed the lives of Ann C. Judge, Barbara K. Olson, and Lisa J. Raines.
Ann Judge, 49, of Great Falls, was the travel office manager for the National Geographic Society. She accompanied students and teachers on an educational trip to the Channel Islands in California.
Barbara Olson, 45, of Great Falls, was a television commentator married to U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson. She twice called her husband as the plane was being hijacked and described details, including that the attackers were armed with knives. She had planned to take a different flight but changed it at the last minute to be with her husband on his birthday.
Lisa J. Raines, 42, of Great Falls, was senior vice president for government relations at the Washington office of Genzyme, a biotechnology firm.
According to Christy, the truth cascaded over him later that night as he watched the attack repeatedly play on a loop. "Meanwhile, members of this very community spent their evening crying uncontrollably as they realized the people they loved most were taken from them. Ann Judge. Barbara Olson. Lisa Raines. Mark Schurmeier. Diane Simmons. George Simmons. Kip Taylor. Richard Gabriel."
Christy said he feels very fortunate and blessed to have grown up in Great Falls. He has so many fond and loving memories of his community. He learned how to rock climb on the jagged cliffs, got tagged with blue and red paint on color day as a freshman at Langley, umpired for the Great Falls Little League, and waited tables at the Tavern during his first summer home from college.
"We must remain thankful for our freedom and use it to extend a patriotic love that uplifts our friends and neighbors. Never forget 9/11. Never forget the day America looked up... God bless you, friends; God bless our little village; God bless Virginia; and God bless these United States of America."