NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A small group of 9/11 families met with President Barack Obama Thursday when he visited Ground Zero for the first time since announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.
Among those handpicked to meet the President was retired FDNY deputy fire chief Jim Riches. His son Jimmy, also a firefighter, was killed in the 9/11 attack.
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Jimmy was a firefighter on Engine 4 on September 11 and responded to the World Trade Center.
“He died down there in the north tower,” Riches told 1010 WINS’ John Montone. Riches said it took nine months to recover his son’s body. He and his other three sons, who became firefighters after 9/11, carried Jimmy’s body out of the rubble.
“When we did find his body down at Ground Zero, there was a stretcher with a woman right nearby his body, so you know he was helping her and consoling her all the way down, I’m sure,” said Riches. “That’s just the way he was.”
Riches said he was home when he heard the news of bin Laden’s death and while he thinks it will bring some peace to the 3,000 families of 9/11 victims, the news for him was bittersweet.
“There will never be any closure. My son will never walk back into the room. When we have weddings and parties and Christmases and births, he’s not here,” said Riches. “He’s never going to come back in and there will always be that big hole and that void for our family.”
But for the Navy SEALs who carried out the mission, Riches said he’s proud.
“I’m glad these Navy SEALs did such a great job and President Obama let them go in because they ended it with one bullet,” he said. “They won’t know the happiness they brought to us and if I could, I would have loved to be there and hug each and every one of them.”
Crowds of flag-waving New Yorkers have gathered at the World Trade Center site since the President announced bin Laden’s death late Sunday night. It’s a sight Riches hasn’t seen since the days after 9/11.
“That little spirit that we had after 9/11 for America, I think it’s come back a little now and hopefully it will keep us on the right track,” he said.
When he met the president Thursday, Riches said one thing, “Thank you very much, you’re a man of your word.”
The observance took place against the backdrop of a new, revised narrative of how U.S. Navy SEALs killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Obama invited his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to the ceremony, but he declined the invitation and has kept out of the spotlight.
But Riches says the success of finally getting bin Laden nearly ten years after 9/11 has nothing to do with politics.
“The hard work paid off for all the military in the Bush administration through the Obama administration,” said Riches. “It’s not a democratic or republican thing, it’s an American thing.”
Obama also met with first responders and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero.