NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The most emotional moments of President Barack Obama’s visit to ground zero on Thursday may have been away from the cameras.
Following the wreath ceremony, the president met privately at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, a block away on Vesey Street, with 60 people who lost loved ones on the day the planes hit the World Trade Center towers.
Inside the intensely private gathering, victims’ relatives, dozens of them, were all afforded one-on-one time with the president, including Carie LeMack, whose mom, Judy, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11.
“We told him how thankful we are for all that he did to get the man who caused my mom’s murder,” LeMack told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ and what I said back was, ‘I ask nothing of you and give you my thanks,’” Nikki Stern added.
Paula Berry lost her husband, David. Alison and Jefferson Crowther lost their son, Welles, an equity trader, but also a volunteer firefighter who got people out of the towers before losing his life.
“He spent time with every single family member there. And it was so obvious and so clear that what he was interested in doing is touching base with the family members,” Paula Berry told CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman.
“Oh, it was beautiful. [The president] was very caring and very gentle. He met with each individual person there, spoke with each person at length,” mother Alison Crowther said.
Al and Maureen Santora were proud the president met with them after lunching at Engine 54, where their 23-year-old firefighter son, Christopher, worked.
“This firehouse lost 15 guys, more than the other. It’s fitting that he went,” Maureen Santora said.
No more than 80 relatives were invited. Some 9/11 family members tried to enter anyway, but were unsuccessful and disappointed they didn’t get a chance to speak their minds.
“I’m hurt for my brother’s sake. I wanted to shake his hand,” Tim Murphy said.
Family members are now hoping for a return visit from the president, one with a larger crowd and a longer conversation about the issues concerning them, most notably how he’s handled the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“They offer public enemy number one more rights for a proper burial than my brother in a garbage dump?” Jeannie Evans said.
“I am very concerned about firehouses closing. I don’t want to see one other firefighter meet a needless death like my son,” Sally Regenhard said.
Some of the relatives clutching precious photos insisted their loved ones are still here, somehow sensing the satisfaction.
“I felt him there saying good job Mr. President,” Maureen Santora said.
And to him the families said, hurry back.
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