State Capitol memorial draws 35,000

Jessica Thompson

The State Capitol was eerily silent Sunday afternoon, despite the estimated 35,000 people who gathered to grieve Tuesday’s terrorist attacks and celebrate the lives of the victims.

Many waved American flags and cheered as planes from the Minnesota Air National Guard flew overhead in the missing-man formation. But the mood was somber as the crowd reflected on last week’s events and heard stories of those who lost their lives.

“I hope the memory of Gordy and other victims will bring our country a new sense of strength and unity,” said Erik Aamoth, whose brother worked in the World Trade Center and is missing.

“Whether he has survived or not, my brother will always be alive to me,” said Aamoth, of Wayzata, Minn.

Private donations funded the $75,000 event, “Minnesota Remembers: A Memorial from the Heartland.” It featured speeches from policy-makers, including Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., Twin Cities mayors Norm Coleman and Sharon Sayles-Belton, former Vice President Walter Mondale and Gov. Jesse Ventura – who called for nationwide unity.

“We are a family … so strong that no matter what forces of evil bring we will not break down … We will, together, restore our sense of freedom by conquering this enemy,” Ventura said. He met with Minnesota family members of Tuesday’s victims after the service.

“I stand here today humbled, but comforted, by your presence. That’s what family is for – to share with each other the hurt, the sorrow and the sadness that have fallen upon our country,” he said.

As a bald eagle perched near the Capitol steps, the University Marching Band played the national anthem, and members of the Minnesota Joint Service Color Guard presented the American and Minnesota flags.

Reatha Clake-King, the event’s master of ceremonies, read prayers for firefighters and officers as five wreaths were laid in honor of those who lost their lives in last week’s tragedies.

“It was very emotional to see. It’s nice to see such support, such togetherness, such unity,” said Robert Kippels, a St. Paul honor guard. “It seems like every catastrophe has brought us together to some extent, but not to this.”

Patriotism radiated from the “USA!” chanting crowd, but Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in the religious community denounced the possibility of rash military action and the loss of more life.

“There is no doubt that our wound is deep, our tragedy is severe, and our hearts are bleeding,” said Dr. Hundi El-Hawaf. “But we do not need more bleeding, we need spiritual healing.”

The event culminated with a joint performance of “God Bless America” by the University Marching Band, Sounds of Blackness and the Metropolitan Boys Choir.

As the sky grew dark, red, white and blue confetti streamed onto the steps of the Capitol. The crowd dispersed slowly, flooding St. Paul streets with the nation’s colors.

“People don’t want to go home,” said St. Paul City Council President Daniel Bostrom. “There is something powerful about this whole thing. I don’t want to leave, I’ve got to be a part of this for a little while longer.”

– K.C. Howard contributed to this report


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