The 20th Anniversary of 9/11: Survivors, Victims' Loved Ones and the Next Generation Reflect on What Was Lost

September 11 memorial at Ground Zero
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Each year, the U.S. pauses to reflect on what was lost on Sept. 11 and in doing so, a spotlight is shone on the stories of survivors, the loved ones of victims and the ways in which the history of 9/11 is being preserved. These are some of those stories.

Twenty years ago, the world was irrevocably changed. 

On September 11, 2001, four commercial airliners were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. One hit the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The fourth and final flight crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the plane's passengers fought back, sacrificing themselves so it could not hit its intended target, which investigators determined was likely the U.S. Capitol.

That day, 2,977 people were killed, including 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers, and more than 25,000 people were injured. Scores more would go on to suffer substantial long-term health issues as a result of their working what became known as "Ground Zero" or "the Pile" in the months that followed.

Each year, the U.S. pauses to reflect on what was lost that day and in doing so, a spotlight is shone on the stories of survivors, the loved ones of victims and the ways in which the history of 9/11 is being preserved. Read on for some of those stories.

Jack Grandcolas' pregnant wife Lauren was aboard Flight 93 when it went down in Pennsylvania. Lauren was returning home from her grandmother’s funeral. She called Jack from the plane’s cabin and left a message, saying, “We're having a little problem on the plane. I'm totally fine. I love you more than anything, just know that." This year, for the 20th anniversary, Jack plans to return to Pennsylvania to see the completed Flight 93 National Memorial. He’s also writing a book on the grieving process to help other people. And he says he would like people to remember just how united the country once was. "I'd like Americans to try to remember how we united, how the whole world united, after 9/11, 2001,” he said.

Of all the things Lee Ielpi is thankful for, and there are many, uppermost is that he was able to carry out his dead son from the twisted wreckage of the World Trade Center. And on this, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, Ielpi knows one real and abiding truth: It has been two decades since he saw his son. "Now, this is me as an individual, and it's a very simple answer. It means I haven't seen my son in 20 years. I'm not about to let him be forgotten. He's going to be remembered by the fire department, by many people, by me talking about it," the 77-year-old retired firefighter told Inside Edition Digital. Twenty years on, Ielpi never forgets Jonathan, or the students he spoke to who professed no knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. "One of the things that I do speak about when I go, I don't hold back. I'm not going to sugar coat. I'm going to talk about the body parts," he said. "Here I am in a school asking you about 9/11 and you're telling me you don't know about 9/11. I'm here standing in front of you with my loss and nobody knows about 9/11. I just think that's very dangerous." 

After 20 years, two more victims from the 9/11 attacks have been identified. The New York medical examiner's office said in a statement that a woman named Dorothy Morgan and a man whose family has requested his name be withheld have become numbers 1,646 and 1,647 on the list of people to be identified through DNA analysis of collected remains — over 40% of victims in the attack have yet to be identified.

Most people above a certain age knows exactly where they were on September 11, 2001. And when 9/11 is discussed, they have tangible memories they can refer to, reflect on and share. But how can you never forget when you weren't there? For anyone in their early 20s or younger, their views of 9/11 are different. They were either alive and are too young to remember, or they were not born yet. In that case, is it just another day for them? Are they affected by specifics of that tragic day in the same manner?  And how do they perceive the events of that day? Three young people spoke to Inside Edition Digital about how they are learning and being exposed to the tragedies on September 11, 2001.

When President George W. Bush first learned about the attacks on Sept. 11, he was in the middle of listening to a class of second graders during their reading lesson at Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. “The memory of it lingers in my mind and my heart. I am a part of it as well as it’s a part of me,” Sandra Daniels, the teacher of that class, told Inside Edition. Lenard Rivers and January Towles were two of the students in the class that day. They are both now 27 years old. “We’ll never forget Mrs. Daniels and all the work that she did and all the love that she gave us,” Towles said. 

The one church destroyed on 9/11 is finally reopening as a national shrine. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church served the faithful in lower Manhattan for almost 90 years. It was destroyed by falling debris on that terrible day. The new church, now a national shrine, overlooks the World Trade Center memorial plaza. "We are part of America,” Rev. Alex Karloutsos from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America explained. “We are New York strong."

Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd looks back on a historic weekend of concerts his band put on 20 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that helped bring some relief to a city experiencing so much trauma. 

When the news of the terror attacks broke, journalists sprang into action. In New York, many rushed downtown, some to the scene where the buildings were falling, while others reported from the streets, at the bridges, at the ferry, the multiple transit hub and hospitals. The memories of that day have stuck with them ever since.

A retired flight attendant is currently walking from Boston to New York City to honor his fallen colleagues and the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks while pushing a beverage cart in the process. Paul Veneto arrived in New York City Friday according to his website, Paulie’s Push, after he departed Boston on August 21 to begin his 200-mile trek.

Madeline Lanciani, whose bakery, Duane Park Patisserie, has been in business in Downtown Manhattan for nearly 30 years, said she couldn't help but notice stark similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and Sept. 11, 2001.

Terry Farrell's actions in life, both on September 11, 2001, and well before then, have inspired so many to live selflessly and take steps to help others, his brother, Brian, told Inside Edition Digital.