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Flight 93 families applaud Shanksville community

9/16/2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: For a related report, see UMNS story #410.

By Jackie Campbell*

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (UMNS) - During a memorial service at the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site, family members of the victims at one point stood and turned away from the stage where Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was speaking.

They faced the crowd of people behind them and applauded.

Their gratitude was returned as applause erupted from the crowd, which included about 40 community "ambassadors" recruited by members of tiny Shanksville United Methodist Church to provide help and information for those visiting the crash site.

The applause was prompted by words from Ridge: "Today, we also honor and thank a community. The people of Shanksville embraced the families of Flight 93 as their own." Ridge was Pennsylvania's governor when the hijacked plane crashed in the rural countryside on Sept. 11, 2001.

He quoted a passenger's sister, who said, "This sleepy little town just puts its arms around you and embraces you."

United Methodist clergy and laity from Shanksville and the surrounding area, as well as staff members from nearby Camp Allegheny, have ministered to the victim's families and countless mourners who visit the reclaimed strip mine that has become sacred ground.

About 3,000 attended the ceremonies Sept. 11, but at least a few thousand more visited the site throughout the day and evening. Each week, an estimated 2,000 cars travel to the reclaimed strip mine where 40 men and women died trying to wrest control of the plane from terrorists.

Soon after the crash, it became evident that people somehow needed to visit the site.

"People were sort of aimlessly walking around," said the Rev. Ron Emery, pastor of Shanksville United Methodist Church. "There was no way of connecting with what happened there."

So Emery and members of his congregation, led by Donna Glessner, formed a group of volunteer ambassadors to staff the site, giving directions, pointing out the exact location and sometimes helping people make a spiritual connection.

Glessner, in one of many media interviews, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she wanted visitors to know exactly when and where events unfolded. "It didn't seem friendly to have people visit that desolate site and not help," she said.

One ambassador, Doris Baekel, told United Methodist Communications' UMTV that "God had his hand in this for where it went down. I think these people have a beautiful final resting place compared to those others of that day. It's beautiful here."

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*Campbell is a staff writer for InterLink, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

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