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El Centro vigil draws hundreds, honors victims of terror

September 14, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Singing every word clearly and loudly, 6-year-old El Centro resident Samantha Garcia joined hundreds of other Imperial Valley residents in a rendition of "God Bless America" on Thursday at the County Courthouse in El Centro.

The crowd that gathered at the steps of the courthouse held American flags and lighted candles in a vigil meant to honor those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks Tuesday.

But the ceremony, organized by The Salvation Army, the El Centro Kiwanis Club and the El Centro Chamber of Commerce was meant to do more than remember those who died.

The vigil was meant to unite the people of the Imperial Valley and help strengthen the resolve to rebuild after the tragic events Tuesday that left the nation in shock.

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For Samantha it was important to take part in the vigil.

"I want to bless the people that died in the crash, the airplane crash," she said, her face illuminated by the hundreds of candles that shed an orange glow over Main Street.

When asked how she felt seeing the images that have flashed across TV sets since Tuesday's attack, Samantha answered very simply, "Bad."

Throughout the hour-long event, people from all walks of life cried, sang and prayed together for those who died and for the country.

They vowed to remain strong and support the U.S. government as it attempts to find those responsible and punish them.

Brian Graham, 26, of Imperial stood holding a large flag in one hand, and his 17-month-old son, Brian Jr., in his other arm. His son held his own little flag.

"This brings everyone together," Graham said. "Everybody is an American. It doesn't matter whether you are Republican or Democrat."

Graham added, "We are going to find out who did this and get them. If it goes to war, I would be the first in line."

El Centro Fire Department Battalion Chief Bill DuBois stood with other El Centro firefighters quietly watching the ceremony.

"I'm real grateful that this many people would show up at a rally to support the efforts of our fellow firefighters in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

He said firefighters throughout the nation have lost members of their extended family as more than 200 firefighters and rescue workers remain missing in New York City following Tuesday's collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

Imperial County Sheriff Harold Carter said America will not be defeated by the attacks.

He said of the vigil, "It's important because it brings people together and unites us as a community."

Carter added the terrorists have tried to break the spirit of America but they have failed.

"This whole nation will come together," he said.

Salvation Army Capt. Julio Vasquez said the ceremony was organized to give people a place to come together to grieve and give support to each other.

One poignant element of the vigil was the large flag held up by Vietnam veterans and members of the Imperial County chapter of ABATE motorcycle club.

While not planned, the large flag was moved up to the steps of the courthouse and held up as a rallying point.

Vietnam veteran Donald Noriega, 47, of El Centro was one of those holding the flag.

"I feel honored by holding the flag," he said, adding, "Our resolve is strong."

In united cries, people shouted out the country would never give up and was far from beaten by the attacks.

"We all have to pull together," El Centro Fire Chief Charles Beard told the crowd.

Another vigil will be staged at 7 tonight in Brawley at the Kiwanis Kiosk in North Plaza Park. That ceremony is sponsored by the Brawley Chamber of Commerce.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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