Candlelight vigil pays tribute to tragedy's heroes

October 12, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

"What if?"

That's the question Maria Jurado asked herself just days after the terrorist strikes against America on Sept. 11.

Jurado and fellow staff members at JCPenney in El Centro wanted to do something to raise funds to help some of the people most directly impacted by the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York.

"I thought, what if we organized a candlelight vigil and sold candles and other things to raise money for the families of the firemen and the policemen who were killed that day?" Jurado said Thursday afternoon.

Jurado conceded that although she had been involved in other fund-raising activities, the vigil was her most ambitious project.

"To be honest with you, I'm very nervous," she said in the hours before the event.

JCPenney Store Manager Rudy Ramirez threw his weight behind the project and his employees went into action. The employees spent countless hours assembling the candles and the tricolor ribbons they would sell. Staff in the hair salon were still assembling the ribbons late Thursday afternoon between appointments.


Thursday night their hard work paid off when an estimated 300 people gathered in the JCPenney parking lot off Imperial Avenue in El Centro in remembrance of those who died Sept. 11.

Shortly before 7.30 p.m. the parking lot began to fill with motorcycle riders from throughout the Imperial Valley, many from the local chapter of ABATE, a local motorcycle lobbying, safety and social group. Flanked by fire trucks from the El Centro Fire Department, the motorcyclists lined up in front of the stage set up earlier by Jurado and her team.

Then Valley residents began to arrive, eagerly buying he candles and ribbons being sold by staff members at a table outside the store. Management had closed the store half an hour earlier than usual to let all staffers participate in the vigil.

The money raised will be shared between the New York Firefighters Disaster Relief Fund, the American Red Cross and the September 11th Fund being run by the United Way. The local JCPenney has pledged to match the amount raised at Thursday's event dollar for dollar.

El Centro Fire Chief Charles Beard was one of the first to address those assembled, reminding the crowd with a catch in his voice that "343 firefighters perished 30 days ago."

He went on to point out that "the firemen were simply doing their job … that's what the New York firefighters were doing 30 days ago … they were going up that building to put a fire out. They were simply doing their job."

Candles were lighted and patriotic songs were sung. A prayer was offered up by the Rev. John Nettles of Second Baptist Church of El Centro. Small children waved flags and a moment's silence was observed.

Then, to the delight of those same children, the motorcycle riders revved up their bikes for a "moment of loudness."

Ramirez explained to the audience beforehand that "we thought we could all use an excuse to whoop and holler a bit … it's been a long and difficult four weeks for all Americans." The crowd evidently agreed as there was a sustained roar from its ranks.

El Centro Fire Department Training Officer Richard Burns attended the vigil with two young boys, one his son, by his side. He said in the first week after the attacks, his youngest son came home from school every day knowing a new patriotic song. Burns said, "A lot of good is going to come out of this tragedy — it's a terrible thing — but we're going to rediscover some values we've lost."

As the last songs were being sung and the firefighters were filing onto the stage for a group photo, Jurado could be seen flitting through the crowd, a relieved smile on her face.

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