EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New York City police officer Brianna Fernandez smiled broadly when the most of the sellout crowd at MetLife Stadium joined in as she sang the national anthem before the New York Jets faced the Buffalo Bills.
A few miles from the site of the World Trade Center, the Jets marked the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on Monday night.
Before Fernandez sang, an enormous flag was unfurled on the playing surface by police officers, firefighters and members of Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit organization that helps families affected by terrorism, military conflict and mass violence. A moment of silence was held in memory of the nearly 3,000 people who died at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and aboard a passenger jet bound for Washington that crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Fans were given wristbands that alternated white and green flashing light, and fireworks were ignited midway through the anthem. Coaches for both teams wore baseball caps honoring New York firefighters and police officers from the city and Port Authority departments.
Fernandez thought of her late father, Luis, a police officer who took part in rescue and recovery operations at the site of the fallen towers. A devoted Jets fan, Luis developed esophageal cancer in 2013 and died the following year.
“It’s an amazing honor to carry on like he did,” said the 25-year-old Fernandez, an officer in the 9th precinct in downtown Manhattan and the East Village. “He loved the job.”
New York’s starting offense honored the fallen by entering the field carrying American flags.
“The atmosphere today, it was just an awesome experience,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said there were times when her emotions came to the surface. When they did, she extended her arms and directed the singing fans.
Lynnette Rodriguez was 17 years old on the day of the attacks. Her father, Anthony, had finished a career in the Navy and joined the New York Fire Department at age 36. He was nine weeks on the job as a probationary firefighter when Engine 279 was summoned from Red Hook in Brooklyn to the “all hands” call in the lower Manhattan financial district.
Anthony Rodriguez was in the South Tower when it collapsed. Lynnette Rodriguez said his body has never been found.
The family story didn’t end there. Lynnette’s stepmother was pregnant at the time of the attack and went into labor the next day. On Sept. 14, Morgan Rodriguez was born.
Lynnette Rodriguez spent Monday at her father’s fire house, a building that is shared with Ladder 131.
“We lose somebody and we have to relive it every year. Each time I have to watch my father die,” she said.
James Gerber, a retired firefighter who attended the fire academy with Rodriguez and later served as a lieutenant at Ladder 131, said his friend was the oldest member of the fire academy class.
“So all of us were in our early twenties. I was 24 years old. And yet, even at 36, he was beating us all, could do more pushups and pull-ups,” Gerber said. “He was not only strong, he was really wise. It was almost like having an older brother.”
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