Lack of 9/11 victims’ names on statehouse memorial still bothers families

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PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — The annual September 11th ceremony at the statehouse is an important time to remember the local lives lost in the attacks – but family members of local victims remain adamant about what is not part of the memorial on Smith Hill.

“We want our loved ones’ names there,” Richard DelleFemine said after attending a number of ceremonies that marked the 14th year since the attacks. “We talked about it again today.”

His sister Carol Bouchard, 43, of Warwick, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 that was hijacked about 15 minutes after taking off from Logan Airport.

The Boeing 767 would crash into the World Trade Center North Tower at 8:46 in the morning on 9/11.

Bouchard is one of seven victims with ties to Rhode Island.

“Put the names next to it,” DelleFemine said. “There should be something there that makes our families part of the memorial. We’ve thought that from the beginning.”

The details behind why the names were left off the memorial began to unfold 14 years ago when the administration of Governor Lincoln Almond asked the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) to put out a call for artists to pitch their ideas.

Peter Diepenbrock was chosen out of 24 applicants, proposing a granite-based structure that included nine layers of gold leaf in two towers that formed an eleven.

Local family members told Target 12 it seemed like an “obvious and easy” decision to engrave the granite with the names of the children, brothers, and sisters they lost on that day.

But it was not so easy for the administration or RISCA, whose executive director Randall Rosenbaum recalled the delicate debate.

“There was a discussion about engraving the names. But 9/11 was relatively fresh, like an open wound,” Rosenbaum said. “We weren’t sure we could identify all the Rhode Islanders who died in the tragedy. There were also questions about how do we define a Rhode Islander.”

Rosenbaum said some involved in the discussion focused on the problem that could be created by inadvertently leaving a local victim off the monument, and potentially having to add it at a later date.

The decision was eventually made to include a quote from President George W. Bush in the granite where the names might’ve been carved.

That was something Diepenbrock didn’t agree with, but he said his thoughts had nothing to do with politics or the victims’ names.

“I did try to fight it. I really was kind of adamantly against it but they overrode that,” he said. “I was just an artist in the service of the state. I thought just the pure date, simply stated, was the appropriate way to go.”

We reached out to Almond about the decision but he did not return our phone call.

His former spokesperson Lisa Pelosi was able to talk to her former boss about what he recalled about the debate over whether or not to etch the names in the stone.

“[The governor] remembered working with Randy from the arts council and choosing the artist,” Pelosi said. “But he did not remember the discussion surrounding whether to include the names of the victims on the memorial.”

One point made by both Diependbrock and Rosenbaum was a tight schedule played a role in the many decisions that were made.

The goal was to unveil the memorial during the first commemoration ceremony in 2002, creating a tight timeline of less than a year for the entire process.

A binder Diepenbrock kept about his piece includes a page with a list of deadlines.

Calls for proposals were set for March 1, 2002, with the ideas actually due 15 days later. The choice to go with Diepenbrock’s plan was made a month later on April 15.

He recalls the block of granite was cut and polished in Minnesota, forcing a slim window of time for debating what would be engraved on it.

“There were probably 6 to 8 weeks of pre-planning before actually building it,” Diepenbrock said. “It was very fast. Very compressed.”

So compressed he wasn’t even able to put the project together to make sure everything fit the way he designed it — until all the pieces were delivered on September 6.

The explanation isn’t enough for DelleFemine, who, while not angry, is definitely frustrated by the decision he said surprised several of the victims’ family members when the memorial was unveiled on September 11, 2002.

“That was the first time we realized the names wouldn’t be part of it,” DelleFemme said.

Could the names be added now?

Diepenbrock took a brief walk around the memorial to find an appropriate spot and said the back would be almost disrespectful since the names would not be in plain view.

He pointed to a spot under President Bush’s quote that would work and added he would not object to adding the names.

And like DelleFemine, Diepenbrock said he thinks a plaque of some sort could be added next to the memorial.

DelleFemine said he is determined to someday make it happen, even if he is not sure how the families will do that.

“Of course we want their names there,” DelleFemine said. “I know I always will.”

Walt Buteau ( wbuteau@wpri.com ) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @wbuteau

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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